Meet the son of fleeing Polish immigrants who now runs a McDonald’s empire which employs 1,400 people and turns over £54million every year.
As a boy George Michniewicz was determined to make the most of his life after his parents fled to the UK to escape the Soviet Union’s oppressive communism,
Now the humble 61-year-old is the man behind 14 McDonald’s across East Yorkshire and North Lincolnshire as part of his franchise empire which turns over £54m each year.
But he has had to work hard to get where he is after humble beginnings in Nottingham, reports HullLive.
“My parents had a difficult life back in Poland,” George, 61, said. “My mum told me she would have to travel 7km to school every day.
“My father suffered shrapnel injuries after fighting during the War but he wouldn’t speak much about that time.
“They both fled Poland when the Soviet Union took over with its Communist regime.
“My mum had to travel through Siberia and Palestine to get to the UK.
“We were a blue collar family and my dad died when I was very young so my mum worked as a cleaner. That is where I gained my work ethic.”
Rather than being a hindrance, George took inspiration from the graft and determinism to seek a better life his parents displayed.
“My background and that of my parents drove me on,” he said.
It was in the early 1980s that George left school but the employment market was very tough and competitive.
“I decided to do a business studies degree in 1982,” he said.
“There were millions of people unemployed at that time and you couldn’t get any work experience and the degree gave you an edge.
“I applied to be a trainee manager in my local Nottingham store which I took on until something else turned up.”
McDonald’s at that time was not the ubiquitous chain it is today but was growing fast.
“What really struck me was how the company was growing rapidly and that there were great opportunities,” George said.
“Looking back it was perfect timing and it is about taking the opportunity. With my background and the values instilled into me, I was able to take those opportunities.
“But it has not been plain sailing. I have had good times, bad times and very bad times.”
After stints at stores across the Midlands, George was promoted to business manager in 1985.
“I was in charge of opening Yorkshire’s first McDonald’s in Leeds,” he said.
“I was then promoted to area manager for West Yorkshire and two years later I was in charge of north and East Yorkshire as well.”
George’s stock among McDonald’s bosses only rose when he was asked to oversee the launch of the first McDonald’s back in Poland.
“I was asked to go to Poland as I speak Polish,” he said. “It was an incredible experience as we ended up with 30,000 people through the door in just one day. People were queueing round the block all day.
“There were 500 people on the payroll there and that took some organising.
“It was at that point I realised I wanted to go into franchising.
“I was offered the franchise in Poland but I have a two very young sons aged one and three at the time, and it didn’t seem the right time.
“I stayed there for four months and then moved back to Howden before settling in Hessle where we have been now for 22 years.”
George’s first franchised store was the Jameson Street restaurant in Hull city centre.
“I took on Jameson Street in 1993 and I quickly took on three more at St Andrew’s Quay, Willerby and Hedon Road.
“The Hedon Road store was later replaced with the one on Holderness Road.
“In 2007 those four restaurants became 16 when McDonald’s had a push on franchised restaurants which was a bit of a risk.”
Since then the restaurants in Bridlington, Skegness and Grimsby have closed while new branches have opened in Boothferry Road in Hull and in Beverley – meaning George currently operates 14 restaurants across East Yorkshire and Northern Lincolnshire.
“It has always been my ambition to be in charge of my own business and run my own restaurant,” George said.
“It is a way of being able to control your life but it also means I have had to live and breathe the business.
“I have 1,400 people on my payroll which is a big responsibility.
“For most of my career I have worked seven days a week but now I can take a bit of a step back.”
The franchise structure is rather complicated but George does have freedom to develop the business his way.
“Every franchisee owns their own independent company,” he said. “The biggest franchisee is in London with 40 restaurants.
“We have to use the branding and ingredient obviously but McDonald’s is very fair.
“Unlike some breweries who hike up prices, McDonald’s is fair with its pricing to franchisees.
“We also don’t identify sites for new restaurants although we can make suggestions.
“But what we do have control over is the building and development of sales while McDonald’s takes a percentage of the sales.
“The formula works for me and the biggest satisfaction get is seeing how my employees grow.
“I meet up with people I employed 20 years ago and see how they have succeeded.
“But we also have people going through the manager system. McDonald’s even offers degrees to the business managers and we have had for go through that in the last ten years. It is great that people have that opportunity.”
Despite the success, McDonald’s has to continue adapting and reinventing itself.
“The transformation of the business has been incredible over the last few years,” George said.
“We have provided new innovative experiences for ordering. We will also be introducing a new app which will make the orders more personalised.
“We also have new digital menu boards which, over time, will be able to recognise what people order and tailor it to them. We have them at St Andrew’s Quay and will roll them out to other restaurants next year.
“We will also be introducing different sandwiches as part of a ‘great taste from around the world’ next year which will be exciting, giving customers even more choice.
George admits McDonald’s is not to everyone’s tastes and there has been much negativity around its practices and the health effects of the food.
“McDonald’s is very Marmite,” George said. “There are people who will never like us.
“There has been negative publicity and misinformation which many people believe.
“But we always try to adapt the menu and we will be introducing vegetable goujons next year.
“We have also pushed to reduce the amount of plastics by replacing the straws and the toys in Happy Meals.
“If people want to believe certain things then they will but just have to try and get our message across.
“We are a large company and we want to use that scale for good. McDonald’s is a very transparent company which has nothing to hide.
So, what are the plans for the future?
“I am incredibly positive about the future, George said. “Times are changing and the food market is a bit flat but we continue to thrive even with Brexit and political uncertainty.
“There are two ways to expand the business,” George said. “We can open more restaurants or build our top line sales.
“For me the most important thing is to invest in people but if the right opportunity to open a new restaurant comes along then obviously I’ll consider it.”
George lives in Hessle with his wife while his two sons have now grown up.
“My youngest son is at a software company and works incredibly hard,” he said.
“The oldest is an IT consultant. They are both successful in their own right and both share the values of hard work I have which came from my parents.
“They have both worked at McDonald’s which gave them a good grounding.
“It is a bit of a family business as my wife does the accounts.
George admits he takes great satisfaction from what he has achieved in his 37 years within McDonald’s.
“I am incredibly proud,” he admits. “I now have 1,400 people working for me which is a huge achievement.”
People often scoff at those working in McDonald’s never mind carving a career in the chain.
“There is a perception that people only work for McDonald’s for a short time,” George said, “but I have managers who have been with me for 25 years or more. People can progress rapidly within McDonald’s.
“Not just anyone gets a job at McDonald’s. Believe it or not, we are quite selective.
“But I love the fact that working at McDonald’s is often someone’s first job. They can gain so much in terms of confidence, team work and communications skills which helps them development and succeed elsewhere.