MD’s skills put to the test

  • Business
  • Saturday, 29 Aug 2009

MARKETING has been the life blood of McDonald’s Malaysia managing director Sarah Casanova (pix), and it has advanced her career at McDonald’s.

Starting out 18 years ago in her hometown in Canada, she has seen McDonald’s Corp put her skills to the test.

Her first overseas assignment was at the first McDonald’s store at Pushkin Square, Russia.

There was no advertising agency there and the restaurant, which had a 1,000 seating capacity, had a crew of 630 people serving 27 counters.

“That was truly a start-up company on an enormous scale,” says Casanova.

“The Russians had heard a lot about McDonald’s and the expectations were high. This was a restaurant that never stopped serving customers.”

Her next assignment was Istanbul. The emerging McDonald’s market saw an expansion by 30 restaurants during her time there.

This was followed by Japan. Japan presently has 38,000 restaurants, no McDelivery and less than a handful of kiosks.

“Wherever you go, McDonald’s stores are nearly the same, with passionate people and following company strategy. What makes the difference is the customers. Canadians enjoy breakfast in a restaurant but not Russians. And the Japanese are really adventurous eaters, they love food.”

Casanova has been the dean of Hamburger Marketing University for six years. Prior to Malaysia, she was the senior vice-president of business development for McDonald’s Japan.

There she was responsible for the marketing, menu management and new business strategy divisions. Throughout her career, Casanova has recorded some significant milestones.

In 1995, she was a President’s Award recipient and in 1998, she created the Russian Value Programme that turned the business around and delivered consistent double-digit sales results for over three years.

In 2001, she received the McDonald’s Worldwide Marketing Achievement Award, and in 2007, McDonald’s Japan’s marketing team received the same award under her guidance.

More recently, Casanova was accorded the Charlie Bell Award in May, given in recognition of her exceptional leadership and outstanding performance.

With her stay in Malaysia, Casanova would love to visit the different states with her Texan husband, whom she met in Russia.

The weather and durians will need some getting used to, she says. Nevertheless, Casanova has heard a lot about Port Dickson and hopes to see the Rafflesia before her next assignment.

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