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When David Parrish began working at McDonaldʼs his parents asked him, “Why donʼt you go get a real job?”

That was 41 years ago. McDonaldʼs was a 15 year-young venture, then unestablished as the food-industry monolith it is today. Parrish was 16 years old, new to Utah and still a boy.

Today Parrish is much more than that. Heʼs 57, mayor of Ephraim, a millionaire, and owner of eleven McDonaldʼs restaurants. When Parrish spoke at Snow Collegeʼs Entrepreneurship Seminar, he took the opportunity to connect the dots between his 16 year-old self and his 57 year-old self - how his decisions launched him from entry-level employee to successful business owner, as well as the principles and ideas that fueled those decisions. He believes even his earliest choices, from the way he raised his family to his behavior at work, brought him to this point.

“Where I am today is because of the choices I made,” Parrish said. “What you choose to do today, and what you choose to do tomorrow, is exactly where youʼre going to end up 20 years from now.”

And itʼs hard to argue with the results of Parrishʼs choices. They begin in Georgia, where Parrish worked on his parents farm picking tomatoes until he was old enough to work at his local grocery store. Impetus to leave the farm for a house in Utah came when the missionaries did, Parrish said. Converted to the LDS faith, his family packed up and moved to Kearns in Salt Lake County when he was fourteen.

There Parrish began at McDonaldʼs two years later, with no intention of pursuing a career in the company. “I enjoyed it, loved what I did,” he said. “But I just thought it was going to put me through school, give me money to get by.” Parrish worked for three years and once he was done, it seemed like that would be the case.

He went on to work at Arctic Circle corporate, developing their training programs and helping as they expanded their franchisers. It was then that he met his wife, a teller at his bank. “The way I tell it, she asked me out,” he said, “but sheʼll dispute that.”

Parrish approached his marriage in the same, systematic way he would learn to run his business. Early on Parrish and his wife were very conscious of what decisions they would make, partly, he admits, because they “didnʼt have anything better to talk about.” They discussed each otherʼs roles, who would support whom, and came up with a plan for where they wanted to be down the line.

“We lived a modest lifestyle in the beginning,” Parrish admitted. “The biggest thing to learn is that you probably donʼt need to spend as much as you do, and we didnʼt.”

In the summer of 1981 when Parrish was 27, a friend wrangled him back to McDonaldʼs, this time in a management position that would eventually lead him to supervisor, overseeing swaths of McDonaldʼs management teams. “Whatever needed to be done, I did it,” he said.

Here Parrish developed the reputation that would net him his own store. “I made sure I made more money for my employer than he made for me,” Parrish said. He increased sales, reworked training protocols and taught his employees to function without him. Parrishʼs stores saw the most consistent profit, a result of his attention to efficiency.

Even then, it took ten years before an offer to operate his own store in Holdrege Nebraska came, an opportunity requiring he uproot the family to the small Nebraskan farming community of about 6,000. Parrish took the store and ran it with the experience of having worked through the chain of command: he was adventurous, experimenting with offering pizza, fetuccini, lasagna, and food that seems wildly out of place in a McDonaldʼs today. “It cost me money,” Parrish said, “but I was willing to experiment. It was a great adventure.”

It paid off. Parrishʼs work in Nebraska snagged him an offer to build and operate a McDonaldʼs in Ephraim back in Utah, a venture that has sprawled out to include ten other stores and five hundred employees.

And today he retains many of the principles he learned over his career. Twice a year Parrish gathers his top managers to discuss customers, employees, sales projections and goals for every store. It keeps the business on track and gives employees an opportunity to make a difference, Parrish says, the results of which McDonaldʼs is consistently praised for.

McDonaldʼs was the first restaurant chain to institute a global training center, known as Hamburger University, of which Parrish is a graduate. “Itʼs more than just cooking hamburgers, I promise.” McDonaldʼs is the only restaurant whose management training curriculum is recognized by the American Council on Education, and its students can earn up to 46 college credits towards a two or four-year degree through the program. It breeds a culture of self- improvement, Parrish said.

The result is a company with over a million employees and 64 million customers, worldwide.

McDonaldʼs itself was an act of entrepreneurship that spun out when Ray Kroc, a milkshake machine salesman, franchised Richard and Maurice McDonaldʼs restaurant in 1955.

“I met Ray Kroc once,” Parrish said. “His core belief is that you give back to the community.” Some businesses are indifferent, he says, and come in for nothing more than to take peopleʼs money. “Kroc believed you became a part of the community youʼre in. So, both as businessman and as a citizen, I want the best for Ephraim.”

(Ironically, Kroc would later drive the McDonaldʼs brothers out of business through a contract technicality, forcing them to abandon the McDonaldʼs trademark and fail, competing against their own corporation.)

Despite his overall success Parrish admits that Ephraimʼs McDonaldʼs has never been the best financial decision, and it wouldnʼt be sustainable had he not been able to expand outside of the community.

Ephraimʼs off the beaten path, he says, and itʼs without the population base to fuel a business with as much overhead as McDonaldʼs. But Parrish believes that will change. “I firmly believe weʼre ready, and weʼre growing,” he said. “Ephraim is going to experience some opportunities in the next few years to make it a more viable [destination for business]. It takes time to grow into that.”

And while the Ephraim McDonaldʼs hasnʼt proved to be the financial success heʼd hoped it would be, Parrish believes moving to Ephraim was one of the best decision he and his family ever made.

As current Mayor of Ephraim, Parrish sees his business experience bolstering his ability to govern. “I have seen changes in myself the last couple years as a mayor,” he told the Messenger. Itʼs something more personal for him as someone whoʼs worked as an entrepreneur. “I look at it as if it were my money. How would I spend it, use it, were it out of my pocket?”

Decades past his starting point, and now with all the tenets of successful entrepreneurship beneath him, Parrishʼs attitude toward it all isnʼt what you might think. “Success isnʼt money,” he says. “Itʼs values… beliefs. Theyʼre what make me successful. Honesty, trustworthiness, accountability, those core values are more important to me than a penny, or a million dollars or, whatever youʼve got.“


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