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HAMBURGER U GIVES THEM TASTE OF JOB FRANCHISERS LEARN MCD'S PROGRAM AT OAK BROOK CAMPUS

By Published on .

As the 50 students walk in and find their seats, the music of Garth Brooks welcomes them. When they are seated, the music fades and instructor Doug Haskins calls out a hearty, "Good morning."

"Good morning," the class calls out. "Not loud enough," responds Mr. Haskins.

"Good morning," booms back.

The first class of the day has begun at Hamburger University, McDonald's Corp.'s 80-acre training facility in Oak Brook, Ill.

Hamburger U mixes personnel and management classes that could easily rank with those at a premier graduate school of busi-ness. Positive mental attitude activities promote personal bonding: games, rewards-a Bachelor's degree in Hamburgerology at graduation-as well as those loud "good mornings."

The result is the acknowledged best fast-food franchise management training in the business.

As a franchiser, McDonald's relies on consistency and quality of service to protect its trademark and maintain sales. With a worldwide network of 14,000 restaurants in more than 70 countries, McDonald's uses Hamburger U as its upper-level training ground for managers, owner-operators, suppliers and corporate executives.

"A franchise needs to speak with one voice," said Richard L. Russakoff, president of Bottom Line Consultants, a Richmond, Va., franchise consultancy specializing in training. "The only way to do this is through training."

Classes create a synergy by "bringing people together with like problems," he said.

Despite its name, Hamburger U isn't where employees learn to flip hamburgers, mix shakes or fry potatoes. Admission requirements to Hamburger U include 2,000 hours of in-store and regional training.

Management skills, team building and effective personnel skills are the "soft skills" as Wayne Rohrbaugh, senior training manager and acting dean, calls the advanced operations course taught in Oak Brook.

"Ray's [Kroc, McDonald's founder] favorite saying was `If we make our operators successful, we're successful,'*" Mr. Rohrbaugh said.

No one flunks out of Hamburger U.

"We're interested in getting people to succeed. We give them the information and make them practice. We want them to go back and run better restaurants," he said.

The school facility is set on a wooded campus that also holds corporate headquarters and the "lodge," a Hyatt-operated hotel where students live during their two-week stints. Close to 3,000 students annually troop through the airy, open classroom building, done in natural rock with an expansive art collection, in classes of 200 to 250 each.

It's a far cry from the original Hamburger U, opened in the basement of an Elk Grove Village McDonald's in 1961. This campus, the third, was opened in 1983.

The building has test kitchens, lecture halls, auditoriums and "team rooms," all equipped with the latest in technology. Test answers are punched into small computer pads sitting in front of students; instructors know immediately if most of the class caught on to a concept.

Videos, slide projector banks, lighting controlled from the instructors' podium, and rear screen projection video capability are available to give the lectures zing.

In the team rooms, an instructor can monitor three tables of eight students each, but the groups are separated by sliding panels. Each tries to solve a problem, based on real restaurant experiences, and then is evaluated on how well they did.

The curriculum "makes you think a lot," said Robert Orduno, a first assistant manager from Tucson, Ariz.

In their morning class, Mr. Haskins and team-teacher Chip van Kampen, stress objectives, goals and the balance between relationships and priorities. A key concept is QSC: quality, service and cleanliness. Often V, for value, is added.

Stressing shared goals is important, Mr. Russakoff, the consultant, emphasized. "If you don't know how to do something, you make it up. When you buy a franchise you buy a way to do things; you have to learn how to do them."

The faculty-one dean, five training managers and 24 professors-encourages "recycling"; managers should come back every three to five years, Mr. Rohrbaugh said, because the curriculum is "dynamic and changing."

Instructor Edgar Barnett has been at Hamburger U for two years. Like many McDonald's managers, he began as a crew member at his local restaurant, this one in Detroit. From Michigan, he and his family moved to Illinois; his wife now works in human resources for the giant firm.

"The biggest thing is being exposed to different people," Mr. Barnett said about Hamburger U. "With so many people from around the world we work with different cultures to achieve consistency" of service.

Like many students and instructors, Mr. Barnett collects tie-tacs and other memorabilia with McDonald's symbols embossed or embroidered on them; he has a "small collection, only 2,000" items. Another employee has collected 6,000.

Like an old college sweatshirt or cap, it brings back memories of those you knew at the old alma mater and pulls you together. It's team building on the advanced level.

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