Meet the CEO, Catriona Noble

Thursday, 31 March 2011  Features

Narelle Hooper, editor of AFR Boss Magazine interviews one of the country's most senior business women, McDonald's Australia CEO Ms Catriona Noble at Meet the CEO, an Australian School of Business Alumni event.

Ms Noble started with McDonald's as a 14 year old casual crew person and just five years later was responsible for a restaurant with a turnover of $4 million and one hundred staff. The restaurant she managed was at Thornleigh, in Sydney's north, straight across the road from McDonald's corporate head office. McDonald's executives soon recognised her potential and Ms Noble was encouraged to broaden her horizons with them.

Ms Noble nonetheless says she was an "accidental leader". She had continued her formal studies, but it was while studying law at university that she came to the realisation that she was most passionate about the education she was getting at McDonald's. She made the decision to leave university because she'd had so much exposure to the business that "at that point I just knew that it was what I really wanted to do."

McDonald's training and management systems are famous. "A place of opportunities", Ms Noble says where hard work, dedication and persistence is recognised and rewarded. Management skills are developed gradually in "building blocks" so no one is thrown in the deep end.

Ms Noble credits her rise and development to several leading executives of McDonald's Australia who mentored her over time and provided opportunities and challenges.

McDonald's strength lies in its finely-tuned processes using efficient systems in their restaurants to prepare food and serve customers. Ms Noble says around the year 2000 it became apparent that the brand was losing relevance to the customer as changes in nutrition and health expectations grew. McDonald's introduced a new range of products including salads and wraps to broaden their offering. New products attracted new customers but a larger menu could not operate on the same processes as the old ‘Big Mac and Fries' staples.

This proved challenging for some of their more than 200 franchisees and required much negotiation and support. "The more innovation, the harder it is to systemise and deliver on processes", Ms Noble says.

McDonald's has a rigorous process for selecting restaurant franchisees."Buying a McDonald's restaurant is not an investment, it's almost a lifestyle". Highly collaborative, the McDonald's system is much different and more complex than a typical employer/employee structure. The organisation has been so successful because of what McDonald's calls ‘the three-legged stool', a true partnership between corporate employees, franchisees and suppliers. Without one of the legs, the stool will fall.

Ms Noble describes herself a leader who is "enthusiastic, passionate and persistent. Her advice to potential leaders is straight forward:

"Never give up...persistence has always been the key for me. Put things into perspective and find a way forward..... be prepared to compromise and find a collaborative solution."

Meet the CEO brings together Australian School of Business Alumni, sponsors and donors, giving access to business leaders whose innovation, entrepreneurship and leadership are changing the business landscape. Find out more.

Watch the video

Meet the CEO video - Catriona Noble (highlights version) Meet the CEO video - Catriona Noble (full version)