Youth at work
Mirzayev, McDonald's Comes to Baku
In the fast-food business,
no company is more prestigious or better known worldwide than
McDonald's. On average, the company opens a new restaurant somewhere
in the world every day, with a grand total of more than 25,750
restaurants in 118 countries. The sun literally never sets on
the Golden Arches.
Photo: Magsud Mirzayev, 1999.
When Magsud Mirzayev (Maksud, spelled through Russian) ate his
first McDonald's hamburger in 1990, he had no idea it would be
a life-changing experience. He had walked into the new McDonald's
on Moscow's Pushkin Square. Magsud marveled at the high quality
of customer service and saw the potential of bringing the restaurant
franchise to Baku. Nine years later, that dream came true when
he opened the first McDonald's restaurant in Azerbaijan. Here
Magsud describes his struggle to bring McDonald's to Baku and
his vision for the future.
Ask Magsud Mirzayev about his very first visit to McDonald's
and you'll learn it was no ordinary experience for a 21-year-old
from Azerbaijan. "I was surprised that it was so fast and
clean, with very good service, a warm atmosphere and a friendly
team serving the customers," recalls Magsud, now 30. "Everyone
had a smile. And it wasn't expensive. People liked it because
they got very good quality at a reasonable price."
At most restaurants in the former Soviet Union, employees received
their salaries whether they served the customers or not. The
staff was very slow and usually indifferent. McDonald's was quite
the opposite - the employees were there to help the customers.
Food was served quickly, with a smile.
Fast-forward to November 6, 1999, the grand opening of Baku's
first-ever McDonald's off Fountain Square in the center of town.
Azerbaijan was only the second country in the Caucasus to get
a McDonald's; Georgia opened its first in February 1999. Magsud,
the Managing Director, helped make it all possible.
"It wasn't so easy to organize a McDonald's in Baku,"
Magsud admits. "It became possible because of the strong
financial support of Isgandar Khalilov (Iskender, spelled through
Russian), the owner of the McDonald's Development License in
Azerbaijan." Khalilov is a businessman who has invested
in sites such as the ISR Plaza, Ramstores, Mr. Bricolage and
The Fitness Club.
Magsud had studied at
both St. Petersburg University and Baku State University, graduating
with a degree in Foreign Relations. After working for the Ministry
of Foreign Affairs for a year, he realized that he wanted to
participate more in Azerbaijan's economic development. Bringing
McDonald's to Azerbaijan seemed like an ideal way to do just
Photo: Fireworks announced
the opening of McDonald's in Baku on November 6, 1999.
Magsud first approached McDonald's with his idea in 1996. At
the beginning of the negotiations, he thought that he would be
able to open a store within three to four months. The company
really liked the idea of coming to Azerbaijan, but there was
a great deal of training and preparation to be done first. Magsud
remembers, "The vice president told me: 'If you're going
to be the Managing Director for Azerbaijan, first you have to
get some experience working for McDonald's. Otherwise, we won't
give you permission to open one.'"
Magsud was surprised that the process would take longer than
he thought, but was prepared to go through with it. "The
very next day I left Baku for my training," he says. "I
didn't know how long I was going to be away. I had to leave my
family, wife and two kids for nearly two years."
During his training, Magsud learned just how high McDonald's
standards were. "If McDonald's decides to go anywhere, it
doesn't mean that the company is coming as a trademark only,"
he says. "It has to bring all the operation standards, all
the quality standards, all the taste standards and management
standards to that country as well."
Magsud's training began at an entry-level position - cleaning
floors and throwing out the garbage at a McDonald's in Belarus.
Over the course of two years, he went through the positions of
shift manager, assistant store manager, store manager and operations
consultant. He worked for McDonald's in Belarus, Croatia, Austria,
the U.K. and the Ukraine. He also visited the company's Hamburger
University in Oak Brook, Illinois. After passing his last exam
in London in July 1999, he was finally ready to open his own
Assembling a Team
Halfway through his
training, Magsud came back to Baku to recruit employees and managers
for the new restaurant. Out of approximately 400 applicants,
he chose ten people. Those candidates then went to the Ukraine
to complete a year of training.
Photo: McDonald's first restaurant
in Baku is located in the heart of the city on Fountain Square
near the main library (background).
"From the very beginning I told them that everything was
in their hands," Magsud recalls. "I said, 'You are
the top management - the first management group from the first
McDonald's team in Azerbaijan.' I told them that one among them
would be chosen as the first store manager. I told them that
everything depended on them." For many of the new employees,
this sense of shared responsibility was a new concept. Eventually,
Bela Mustafayeva was chosen as store manager.
After the first group came back to Baku, another set of future
employees was sent abroad to be trained. Altogether, 50 people
received training abroad. By the time the restaurant was ready
to open, they had been shaped into a professional team.
As for the design of
the McDonald's building, Magsud decided to go with a modern look,
with lots of steel and glass. A local Azerbaijani architect designed
the exterior. The restaurant's interior was laid out according
to company standards. "We wanted to design everything so
that the customers would feel comfortable with their families
and parents," says Magsud. "I think we achieved this.
During these first two months of operation, I've been so happy
to see that grandparents are not afraid to come in with their
grandchildren even though they see an expensive exterior and
Photo: McDonald's is in the
shadow of the ISR Plaza.
Getting the food to meet McDonald's standards has taken a lot
of effort. Since a hamburger must taste the same in Baku as it
does in Paris or New York, each ingredient has to be approved
by a central McDonald's office. In many cases, products have
to be imported from McDonald's suppliers in other countries.
For example, the hamburger buns come from a bun factory in Georgia;
the lettuce, from Turkey.
Magsud hopes that one day most of the ingredients will be produced
in Azerbaijan. "Last year we started growing our own lettuce,"
he says. "Each product that will be produced in Baku has
to be approved in Frankfurt in a McDonald's laboratory. The lettuce
must taste absolutely the same, no matter where it's grown."
The company imported seeds and used fertilizer to try to get
the exact quality of soil necessary to grow McDonald's-tasting
lettuce. The first few samples were not close enough, but Magsud
is hopeful that the next batch will meet company approval.
In this way, McDonald's is helping to develop Azerbaijan's agricultural
sector. "I believe that there's more potential in Azerbaijan's
agricultural sector than there is in the oil sector," Magsud
says. "But we have to know how to take advantage of it."
Another important management decision was setting prices for
each item. "McDonald's is not a restaurant for rich people,"
Magsud insists. "We tried to be as low as possible with
our prices." A hamburger costs 3,500 manats - less than
a dollar. Other options on the menu include the Big Mac, apple
and cherry pies, shakes and sundaes, plus Magsud's favorite -
French fries. All text for the menus (including an explanation
of French fries), posters and marketing materials is written
in Azeri Latin.
One obvious benefit of having a McDonald's in Azerbaijan is the
job opportunities it opens up, especially for the nation's youth.
Right now the restaurant employs 154 Azerbaijanis working various
shifts around the clock, either serving customers or cleaning
the restaurant for the next day. Each new restaurant that opens
will offer jobs for around 100 more employees. Magsud predicts:
"Over the next five years, we plan to create 600 to 700
jobs for young people - that's just in actual McDonald's restaurants.
That doesn't include any of the other aspects of production."
Workers are trained according to high standards of customer service,
learning skills that they can apply throughout the rest of their
careers. Within the McDonald's system itself, each employee has
the opportunity to work his or her way up to the management level.
"When McDonald's comes to a country," Magsud explains,
"it comes for forever." It's not just another fast-food
restaurant - it's a symbol of the nation's political and economic
stability and participation in the world market. McDonald's sets
high standards for cleanliness, efficiency, quality and customer
service - in effect, raising the bar for the other restaurants
in the area.
Magsud's second project will be a drive-thru restaurant that
will allow customers to eat in their cars. He plans to open two
locations in the year 2000. "Our goal is to serve drive-thru
clients in three minutes, which is really fast," Magsud
says. Drive-thrus are still a new concept in Azerbaijan; McDonald's
will be the first restaurant to have this convenience.
None of this would have been possible without Magsud's positive
attitude and contagious enthusiasm. "When I entered a McDonald's
for the first time, I was a customer. I was looking at everything
from the customer's point of view. Now I'm looking at it from
the other side. I can compare and see what the customer needs.
But it's more than a job to me. I'm proud to be helping Azerbaijan
develop its economy."
(7.4) Winter 1999.
© Azerbaijan International 1999. All rights reserved.
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