Meet man who opened first McDonald's in Yorkshire, and now runs Sh7b empire

George started as a trainee manager after leaving school (Image: Jerome Ellerby)
The son of Polish immigrants - who fled to the UK to escape the Soviet Union - it is fair to say George Michniewicz has made the most of his opportunity.

George now runs 14 McDonald's across East Yorkshire and North Lincolnshire as part of his franchise empire, which has grown to turn over Sh7 billion each year.

And he has worked hard for every penny of his success.

"My parents had a difficult life back in Poland," George, 61, told Hull Live.

"My mum told me she would have to travel 7km to school every day.

"My father suffered shrapnel injuries after fighting during the Second World War but he wouldn't speak much about that time.

"They both fled Poland when the Soviet Union took over with its Communist regime."

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Rather than being a hindrance, George took inspiration from the graft and determinism to seek a better life his parents displayed.

"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," he said.

"My background and that of my parents drove me on."

George came to McDonald's in the early 1980s after he left school - when the chain was still years away from the high street staple it went on to become.

"I applied to be a trainee manager in my local Nottingham store which I took on until something else turned up," he said.

"What really struck me was how the company was growing rapidly and that there were great opportunities.

"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 his path to the top has been far from straightforward.

"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."

But his eyes were really opened when he was sent back to his parent's homeland to oversee the launch of McDonald's first store there.

"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 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."

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."

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."

The chain is trying to change for the better too, with the introduction of new vegan options this month just the start.

"We have also pushed to reduce the amount of plastics by replacing the straws and the toys in Happy Meals," George said.

"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."

As for plans to the future - George believes people are the key.

"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," he said.

"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."

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