Inspiring Conversations: Leadership Lessons Learned During the COVID-19 Pandemic

It sounds liberating and exciting to own your own business, but it also feels risky — a drawback that’s been clearly exposed this past pandemic year. Our next Inspiring Conversations speaker knows all about the risk and reward of entrepreneurship. John Ebert ’82 left the comforts of a stable career with an established firm for the possibility of becoming a McDonald’s franchisee. He found success, but then COVID-19 bought the world to a standstill. Join us Tuesday to hear how Ebert’s leadership brought rise to more than 40 McDonald’s restaurants and kept more than 2,000 people employed during the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.

Read the event recap, watch the video, or listen to the podcast below.


Highlights

  • The power of positive thinking is integrally important to a healthy mindset. Positive thinking gave him the confidence and mindset in order to excel at whatever he set his mind to, whether that would be playing a game of baseball, working for excellent clients at Ernst and Young, or leading a team at McDonald’s. (5:42)
  • You need to continue to learn and educate yourself. At Ernst and Young, Ebert passed the CPA exam and considered attempting to attend the best MBA program possible. (9:14)
  • “At this point, I just said: ‘This is not going to work. I need to develop my people. I need to have stronger leadership skills so that they can dig in and care as much about the business as I do.” (John Ebert, 12:21)
  • Ebert explains that his growth and success is contributed to good habits, a consistency of effort, building efficient teams, valuing others, and creating an atmosphere with a high level of trust. (22:53)
  • Everyone has a dream. Although there will be times when you wonder whether it is worth it or not, do not give up. When you find something that you really enjoy and surround yourself with good people, you will succeed. (24:06)
  • “I just enjoy going to work everyday. I enjoy going to the restaurants. There are some days where I am a little tired, but I get in there and I see everyone working so hard…I just enjoy working.” (John Ebert, 31:16)
  • “As a leader, you know, it could be a quick email that only takes me two minutes that can unlock hours for other people [and the] answers they want.” (John Ebert, 31:39)
  • “There was so much fear in their voices when I talked to these guys. They wanted the bonus pay right off the bat, so we did. We gave everyone bonus pay of an extra dollar when they’re working.” (John Ebert speaking about his employees during the pandemic, 33:57)
  • One of Ebert’s guiding principles to being a leader is to always have his team involved. You must make sure that your team is an integral part of the decision process, and show gratitude for everything that they do. (35:50)
  • “Willing to do whatever it takes to get it done and drive seven hours to meet with my people, I can’t thank you [Chris Stevens] enough.” (John Ebert, 53:46)

Event Recap

The Inspiring Conversations Series featured a discussion about leadership with guest speaker John Ebert ’82, the president of J.W. Ebert Corporation which owns and operates 40 McDonald’s. This virtual event was led by Chris Stevens, the co-founding director of the Inspired Leadership Initiative. Through this discussion, Ebert spoke about the importance of enjoying your job, giving back to the community, and building relationships within your team and beyond.

In the beginning of the discussion, Ebert spoke about his journey. From his love for triathlons and exercise to the importance of his family, Ebert had come to realize that he “win[s] with people.” He spoke about his affiliation with three great brands over the course of his lifetime: the University of Notre Dame, Ernst and Young, and McDonald’s. Through his education and career, he learned the power of positive thinking. Positive thinking gave him the correct mindset in order to excel at whatever he set his mind to, whether that would be playing a game of baseball, working for excellent clients at Ernst and Young, or leading a team at McDonald’s.

Ebert described his transition to McDonald’s from Ernst and Young, a decision that was filled with risk and uncertainty. Studying at McDonald’s Hamburger University was a two-thousand hour commitment with no guarantee, with a $200,000 down payment. There, he was willing to expand beyond his comfort zone, learning about the extensive business world of McDonald’s. Eventually, he earned his degree. After seven to eight years, he owned five stores. 

In the next topic of conversation, Ebert touched on the numerous ways in which he helps both his team and his community outside of running the business. For example, he started the Furby Leadership Learning (named after the extremely popular Furby Happy Meal),where he taught his employees how to engage in business and foster strong leadership skills. Additionally, he established an incredibly successful ACT prep class that has led to a number of students earning scholarships and a baseball clinic teaching ten to eleven-year olds baseball skills. Next, Ebert described a few of the most inspiring people he has encountered. One of these people was Sharri, whom he described as the “million-dollar employee.” He explained that she was beloved in the community and treated everyone with kindness; describing her as family, he makes a visible effort to take care of her and provide her with safety and joy. Now, Ebert leads forty stores in-total. He explains that his growth and success is contributed to good habits, a consistency of effort, building efficient teams, valuing others, and creating an atmosphere with a high level of trust.

In the Q&A portion of the virtual event, Ebert answered a wide range of questions, touching on topics such as running businesses amidst a pandemic and the importance of family throughout his career. As a result of COVID-19, his stores’ business declined; additionally, his employees were fearful. So, Ebert made sure to give them bonus pay and aid them financially. In regards to the physical stores, he made sure to implement all of the safety measures, including plexiglass, social distancing, and the immediate shutdown of a store once an employee tested positive. The primary ways in which COVID-19 impacted his business was 1) It increased communication within his businesses, 2) It increased the precautionary measures in order to keep employees and customers safe, and 3) It increased communication between the McDonald’s corporation and its stores. In regards to his family, he described the constant presence of family throughout his career. He lived with his family when he moved from Dallas to Bridgeport. He worked with his father every day at work, and his sister eventually owned a few McDonald’s stores herself.

At the end of the discussion, Ebert concluded with the closing advice to be kind: You must be kind with your customers and your crew. Additionally, he closed the discussion by complimenting and explaining the leadership style of Chris Stevens, naming the style “He is there for you” and showing appreciation for all of his efforts and care.


View the live discussion recorded on Tuesday, March 30, 2021, with Chris Stevens ’74, Co-Founding Director of the Inspired Leadership Initiative, and special guest John Ebert ’82.


Listen to the discussion wherever, whenever, on The ThinkND Podcast:


Register to participate in future discussions.

BusinessCareer DevelopmentChris StevensInspiring ConversationsTom SchreierPurposeInspired Leadership InitiativeBusinessCareer DevelopmentAlumniCareerEdward MalloyJobLeadership
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