Zhou Xiaobu runs from one end of a table to another, grasping a piece of a jigsaw puzzle her team is assembling as part of a leadership training exercise for McDonald’s (MCD) managers. “Go, go, go!” yells their instructor, exhorting them to work for the prize, a box of Danish butter cookies that will go to the first group to build the company’s trademark Golden Arches. Above their heads a sign reads: “Learning today, leading tomorrow.” The thick green binders stuffed with paperwork on each of the 31 students’ desks indicate this is no place for slackers.
Such is the seriousness of purpose found at McDonald’s new Hamburger University near Shanghai, where the chain aims to crank out a new generation of leaders to fuel big expansion plans in China. While the 20th-floor training center is no Harvard, landing a spot at the Chinese campus of Hamburger U. (McDonald’s has seven worldwide) is actually more difficult than getting into the Ivy League icon. (Less than 1 percent of McDonald’s applicants get in, making Harvard’s 7 percent acceptance rate look downright welcoming.) Zhou was one of only eight people hired from among 1,000 applicants for a management trainee position in the central Chinese city of Changsha. She then had to compete with 43 other workers at her store to be named first assistant manager, earning her a slot at Hamburger U.