In 1966, Tom Holka was a junior in high school at St. Stanislaus High School and Bay City and had just started working at the local McDonald’s restaurant.
Today, more than 50 years later, Holka continues his career at McDonald’s as an owner/operator of restaurants in Boyne City, Bellaire, East Jordan and Mancelona.
What makes Holka’s journey through more than five decades with McDonald’s extraordinary is how it began and how he and a handful of his fellow crew members back in the mid 1960s have had remarkable careers. Eight employees, including Holka, from the same McDonald’s in Bay City went on to own and operate McDonald’s restaurants throughout Michigan and the Midwest.
To Holka, that’s just proof of McDonald’s as America’s best first job and the opportunities the world’s most recognizable brand offers its employees.
“I was planning on going into accounting at Delta College (in Bay City), but the more I thought about it I had great opportunity to move up in the organization, which at the time was owned by one of the biggest franchisees in the country,” Holka said. “And back then McDonald’s was still relatively small. I remember hearing Ray Kroc say that his goal would be to open 1,000 McDonald’s restaurants.”
He was a little off on that number. I don’t think he would have dreamed or thought it would become as big as it is today,” added Holka with a laugh.
Today, McDonald’s has almost 15,000 restaurants in the United States and more than 36,000 globally.
In those early days, crew members would have to peel and cut potatoes to make French fries.
And throughout his years with McDonald’s, Holka has seen a lot of changes, including the addition of breakfast, drive-thru windows, expanded menu and more, but one constant has remained – hard work will be rewarded.
“I started out making $1 an hour, worked hard, came up through the ranks,” Holka said. “Our family owns five locations and all of our general managers have an average stay of 20 years and they all started out as crew member like me. And today, under the Archway’s program, after 90 days you can get $700 in tuition credit from McDonald’s.”
Under its Archway’s to Opportunity McDonald’s allows employees to earn college credits, receive tuition re-imbursement, earn a high school diploma or improve their English skills.
In 2017, Michigan McDonald’s awarded nearly $600,000 in tuition assistance to approximately 600 employees throughout the state.
What does it take to become successful at McDonald’s?
Holka has one simple reply: “Just love what you are doing,” he said. “It will never be a job if you love what you are doing.” And one of Holka’s favorite times of his day is when he meets his customers.
“I love going in and talking with our loyal customers,” he said. “I love talking with them about how their family is doing, about the weather, or what’s going on it town.”