The following are the titles Susan Lu has held at McDonald’s since starting as a part-time employee more than 30 years ago: Store Manager, Operation Consultant, L&D (Learning and Development) Consultant, Franchising Manager, Field Service Manager, Central Market Leader and, finally, Operations Vice President.

“McDonald’s basically shaped my career,” says the Yummy Town Holdings Group President. Susan says the experience has given her a familiarity with the complex inner workings of a food and beverage franchise, as well as a broader understanding of a franchise’s overall goals within the global market.

Further, the experience has taught her to be very sensitive to market trends, and thus quickly capture potential growth opportunities. For example, Yummy Town’s business partnerships with China’s three online food delivery giants – Ele.me, Baidu Waimai and Meituan Waimai – accounted for approximately 26% of total sales within its first year.

Susan Lu is handy in a crisis

According to Susan, the brands that can go the distance are those that can keep up with the times and evolve with the market. “Even the most durable brands have had to go through many transformations. No brand in today’s hyper-transparent world is immune to a surprise,” she says.

Susan Lu Group President of Yummy Town Holdings
Susan Lu, Group President of Yummy Town Holdings

“We don’t wait for a crisis to happen in order to put in place on-the-job training or set socially responsible company policies.”

Susan is no stranger to crisis after three decades with McDonald’s. In June 2013, a McDonald’s employee in Taiwan mistook a customer with Down syndrome for a homeless person, before asking the customer to leave the premises and calling the police.

As Operations Vice President at the time, Susan’s response was immediate, issuing a full apology to the customer on behalf of McDonald’s. “Our staff’s treatment was really inappropriate and we apologise to the customer for causing her embarrassment when she was planning to dine at our store,” she said in a statement. “We are sorry about our failure to meet the expectations of the public.”

Thankfully for Susan, this proved to be only a minor blip in an otherwise unblemished career. Since being appointed Group President in mid 2016, Susan has far exceeded expectations, with Yummy Town reporting 50% store growth over the previous year, and an after-tax profit of 67%.

The ‘Yummy 1,000 Initiative’

But what she has found most impressive is the long-term sustainability of the Happy Lemon brand, specialising mostly in lemon-based iced tea beverages. “The life cycle of a brand in China is normally less than two years. Happy Lemon is in its eleventh year and we are still growing,” says Susan.

Fast facts:
Yummy Town has more than 790 Happy Lemon stores since the brand launched in 2006, with stores in Taiwan, China, the US, the UK, Canada, South Korea, Hong Kong and the Philippines.

“Pretty much like the way people age, so does an upstart brand. The challenge is figuring out how we can succeed when appearances fade and the competition is fierce. I believe we have to play the long game.”

Given the notoriously fickle nature of the food and beverage industry, Yummy Town’s response is simple – aggressive expansion. A key facet of the company’s business model is the ‘Yummy 1,000 Initiative’; to have 1,000 shops open around the world by the middle of the year.

“The market changes very quickly and we view aggressive expansion as the right approach to take Yummy Town forward,” Susan says. “The larger the market share we capture, the easier it is for us to leverage our business model in the short term.”

Transforming Yummy Town into an international fast-food leader

Armed with a deeper understanding of McDonald’s famous franchise system than most, Susan hopes to leverage that knowledge to transform Yummy Town into an international fast-food leader and become the entrepreneur’s first choice of tea shop brand in China.

Taking into account the historically fraught relationship between Taiwan and Mainland China, it is especially important to her that Yummy Town positions itself as a ‘cross-strait bridge’, promoting new food and beverage brands between the two territories.

What is not disputed is that Susan’s story puts to bed once and for all the stigma of ‘working at McDonald’s’. There are currently around 400 McDonald’s restaurants in Taiwan. One of them could be employing the next Susan Lu.