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News & Events

Peter Tan ’83 implored leaders to pay as much attention to human capital as they do financial capital in his keynote addres at Reunion 2003.

Power of people

McDonald’s exec begins Reunion Weekend with focus on human capital

By Kari Richardson

5/1/2003 - Reunion Weekend ’03 began as Kellogg School reunions usually do — with the sounds of friends and former classmates greeting one another with hugs and enthusiastic shouts.

But this year’s event, held May 2 to 4 on Northwestern University’s campus, offered participants a few changes too — most designed to reconnect alumni with the thought leadership that is an integral part of Kellogg. For the first time, Reunion began with a keynote speech, followed by an “MBA Update” on Saturday that featured popular Kellogg School professors and explored topics such as financial reporting and work/life balance.

Peter Tan ’83, president and chief executive officer of McDonald’s, China and Hong Kong, presented the inaugural Reunion keynote address. In his discussion, Tan focused on the importance of people to his organization.

Tan, who detailed his personal journey from “banking to burgers,” implored leaders to pay as much attention to human capital as they do financial capital.
“Over the past 20 years, I have come to the realization that the care, motivation and inspiration of people is the most important part of leadership and also has the greatest impact on bottom-line results,” Tan said.

Its people are key to McDonald’s Corp., he said, because front-line crews deliver the firm’s promise to make each customer happy. The challenge for McDonald’s is executing that promise with employees who, on average, stay with the company less than one year.

“McDonald’s is not a hamburger business that serves people, but a people business that serves hamburgers,” Tan said. “True leaders leave behind fulfilled lives, fair play and an enhanced society.”