CMO training for the Olympics by flipping burgers, cleaning toilets

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[Shanghai, China] Dressed in a stylish suit and toting a cherry-patterned Louis Vuitton handbag, Shantel Wong looks very out of place when she strolls behind the counter at one of the 668 McDonald's restaurants scattered around mainland China.

But Ms. Wong, 42, a cheerful, outgoing Hong Kong native, couldn't be happier about the prospect of spending the next nine months filling lunch orders, flipping burgers, even cleaning toilets. It's all part a tailor-made, fast-track management program to teach her the ropes about restaurant operations, a necessary step for her new position as the burger chain's general manager for the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing.

Even though those Games are still about 1,000 days away, excitement is mounting, particularly in China, which is using the global sports event as a stage to formalize its debut as a modern, powerful nation: "The Olympic Games in Athens, Greece, in 2004 were about sports. The 2008 Games in Beijing will be about China," said Scott Kronick, Beijing-based president of WPP Group's Ogilvy PR division in China.

Multinational marketers like McDonald's are equally enthusiastic about being part of an Olympic event taking shape at the same time China's economy is soaring.


"The values we believe in at McDonald's, like teamwork and excellence, these are Olympic themes, too. The Games also fit with our strategy of connecting with customers through areas that are relevant to them like sports, music, fashion and entertainment. Our customers expect us to support the world's premier sporting event," said Ms. Wong, who managed McDonald's marketing in China for the past four years, most recently as chief marketing officer.

Ever since McDonald's first stepped into the Olympic arena back in 1968, when it airlifted burgers and French fries to homesick Americans competing in Grenoble, France, it has used the event not only as a marketing platform, but also as a way to build revenue and teamwork. Elite McDonald's staff from around the world serve athletes, spectators and journalists at dozens of packed outlets in and around the Olympic Village and event venues.

"This is a very important Olympic Games for the whole McDonald's system. There is much room for growth in China, it presents a very big opportunity," said Jackie Woodward, VP-global brand business in Oakbrook, Ill., one of the execs who tapped Ms. Wong to head up the company's Olympic platform for the 2008 Games.

Ms. Wong has transformed McDonald's image there from an American icon to a fun, local hangout, in part through an innovative adaptation of the global "I'm lovin' it" campaign.

For example, local counter staff in the mainland proudly greet customers with a unique McDonald's hand signal (outstretched thumb, pinkie and forefinger) and, during slow periods, even perform a special dance for customers. Some of the campaign touches have been incorporated in other Asian markets such as Singapore and South Korea.


"She was an obvious choice. Shantel has not only helped manage our brand in China, she has also been a global thought leader at McDonald's over the past couple of years and these Olympics require a special ability to apply a global strategic perspective," Ms. Woodward said.

Ms. Wong joined the company as Hong Kong marketing manager in 1995, following advertising jobs at WPP shops JWT and Ogilvy & Mather and a stint at Nestle. She was promoted to marketing director in 1998, and quickly earned international attention when a McDonald's promotion featuring the Peanuts character Snoopy gripped Hong Kong.

As part of her promotion, Ms. Wong has relocated to Shanghai from Hong Kong along with her husband, Mike Wong-who was managing director of Interpublic Group of Cos.' McCann-Erickson, Hong Kong and will now set up a China operation for an independent Asian marketing consultancy, Eight Partnership-and their two young children.

Just Asking

What's on her agenda for next year? Only to develop McDonald's sales and marketing platform in the build up to perhaps the most-commercialized Olympic Games in history. Oh, and also survive a fast-track, nine-month long management program flipping burgers at McDonald's restaurants across China.

So what's her favorite Olympic sport? Diving and swimming

How often does she eat at McDonald's? Once a week

What does she eat? Spicy chicken wings, only available in mainland China

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