May 18, 2022

Finding Her Identity Under the Arches, with McDonald's Tracy Johnstone

Finding Her Identity Under the Arches, with McDonald's Tracy Johnstone

Tracy Johnstone is one of those leaders who if you are lucky enough to encounter on your career journey, will aspire you to become so much more than you ever thought possible. As a female who rose to the top of the ranks of corporate McDonald's in the 1990’s, Tracy shares how she built her confidence and found her voice in a male dominated boardroom.  She recalls, “There’s lots of seats at the table… I just learned early on, which ones I wanted. Just being on the team wasn’t enough for me, at some point. I knew the seat I wanted, and I started working on my skill set to get that seat.” 

Mic-drop moment right there. This episode is jam packed with them! 

A master of margins, Tracy explains how she taught her employees to understand profitability through ketchup packets and how a handful of ketchup became an A-HA moment for her staff as she transparently shared the P+L of her restaurants with all employees.

Tracy also shares a vivid account of how she led the recovery efforts of Hurricane Michael in the Florida Panhandle back in 2018, and then, led her company and employees through COVID.  While she had no idea at the time, these two situations were leading up to the biggest challenge of her life - a breast cancer diagnosis that came at the end of 2020, which led to her decision to sell the business. 

Tune in to be inspired and uplifted! One favorite takeaway we had to sneak in: “The more you do, the more people will let you do.”

CONTACT TRACY JOHNSTONE
tracyvjohnstone@outlook.com
Linkedin 

CONTACT ALEX & ANNIE
AlexandAnniePodcast.com
LinkedIn | Instagram | Facebook

Podcast Sponsored by Condo-World and Lexicon Travel

Transcript
Alex Husner:

Welcome to Alex and Annie, the real women of vacation rentals. I'm Alex. And I'm Annie. And we are joined today with Tracy Johnstone, who is the former owner and CEO of Johnstone foods, which was a group of McDonald's franchises in Florida. And this is a little bit different than the normal guests that we have on the show. But we wanted to bring Tracy on because she is an incredible entrepreneur with an unbelievable story of how she built the business throughout the years and everything that they that they did is just applicable in any business. So, Tracy with that, welcome to the show.

Tracy Johnstone:

Well, thank you for having me today. I appreciate being on.

Alex Husner:

Awesome, thank you. It first, could you just give our listeners a little bit more information? Besides my quick explanation right there about who you are, and just what your experience in business has been?

Tracy Johnstone:

Yeah, absolutely. So I have been a McDonald's franchisee been within McDonald's system as we refer to it for about 30 years, my husband and I collectively owned seven restaurants at the end of our career. And I became the CEO and the functioning operational person within the restaurants in these past 15 years or so. So running restaurants, lots of leadership roles at the corporate level within the McDonald's brand, which is a real interesting dimension of the franchisee franchisor relationship. Married obviously have three kids and six grandchildren. And and now the transition point after a breast cancer diagnosis of developing my next chapter, and looking at what the future holds for me.

Annie Holcombe:

That's, that's just a lot to see. So I'm always fascinated by McDonald's. And I think when we when I first reached out to you, I was I learned a lot through some work that my husband and co workers were doing with you and I learned so much about what it takes to be a franchisor or franchisee I guess it is, but you married into this. And then you kind of just took it on as sort of your mission to just be involved and integrated into your life and do better by the the employees of your business. And that's what you're known for within our community is just being that kind of caregiver to the people that are that are working at the McDonald's. And I know, you know, obviously you mentioned you had your breast cancer diagnosis, and you transitioned away from owning the restaurants. But could you tell us about the early days again, you you married into the family, but what was it that was that spark that made you really want to dive in and be part of the business.

Tracy Johnstone:

And I think back then I viewed myself as an educator, I finished my master's degree was teaching, you know, at Gulf Coast College and thought that was my path. And then as you found out within McDonald's system, it really is a family business, you're not just a franchisee your record, you really are a franchisee, and you really are an owner and an operator. And that's a real differentiator in this brand. So when I began to work in the restaurant, so and it just happens by default, when you're part of, you know, a quick service restaurant chain, if you're the spouse, whether it's you know, I'm doing a birthday party at one store, something that simple, but just somehow lit a fire in me that I realized, I am called to teach and serve and to lead people I feel like is what my gifts are and my colleagues are, and that I didn't have to be standing in a classroom, in academia to do that I can be standing in our restaurants and teaching and developing people. And those needs that are there. You know, we're just so plentiful, there was really good work to be done there. So began transitioning into the restaurants. And at that point, still no, no idea, no desire to become a franchisee. But as you begin to learn the business, you begin to learn operations, it kind of gets under your skin. And I'm a pretty detail oriented person. And I want all the details to be right. I viewed the restaurants in this extension of my home. So it became that natural fit. And just like you know anything in life, the more you do, the more people will let you do and that's sort of where I found myself. The more I did, the more I did. But the key to that was that I loved it. I loved what we were doing. And I just found, you know, a lot of identity under those artists.

Alex Husner:

That's so cool. Oh, I love that too. So did you did you own separate? I mean, I know you're you and your husband on them together. But did you manage the restaurant separately? Your own or were they your jointly managing all of them together?

Tracy Johnstone:

Yeah, we jointly managing all of them in terms of the organization at the organizational level. So we were both franchisees on all the restaurants, but she managed them as an organization and creating that infrastructure much like probably in your industry where you have multiple Airbnbs that you're managing, it gets easier and you're able to scale and you do More Same thing here. managing them collectively. And leveraging your talent, leveraging those resources is how we ran the organization.

Alex Husner:

Yeah, interesting. I mean, vacation rentals are definitely very much a family run business industry. Our company is a family run business. Our president now is the third generation. And it's, it just didn't make sense within what we do. But I'm curious what was what was your strength in the business versus what was your husband's strength? I know, you said you're, you were great at leading the people. But what was he good at?

Tracy Johnstone:

He is old school operations is what I call it. He is all about quality of the food and processes and temperatures and things being righteous. Yeah, yeah, he's definitely an equipment guy, a hands on guy and Lord knows in our business equipment, you know, can either make you or break you that it's in good shape and being cared for. That's the part he loved the part that wasn't his his favorite is dealing with phone dealing, right? Nothing hiring, training and development. He's just not given to that. And the more we work together at the end of when he was super active in the business, he just told people, he was my maintenance man. Tracy's maintenance thing to that is he was quite happy with that. Yeah, I really liked being able to step back after 50 something years of the business, you know, he'd rather talk to the grilled and talk to a group of people, and it just worked out great for us. So

Alex Husner:

it sounds like you guys were getting Ying Ying Yang.

Tracy Johnstone:

Yeah, and we found our sweet spot. And that takes a minute that wasn't ever there was something about finding that sweet spot. But when you work together in a family business, finding that sweet spot and who does what is a huge part of the you know, the course that you're navigating to get where you want to be?

Alex Husner:

Yeah, Alex and

Annie Holcombe:

Alex and I have both worked with our husbands, Alex does currently and I have throughout my career. And that is a that is a challenge to kind of find your space and your identity and not have it be consumed by the other or you consuming them? But also you don't step on each other's toes and toes and make the home life? confrontational?

Tracy Johnstone:

Yeah, yeah, balancing that and not having to, we will always say we're not going to talk about work home, and we talk about work at home today. So that's never I don't necessarily think true and not necessarily necessary. It's part of your life. It's part of the fabric of your family.

Alex Husner:

Yeah, yeah. It's your passion for you. And I for Annie and I, too, it's like, it's impossible for me to not talk about work at home, or just even with my friends and people that don't even really know what I do. I feel like it's such a big part of me. And, you know, doing the podcast has become an extension of it that it's this is, you know, something that brings together a lot of different things that Annie and I do, but it's another way that we get to talk about work really enjoy it. Yeah,

Tracy Johnstone:

completely get that. Yeah.

Annie Holcombe:

So Tracy, I was actually I came across another podcast that you did recently. With the ladies didn't want to say and it was che, it was a spark. Really, really, I loved it. And one of the things that you talked about was that how passionate you are about connecting with people and kind of I think goes back to your teaching skills. And you're, you know, going in that realm, but you, you talked about how people kind of in food service, but it does go into hospitality in general is a lot of those people come into the industry coming from areas where they were told they would never amount to anything or are given the opportunity to amount to anything, and that you wanted to kind of, I guess make it your mission to help these people realize their truest potential. And I think that ultimately led to what you call the "Johnstone Difference". I just that spoke to me just in so many ways, just because I think all of us at some levels have struggled to kind of find ourselves and depending whether you had a mentor mentee relationship with somebody where you could feel that they were helping guide you or you were guiding them to the do to your best self. I mean, it's very relevant. So could you talk about how that was impactful for you as a leader? And then again, as a franchisor?

Tracy Johnstone:

For sure, for sure. I'll speak to the "Johnston Difference" phrase and it really is way more than a phrase right. But I think with that, I'll speak to that first that with that. It is about separating yourself from your competitors. So another franchisee is my competitor in an indirect way right? Just like another Yeah. Another something in your in your industry. So differentiating yourself is the you know, the best form of creating that competitive advantage and for us the competitive advantages is hiring the best people and then serving customers well and creating customer loyalty. So that was the root of that and then teaching our folks that we're not the Johnstone difference. We just hang our shingle building. You were the Johnstone difference and empowering them to feel that and to understand that was huge. But when it comes to the people parts, especially the part of where, you know, you have people that come into this industry, oftentimes, not by design, it's just the nature of the business and our culture structure that have come from places where someone told them, you'll never have anything, you'll never be anything, you'll never do anything. And once that really sunk in with me, and I realized who my audience was, so to speak with our employees, it became my job to prove that prove them wrong to prove the people in their life wrong, that you are not at a dead end job, you do have choices, there is an escalator to the next floor for you, you are not stuck at this level for the rest of your life. And in fact, it was the opposite in every orientation, I would say, if you're still just cooking fries a year from now, then you need to talk to me, because there's a whole lot more you can be doing besides that, for some people that meets their needs. And that's okay, too, for folks that don't want to reach beyond just doing, you know, an entry level type role. But it's not where it's not where the elevator, the elevator goes up in this case, and to make sure that we didn't have a Down button on our elevator, you know, we're not pushing people down, we're lifting people up. And I think that that concept in that process and creating that culture. And so the Johnston difference internally was the people culture recreated, and creating that culture of achievement and advancement, and just helping people see what's possible, because you may have grown up in a home that not much was possible for you, the environment, the circumstances you were born into, there wasn't a lot that was possible it is our job, as employers in these entry level industries, especially, is to create that vision for these folks of what is possible for them. And then giving them the tools and resources to do that we can talk about all the utopia, what's then got to put in the hard work of helping them get where they need to be.

Alex Husner:

Yeah, and I mean, what an incredible opportunity to learn all that from such a well run organization. I think from top down, I mean, the McDonald's brand, you know, don't get much, you know, bigger, more well respected than that. And I just I know from, you know, family, friends that their children have worked for McDonald's, they've they've done that they've done the fries, and then they've become managers. I mean, I've seen young kids that are now in their early 20s that are in management roles within the organization. So it's great to be able to offer those opportunities. And I'm sure that was very fulfilling for you, since that's clearly what you love is working with people.

Tracy Johnstone:

Well, I think our Panama City city manager was a general in the Air Force. And in a conversation he had to Kevin, who works has worked best in some of our marketing and public relations. He was telling him, he said that was my first job. And that's how I learned to be a general. Yeah, yeah, you just don't get any better than that. So even if you don't stay within the brand, or the system or the industry, the things that you can learn the skills you can develop if you're working in the right, people culture, really can set the trajectory for your whole life.

Alex Husner:

Yeah, absolutely. I'm curious what it was like in the early days, man, take us back to when you first got involved in the business, you know, corporate America, you were one of the few female franchisees around, I'm sure, what was that like?

Tracy Johnstone:

Okay, yeah, to come in. I know, with the first meeting that I went to, with McDonald's, and that was, you know, back in the 90s. It's definitely a male dominated culture. At that point, both corporately, probably, and certainly in the franchisee community, I became a member of something called the Women's operator network, which is the diversity organization within the McDonald's brand. For women franchisees, it is the first time I got a different angle, you know, there was there was new lighting for me on the stage of saying women achieve in this industry and in this business. And that opened that door of knowing that that's who I wanted to be, I had no idea how to get there at that very moment. But I knew that that's, you know, that is the role that I wanted to have. And then McDonald's now is a brand I have to give them credit. And it's not just lip service, they are very committed to diversity and elevating women in our industry. And finding that those women run good stores, you know, their sales are often better, their profitability is often better. Their retention with staff is often better. So they're doing some things really well. And it is serving the brain really well as well. But I know that first time going to meeting being on a team and sitting at the table and how intimidating that felt, you know whether that was my own lack of confidence. Doesn't really matter what the origin that was, but it's alone. That's when you walk into a big regional office, you know, and you're one of two or three women at a table of 28 people. So that being able to put yourself in those situations, even when it is uncomfortable, there's no other way to learn that there's no other way to break down that barrier for yourself, and improve your skill set to be able to function in that environment.

Annie Holcombe:

We talk about that all the time, just Alex and I just off off camera off recording is the is the the ability to really find yourself out in those uncomfortable moments, and kind of understand and recognize that your strengths and your weaknesses and what you need to the skills that you need to hone. And I think that you know, we've we've definitely learned that for ourselves. But everybody that we talked to, that seems to be a common thread that people don't maybe talk about enough that it really is okay to feel that and own it and go with it. So you So you were able to find some comfort, and you were able to find your voice within the organization? And how do you feel like you were able to use that along the way to get, again, get to where you were within the organization.

Tracy Johnstone:

I think in our industry, especially, you know, results and metrics and measurements in any field, and you're measuring results, right, whether it's profitability or the metrics of customer satisfaction. And so I think getting to where we had the results to give me the credibility that I felt I needed to then stand up and say, This is what we can do together, or this is what you shouldn't do, perhaps depending on the venue, but having those results yourself, it's really easy to get up and talk about how things should be when you're not doing it yourself. That doesn't give you a lot of leverage. So that's where I started is I figured out what mattered to the brand to my friend Johnson work. And we started working those metrics and how do we get these numbers? How do we get where we want to be because all of those numbers weren't just numbers on a page, they did equal the standard of operations, they did equal in sales, they did equal customer counts. And then that, in turn, put us in a position of profitability, and that profitability. Being a successful franchisee financially also goes a long way, you know, to what your seat at the table looks like. There's lots of seats at the table I learned early on. I just figured out which ones I wanted that finally, just being on the team wasn't enough for me at some point. I knew the sea I wanted. And then I started working my skill set to get that seat.

Annie Holcombe:

Yeah. And so your skill set, if I'm not mistaken, you referenced was counting ketchup packets? Yes. So I love I just we just love that story. So could you share a little bit about that. And like, I think that was your pivotal metric moment for yourself. For sure.

Tracy Johnstone:

I think when I finally mastered the p&l, and really got to the point, I understood that we really are it's not just a saying we really are Penny profit business. The margins built into a hamburger, you know, are supported by the sales of fries and drinks. And when you look at that product mix is our language, you know, and what average check is, and those things are inextricably linked. But I think when I realized how Penny profit we were, and that handing someone a handful of 20 ketchup packets just completely eroded the profitability of that hamburger and fries, we just sold them. It was an aha moment for me. And it wasn't it didn't matter that it was an aha moment for me it was a matter is that we developed a way to teach that aha moment to our staff, because I can't, I'm not in every job thru window. So educating them and teaching your folks and helping them get up underneath what profitability looks like in your business and not being afraid to share the second page of p&l with your people. Right? Because on the surface, it just looks like you're raking in money like no tomorrow. Right? Right. Yeah, yeah. But we all know that, you know, in most industries, that's really not the case, especially in a service industry, which is what you are as well. So it is about loose details and figuring out what is your ketchup packet, you know, in in the vacation rental industry, you know, what is your ketchup packets and what matters? And then how do you convey that to your people?

Alex Husner:

Yeah, that's I think the transparency part is really a critical thing. And a lot of companies probably are, you know, weary to do that. And they don't necessarily want to share that level of transparency with their with their people that work for them. But to your point, that's, that's how you get people to understand like, I'm not just harping at you to not give like ketchup packets because I don't want you to do that that's tied to us being able to be a profitable company that will in turn, be able to give you more opportunities and reward you for the good work that you do and in vacation rentals and in profitability. There's that's probably the most used Word at conferences these days, because that's the name of the game is figuring out how we can operate even with the same amount of inventory and rentals. But do it more profitably. Because right now getting inventory, a lot of companies are losing it. So that now you've got to start being smart about where you can make sure that you're keeping those margins. And on the other side of it, you know, we've got these big investment companies and the large ones that are coming in, and they're operating completely not profitable. And I mean, they're, they're publicly traded, Vacasa is one that they are not profitable. So we always question you know, when does the rubber meet the road for this? Because how was it eventually, how will always continue on. But you know, for the majority of us that do operate as regular profitable businesses, it is, it's the little things that really add up and make a big difference. And you can't do you can't do every software, every different program, because we are all operating on small margins. And just having that business mindedness when you're making those decisions is very important. Right?

Tracy Johnstone:

Well, and I think for us, when we looked at that profitability piece, you know, and catch up pack specifically, because, you know, is probably the entry level of where we throw pennies out the window, was teaching people to why. And if they don't understand why, you know, you're doing exactly what you said, you're just harping on them about something else, you know, it's the next thing you're going to harp on, but teaching them the why. And looking at, you know, what is what is the value per transaction, you know, we would work with our managers to understand what is what is each transaction worth at your store, obviously, the better your margins were, you know, you this store had a more valuable customer in terms of profitability with the transaction, but boiling it down and scrubbing it like that for folks and letting them really, whatever they relate to helping them understand that. It just, it changes how they view things. And then eventually, it goes from being a class to being your culture. And that's, you know, you can teach classes all day long. But if it doesn't become part of how you do distance in your culture, with your team, or at least your leadership team, you're just teaching another class. But, you know, if anyone worked for us, and couldn't tell me what a packet of ketchup called, I have not done my job and my leadership team, but not That's your job. So you've got to give people information, you know, they're shooting in the dark, you got to give people information. And then if you relate it to their home, you know, how much does it cost to put ketchup, mayonnaise and mustard in your refrigerator, you know, and it matters, and you don't buy 10 of them at a time. And, you know, making it relatable was part of how we got to where we were with our results and profitability.

Annie Holcombe:

Yeah. But you talk about a way to one get buy in, but help those people that we were just talking about before, those people that were told that they didn't have any purpose in life, other than just just flipping burgers, like all of a sudden, their seat at the table is a completely different position than they could ever have imagined. I mean, that's has to be so empowering,

Alex Husner:

having ownership, you know, knowing that what you're doing is really contributing to the bet something bigger than yourself, right?

Tracy Johnstone:

That's the biggest part. Exactly. And I think, you know, people have asked me many times over, you know, how do you morally you convey purpose to someone who's talking at McDonald's, you know, how do you convey purpose than selling a hamburger. And we had two sides to that coin we talked about one was the people's needs, we were meeting that were the person in the car and the drive to, they may have just left from a cancer treatment facility, and they're coming by to get something to eat, because they don't feel good. It's the child's birthday. It's the elderly person who comes for coffee every day. And you are their family, you are their Yeah, it's just I just love all of that so much. I think it's so social, you may be the only people they talk to all day, we spent a lot of time in that kind of conversation about the audience analysis, if you will, of who our customers were, how we were meeting their needs way above and beyond just selling them a hamburger. But then the other side of that was just what you said is now I'm in the business with you. I'm not just working for you. And we read it's a it's a tiny phrase, but you would never hear me say she works for me. She works with me. Yeah. And that really does stick after a while and it changes you changes how you view your own people, and it changes how they view you and their job. So giving that to where they were working with you. And we're working to a common goal and I have some responsibility. And now that's you know, that became a whole nother game changer if I an inventory and condiments every month alongside my GM and that's my scorecard is what our condiment costs were for the month you know, and where we were in our stat loss of condiments. Now, I'm doing math, I'm not just you know, hidden food out in the in the window. I'm working on your your p&l and that changes everything. And then everyone in the restaurant is working on your p&l. For better or worse. They're impacting your p&l. And I'm sure the same is true in your industry, everyone who was part of the team that makes your business home, they're impacting your p&l one way or the other. relevant to so many industries. And I think some businesses, some business leaders, get wrapped up in the managing of the people and not empowering of the people and understanding that it is that true teamwork and has to be you know, together, we all achieve what everyone achieves more. So I applaud you for doing that. So I think I'm guessing that when your transition happened at the end of last year, that that was probably really hard for those people, because they didn't see you as Tracy that owned the restaurant they worked at, they saw you as Tracy, someone who's mentoring and leading them and you were family to them. Yeah, yeah. And I think we really were I mean, we were the Johnston foods family. Yeah. And that was the you know, but overarching comment that we got, we decided to sell. I just, you know, I'll never forget sitting with my general managers that day to tell them yeah, you know, about my diagnosis and in the decisions. Oh, my God, I can give my full time best effort to treatment and healing. But it was, you know, it was like telling it to my children to me, and these are all grown men and women sitting at the table. Yeah. And it was audible gasps Yeah, I'm sure. Yeah, no. And they they felt for me, I guess, in the diagnosis, but the real pain in the room? was we were breaking up the family. Yeah, yeah. And in for that moment, that's what it felt like, and the uncertainty

Alex Husner:

of not only you been there, you know, their careers. I'm sure that must have been difficult did what was that process? Like? Did you stay on to help with the transition and with the with the new company,

Tracy Johnstone:

beforehand, before we actually closed on the restaurants? Yes. And that was important in how we approach that. That means we made every effort to set them up for success. We didn't decide to sell and we checked out, you know, and that's the difference in caring about your people. And, you know, we we sold an asset, we didn't sell the Johnstone difference, you can't sell culture. You know, so we sold assets, and then it's up to the new owner operators to create their culture in the restaurants. But the truth is that John Stein difference lives on, and that culture lives on those restaurants, and you can't put a price on that. Like I said, I just don't think you can sell that. And that went a long way to give people some comfort to you know, I wrote an email the night the day before we close to our folks about, you know, your job tomorrow is to while their socks off. Yeah, yeah, you're still representing Johnston foods. And I said those exact words to we may have sold the restaurants but you know, you can't sell what we all know we have, right? And use that to level up in his transition, you've got a competitive advantage that other people don't even understand yet. So, you know, put that in your pocket and use it to level up and show people what you're made of and create your next opportunity.

Alex Husner:

That's awesome. Interesting,

Annie Holcombe:

Tracy, you've done so many, again, you're from the community where I live. So you've been an integral part of a lot of things that have happened in the community. And I think, again, the community took an audible gasp when everybody heard about your diagnosis. And again, feeling, you know, I guess, trepidation about what was going to be next for these people. But also just you know, the love of Tracy as a leader. Something that I think you and I both we connect on as we went through Hurricane Michael, a few years back, and I've lived here since the 90s, or the early 90s. And so I've been through a few hurricanes and seeing damage along the coast, but never really affected me as much as Michael did. And it was devastating. And one of the things that I think rose out of that was just the champions that our community had to kind of rally and get us all back, back together. And I think what you did not only to try to figure out how we could get get the ship, right. And I mean, we were complete total collapse of infrastructure, from the utilities to everything. Can you talk a little bit about how that works for you. And again, having the restaurants open meant meant more than just being able to serve food and then being able to employ people that had lost everything and needed, they needed that normalcy?

Tracy Johnstone:

Right? For sure. I think you know, our first objective than all that was to account for everybody you know, and you know, we didn't have cell phone service. So you're in the Pony Express, you're putting a note on the door, write your name here if you have come to the restaurant to check in. But getting those restaurants open to feed first responders and feed some people and the ones that could physically Get opened, you know, several could, they will be on, you know, repair rep, just getting it cleaned up and open doors, but being able to get people paid. And I know it sounds crazy now but you know, our son was in school in Tampa and he went to a friend of ours who got, you know, several 10s of 1000s of dollars over. So we could pay people cash because I couldn't physically run check. I didn't have, you know, the power to do that. And the banks were closed, you know, so just being practical about how you approach people's needs after that having other McDonald's or operators send down truckloads of blankets, and pillows and mattresses and food and clothes and uniforms. You know, our folks they cut up to come in and they've lost their home, which in many cases they had completely, you know, they may have a uniform put on, you know, so you might have a corporate person come in and say, Well, why don't they have a uniform, because they don't have

Alex Husner:

any challenging times,

Tracy Johnstone:

really takes a minute for what's going on. But then I think it made me realize to the power of those arches and our family name, the payout of the good we done was being able to create some influence and what we needed as a community with the state legislature at the national level federal funding, I went to a meeting of it was called, you know, just hurricane Michael recovery, the women of the storm is what it was called in New Orleans. And we were the women of the storm. And I, you know, I laugh now and say I'm making mistake of saying to help clean up, because when you were raised going to church, you stay and help clean up, fellowship, Paul, I stayed to help clean up. And so, you know, there was a group of six of us that became Michael's angels, and became the goats and spokespeople for what was happening. But my experience at the national level with McDonald's had prepared me for that in a way to not even begin to realize. So you never know, the investment you're making in your career and your job your business, what that's also setting you up to do, and gives you a skill set and gives you you know, some influence that you might not have otherwise, and finding a way to leverage that for the community became a passion after that, you know, I think we all said many times over reaches our life back, you know, and, and when you that is a big sentence. And so being able to help facilitate that for our community became hugely meaningful for me.

Alex Husner:

Yeah, we Annie and I were just talking about earlier today, how planting seeds in your career path, how you don't know necessarily even that you're planting them. But if you just keep taking action and meeting people and keep moving along, you really are you're you're connecting the dots, when you look back that all those things happen for a reason. And you get that, that lucky break. And in your case, not the hurricane certainly wasn't lucky. But Panama City Beach was very lucky to have you there for to be able to manage all this situation. But it's it's a, it's rewarding, in a way.

Tracy Johnstone:

And you know, I've ever set out in anything I've ever done to be a hero, that word was an early part of my vocabulary. But during the storm, one of the things I learned is when you're leading an organization where you're leading people, they need a hero, whether you want to whether you do or not, or you want to be that they need a hero. And, and leaning in and allowing myself to take that kind of role of like, I'm going to make this better. And I'm going to fix this for you. It wasn't because I really thought I could it was because I knew it needed to be done. And I knew that I have some resources to help make that happen. But your team needs that they need you to be their advocate to be their hero, their spokesperson. And that's the first time that really became apparent to me of who I was to them and how important it was that I accepted that role. Yeah, I

Alex Husner:

remember just watching from afar, Annie, I mean that you and I, we knew each other and we were friendly at that point. But we weren't nearly as close obviously, as we are no, but I remember just watching all the efforts that you were doing during Hurricane Michael and with the plastic containers. I mean, it was unbelievable. I thought my gosh, like, she cares so much. And you were literally that was your full time job was leading that effort for a while there. But it was just it was incredible to see from a distance. But you know, not a far distance. I mean, Hurricane Michael just kind of barely skimmed us, but that was just a day before that it wiped out your area. So

Tracy Johnstone:

Right. Yeah, yeah. And it certainly wasn't me alone. You know, it was it was the group of women in the how empowered that group of women and women that I've never met for that night, and such a diverse background and that was the other pieces. We were all business women in some way, shape or form. And all of our skill sets and now all of our past experiences help, you know, create the environment to make that work. Yeah,

Annie Holcombe:

I think I think when you never know how strong you are until you're in those moments when right you just have to do it. And like, for me, it just became one of those things that was like, Well, again, it became a full time job because it was filling in to cover up all of the anxiety of everything that was going on around like you couldn't drive anywhere without just feeling this crush of your soul. And I just remember I've told people over time, I mean, I hugged countless people that I would never have met in my life, I heard stories that were horrible and horrific and, and if I could get them five minutes, where they could just feel like they can just let it all out and cry, and they would leave. And I'd still be hanging there with a bit like, to your point, it wasn't trying to be a hero, it was just trying to be something for someone that I was helpless to do the big things, but I could do something really little that was impactful for those people at that particular moment. So I think, you know, we all learned a lot about it. And it is hard to look at the community and see how much is still left to go. But we're getting there. And every you know, every weekend is you see something, you know, building gone, it's being replaced by something new. But I think for you, it not only gave you a skill set that you didn't know that you'd been honing all these years, but it gave you a recognition within McDonald's organization. So when future things would happen, they look to you. And so obviously, everybody in the country, the globally went through COVID. And you got called to be part of a task force to help with that. And what a what a boost to say like this woman knows what she's doing. So can you tell us about

Tracy Johnstone:

that? Yeah, sure. I mean, I became a student of disaster response whether I wanted to want to confer. Yeah, but that you do you gain an experience that no textbook can teach you, you know. And so by virtue of that, I became involved in the association and drug officials and began doing some conferences and speaking on some panels from them about disaster response relative to food safety and operations. It opened all kinds of crazy doors that gee, I didn't even know those doors exist, and are those venues, but certainly with a brand, when COVID started. And I was at a McDonald's meeting in Vegas for the weekend that we all kind of really figured out. Okay, this is really happening, right? Yeah. And when sanitizing the handrail at the hotel in Vegas the next day, and I'm like, Okay, this is where you're in the meeting bubble. So you really don't know what's going on. But after COVID really settled in, it was like obvious, this is something we're going to deal with. And when I say suddenly, and I mean three or four weeks afterwards, because our whole world changed that quick. I got the phone call, they were putting together a COVID response team for the US McDonald's restaurant system. And they had tapped people purposefully who had had some kind of disaster response. So for example, the operator who was own stores where there were the Ferguson riots, that's different, you know, portfolio of disaster circumstances. And then I asked me, if I would lead the kind of response for the US McDonald's system. I said, Yes, because it gave me a way to focus all my nervous energy on something productive and positive at a broad scale. But I had no idea what I was, you know what that really meant at the time. But that history, you know, again, that experience with Hurricane Michael, really set the stage to be able to step in and understand when people are afraid. And when resources are limited. And when your your living is being compromised. Those three things alone happens in the hurricane, obviously. And then we repeated that in COVID Didn't matter what the circumstances were of how we got there, but those three needs changed everything about how we were as business women and men and leaders, you know, in the system, so leading that was incredibly rewarding, and went 100 different directions. And of course, it was not static. It changed all the time. Yeah, exactly. Yeah. But but but good work to be able to help craft what are our processes and procedures now for sanitation versus all that changed? Food Safety has always been a passion of mine. And I teach food safety, and I'm a certified instructor and proctor for ServSafe. And so I already lived in that world. So that too was a natural fit of how do we redesign how we do business overnight in you know, some of the changes happened during that time for a big footprint company like McDonald's. It would have taken five years to do the things we you know, and then you modification going to simplify menu with all of those things. You know, I would have recommended that the day before they realized okay, yeah, you stay in your lane. Yeah. And now this then, we had a lot of say so because we're the ones meeting the customers where they were and everybody else was in lockdown. We were classified as the central personnel. So We were opening to go to work. But then McDonald's corporate people were not. Yeah. So it was a real shift in power, if you will. And but everyone working to the same means to the end, which was to protect our customers, our staff and protect the brand.

Alex Husner:

Yeah. COVID definitely taught all of us to be way more flexible than we ever were before. And, you know, in our vacation, rental and hospitality, industry, same thing. I mean, there were things that we did and changes to policies that historically had never been done before, and would have taken probably a year to contemplate if we were doing it under normal terms. But when you're in that situation, you just have to make decisions, and a non decision is worse than making a bad decision. And a lot of cases, it's like a decision, you just have to move forward. Yeah.

Tracy Johnstone:

You know, it's interesting to me in your industry, so much of that has stuck just like it has an hours a lot of Yeah. And as a consumer of your industry. I'm stuck. Yeah, it feels good. And the level of consciousness and awareness to my your safety and sanitation and a property that I'm in. I mean, it's a lot to me, you know, I'll never view that differently. Even if COVID disappeared tomorrow, I will always appreciate the modifications that were made in your industry. And hopefully the same is true, you know, within the restaurant industry.

Alex Husner:

Yeah, for sure, for sure. Well, Tracy, this has been just a wonderful conversation. And I might have mentioned this earlier. But Annie, your name has come up for since we first started the podcast. And he had said early on, you know, when we talked about bringing on other guests outside of vacation rentals. And yours was one of the first ones that she mentioned, because she said Tracy is just an incredible leader. And I'm very fortunate to get to have met you and heard about you on our calls that we've had. So we appreciate you being here so much. I know that our audience is going to very thoroughly enjoy everything that you shared with us today.

Tracy Johnstone:

Thank you. Thanks y'all, for having me. I really appreciate it. Yeah.

Alex Husner:

If anybody wants to get in touch with you, what's the best way to contact you or so

Tracy Johnstone:

just Tracy D Johnston, you can find me that way on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter. We're in the process of working with Kevin. And then Annies husband is on that team to launching a blog. I've been writing content for that for quite a while. As well as continuing on, you know, booking out some public speaking engagements. So you'll be able to find that information and track all that on those three social media platforms.

Alex Husner:

Wonderful. We will include that in our show notes. And if anybody wants to contact Annie and I, you can go to Alex and Annie podcast.com. And if you're enjoying the show, please leave us a review. drop us a note. We'd love to hear from you. Annie anything else?

Annie Holcombe:

No. That's it. Tracy. Just thanks so much for joining us the second time around.

Tracy Johnstone:

All right. Thank you.

Alex Husner:

Yeah. Thanks, everybody. We'll see you next time.

Tracy Johnstone Profile Photo

Tracy Johnstone

Former Owner/CEO Johnstone Foods

Tracy Johnstone was a McDonald's franchisee for 30 years. In that time, she and her husband Tim owned seven locations in North Florida. Tracy was also part of many national McDonald's efforts, including chair of the National Operators Association, chair of the Women Operators Network, and lead for the McDonald's COVID response team for the entire U.S. Since retiring from the McDonald's system, Tracy has started consulting with other businesses and organizations on effective corporate operations, communication, and growth strategy.