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McDonald’s Owner Serves Up Business Advice

McDonald’s Owner Serves Up Business Advice
Jim Norman

As a Canterbury alumnus, trustee, parent of a graduate, and owner of 28 McDonald’s restaurants, Harold “Tom” Clark III ’86, P ’22 gave students plenty to chew on during a recent on-campus talk hosted by the Canterbury Business Association. 

Speaking about franchise business models and how to scale a business, Tom shared that his parents bought their first McDonald’s in 1978 when he was just 12 years old. After starting as a McDonald’s employee on his 16th birthday, Tom realized early on that he wanted to own one himself someday.

He worked for his father for a number of years and became a supervisor before deciding to enter the company’s training program, which was designed to make sure potential owners would be successful before granting the opportunity to buy a restaurant.

“One of the things I liked about that was, when I got my approval and bought my first restaurant, I didn’t work with my dad, so nobody could say, ‘His father handed him something,’” Tom said. “I earned it and purchased my first restaurant separate from him.” 

That was in 2009 in Camden, New York, and it was tough sledding at first. “It was a lower-sales McDonald’s,” Tom told the students. “There was a reason why it was offered to me—no one else wanted it!” After losing $3,000 the first year and making it back his second year, he was able to buy more restaurants and grew his business from there. He and his father ultimately merged their McDonald’s franchises into the highly successful Mac-Clark Restaurants.

Along the way, Tom earned a bachelor’s degree from SUNY Polytechnic Institute in 1999, which was no small feat. He was 32 at the time, working 50-hour weeks as a McDonald’s manager, and had two young children at home.

So Tom was speaking from personal experience when he shared the qualities he seeks when hiring. “We look for two things—a good work ethic, which is most important, and good interpersonal skills. Those are what you need to succeed not only in my business but any business,” he explained. “I like to empower people. You should be looking to better yourself and learn new skills. Go the extra mile in your job; it will get you noticed.”

He also spoke about his passion for philanthropy that was instilled in him at Canterbury, where he currently serves on the Board of Trustees. “We talk a lot at Canterbury about social justice and volunteering. It is important to give back to organizations you are passionate about and to help those less fortunate,” said Tom, whose son Thomas ’22 is also a graduate. “The people at Canterbury are special; I don’t think I would have gotten where I am today without their support.”

Tom’s words had quite the impact on our current Saints. “It was amazing to hear Mr. Clark give personal advice and talk about what it is like being an owner-operator,” said Elliot Cantor ’23. “One of my main takeaways was when he said you should get experience in different areas so when you put your mind to something, you have different perspectives and unique ways to look at a problem. His presentation was extremely helpful toward understanding what it takes to be a valuable employee, community member, and entrepreneur.”