How a uni drop-out went on to own a fast-food empire

A TOOWOOMBA businessman who "never set out to be the McDonald's king" will soon own every franchise in the city.

Licensee Mark Ward bought his first McDonald's in Toowoomba 17 years ago, and when a deal to buy the Harristown store next July is finalised, he will have total market domination with eight stores.

"This has been a result not a goal, I never set out to be the McDonald's king - I wanted to own them all but not for the ego," he said.

Mr Ward's empire has expanded rapidly in the past year, with deals to buy three restaurants from the city's other licensee heavyweight, Keith Beer.

The secret to his success isn't glamorous: It comes down to being a local and his business skills.

In the late 1980s, the then-USQ business student was keen for a career in finance and could see himself working on Wall St one day.

"I kept hearing about McDonald's and I used to think 'how could they be referring to this business so much in my business degree' if it wasn't major," he said.

"So I went and got a job there and never finished my degree."

It was 1990 when the straight-A student was employed by McDonald's as a trainee manager.

SUCCESS: Mark Ward hopes to introduce a McDonald's home delivery service in Toowoomba next year.
SUCCESS: Mark Ward hopes to introduce a McDonald's home delivery service in Toowoomba next year. Kevin Farmer

In just two years he became store manager of an Ipswich restaurant and then went on to be a supervisor of the area.

In 1999, Mr Ward bought the McDonald's on Margaret St, adding another store one year later.

"The ability to give feedback in this job is astonishing," he said.

"In a lot of businesses you have to wait for certain periods before you get a report that tells you how you're performing, whereas at McDonald's it's almost minute by minute.

"It's a great business but what I say to people is that if you don't look after it, as fast as it will make you grow, it could tear you down that quickly as well."

Mr Ward said effective business management gave him the opportunity to grow each restaurant.

"The thing we do have is consistency across the operations because of a single owner."

The businessman is about to enter his 28th year with the franchise.

BUSINESS SUCCESS: Mark Ward will own all eight Toowoomba McDonald's restaurants by July next year.
BUSINESS SUCCESS: Mark Ward will own all eight Toowoomba McDonald's restaurants by July next year. Kevin Farmer

Together with his wife Heidi, the couple supports 53 community groups and projects in the area.

They have been responsible for offering a first job to hundreds of residents and creating solid work ethics and career foundations too.

"I'm such a big believer in young people," he said.

"They don't have a ceiling - it hasn't been put there yet. I tell people 'my commitment to you is that I won't put a ceiling on your head'.

"If they want to keep growing in my organisation, I'll make the opportunities for them. On the other hand, if they just want to come to work and do their job then there's a place for that as well."

Mr Ward doesn't look at owning all the restaurants in the city as an end goal but rather the beginning, with plans to introduce a home delivery service in the new year.

Since buying the Bridge St restaurant, he has started redevelopment on the site and has several additional projects in the pipeline.

Mr Beer, from whom Mr Ward will buy his Harristown restaurant, said he would now focus on his industrial and commercial properties.

Topics:  mcdonald's toowoomba

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