Lauren SCHULTZ ’00 didn’t think she’d ever work at McDonald’s, let alone make a career of it. But that was before she experienced the energy and values of the brand, and the scale and scope of the international corporation. She has now been with the company for 14 years, first with Ronald McDonald House Charities as Manager of Marketing and Communications, and then with McDonald’s USA.
Over the years, she has overseen menu strategy and innovation as well as the McDelivery business. If you’ve enjoyed a McCrispy Sandwich, Buttermilk Crispy Tenders, or any of the new Burger recipes over the past five years, you have Lauren and her team to thank. Making the move to general management, she was recently promoted to Field Vice President for the Columbus Field Office. She’s now in charge of 1,200 restaurants in the region spanning Ohio, Western Pennsylvania, West Virginia, Kentucky and Tennessee, managing $4 billion in sales for the enterprise and overseeing everything from operations and marketing to personnel and philanthropy efforts.
Lauren, who came to Ellis for her Upper School years, earned a B.A. in art history in 2004 and an MBA in 2009, both from the University of Notre Dame. She met with Ellis' Director of Marketing and Communications and our Alumnae Coordinator in October to talk about how she shaped her career, and how Ellis gave her the confidence to go for it.
You’ve been with McDonald’s for quite some time, first with Ronald McDonald House Charities and now with McDonald’s USA. Could you talk about what drew you there, and the roles you’ve held within the company?
Everybody’s got a childhood memory of the brand. That core truth and what it meant to me was an initial draw, particularly because at the time, the brand had lost relevance and resonance with my generation. And I liked the idea of being a problem solver within such a big company. I had also worked in fine dining in Pittsburgh and I love food, I love hospitality, I love the vibrancy of the service industry. In business school my degree was in marketing, and during the first year of our program [McDonald’s] Chief Strategist and the Chief Marketing Officer did a case study on the Happy Meal business. My cohort put together recommendations on how to reverse the business’s downward trajectory, and it went well. I went up to the Chief Strategist, who was a Notre Dame alum, and said 'I need a job at McDonald’s. How do I get my foot in the door?’ I was incredibly thankful that the Notre Dame alumni network kicked in. Plus, the McDonald's system has a very family centric culture and value system. He opened up his network and let me interview throughout the company.
Ultimately I was hired by [Ronald McDonald House Charities]. My goal was to stay there for a year and then to move on to the brand side, but I loved the work and the team. I got promoted pretty quickly. I was there for four years. At that point, I think I gained the savvy within corporate American politics to say what I really wanted to do, which was to work closer to the food and closer to the brand. I got a job on the menu team managing the burger category. The menu side is the heartbeat of the business and I was doing menu strategy and development work. I’ve had my fingerprints all over a lot of food innovation in the past five years. For instance, the chicken sandwich is a billion-dollar business in the U.S., so to say that you’ve had that kind of scale to your work is cool.
Menu is a general management function. You’re doing a lot of consumer intelligence to tell you where you want to play next and what we can scale to 14,000 restaurants in the U.S. You then are figuring out within our design teams and supplier networks if you can actually bring this idea to life. And then, where I think it gets really fun, is how you make that real in a restaurant. You’re really seeing and steering the whole business on menu: the supplying of it, the financing of it, the operationalizing of it, and the franchisee endorsement of it as well.
There was a decision I needed to make back in 2021–2022 of whether I wanted to go be a Marketing Officer at the company or if I wanted to be where I am now. I wanted to do more general management, so I went into the accelerated operations program and learned from the restaurant-level up how our business works. Then I got placed here [in Pittsburgh] about a year ago as an Operations Officer. I was kind of the Chief Operating Officer for the region at first and then they promoted me to Field VP. In this role, I oversee approximately 1,200 restaurants in the region, about 150 franchisees, and a big team that ensures we are getting the most out of the business. It’s been a rollercoaster ride.
McDonald’s has a long history of philanthropy and community support. How have you seen that play out in your roles with the organization?
Our company has a five value system built into it; Serve and Community are two of those core values. It’s an expectation that everyone at the company, our suppliers and all of our franchisees, abide by these values. Community service takes all sorts of shapes and forms throughout the company. We’re a global business so anytime there’s a significant need from a weather related event, we immediately pledge support to the Red Cross. We also have a mobile truck that delivers food and water in natural disaster circumstances.
Ronald McDonald House Charities is the charity of choice for the organization so a lot of the philanthropy that we do from the company and from franchisees are geared towards that. Our franchisees do their own community work as well. We know the arches shine brighter, so to speak, when we’re very entrenched in the communities we serve. Many franchisees host McTeacher’s Nights at their restaurants to give back to schools by raising money through proceeds. Many donate to youth sports as well. There are also operators who raise money for cancer causes because one of their employees might be battling a form of cancer.
Ellis’ mission is centered around four pillars: being a changemaker; being a positive community member; being secure and confident; and being a vibrant intellect. Which of these pillars resonates most with you, personally and professionally?
Secure and confident. Ellis really was a place where there wasn’t the scale of popularity you see in a traditional or cinematic kind of high school setting. It was almost like the more you achieved, the smarter you were, the cooler you were at the school. That gave you permission to just be who you were and feel the most confidence in that. I think that translated throughout my early career and up until now, to just being an authentic, genuine, uniquely you kind of leader. In this new role everyone keeps telling me, 'You’re a breath of fresh air. You’re so easy to talk to. We can have the right conversations.’ In the middle of that kind of interaction, you generally find solutions. I never tried to be somebody I wasn’t when I was at Ellis, and I think this place gave you full license and permission to do that. At Notre Dame I went through a bit of asking, 'do I need to fit in?’ You’re going from a 33-girl class to a 2,000 person coed environment, and you find yourself asking, 'do I need to be somebody different?’ But at the end of the day you work through that, and the foundation I had [at Ellis] quickly came back.
Our Ellis students regularly have jobs and internships in the community. In your opinion, what is the importance of gaining real-world work experience as a young person?
When I was at Ellis I worked at La Charcuterie, which was a French deli on Ellsworth. I was a babysitter. I was a ski instructor. I will tell you, the street smarts that come at an early age from working in customer service are invaluable. I didn’t get where I am in my career because I was an academic. My curiosity is vibrant—I do like to dig into additional information and insight—but at the end of the day it’s understanding how the stuff on the page comes off the page and gets translated into the fabric of our economy. McDonald’s serves the equivalent of the U.S. population every 10 days. You’re serving customers from all walks of life. Growing up in the East End of Pittsburgh, and being at Ellis, you kind of are in a bubble of a certain socioeconomic status. When you work in marketing at McDonald’s, you quickly learn how to appeal, reach, and communicate to all—all different personalities, income levels, credos. And at the restaurant level, you do the same, treating everyone as you want to be treated.
What were the experiences you most enjoyed as an Ellis student? How did they influence you on the path to your career?
I played lacrosse and field hockey here, and I ended up playing lacrosse at Notre Dame as a scholarship athlete. When you’re at a small school, and you’re part of winning teams, it comes with a level of stature. That was awesome to me, to have that level of prowess and compete against other top athletes from Sewickley, Fox Chapel, and Shady Side. I loved being part of that network. I loved Genny Kozusko, who was the coach at the time, and the spirit she brought to the field. But more than that, it was honestly the ability to do it all. I was a tap dancer, I was in all the plays, I was in Glee Club, I did ceramics, I played piano. I did everything I could be involved in. It was that permission that you could stretch yourself as far as you wanted to go and—especially in a small school environment—excel at it. Everyone got to participate, which ultimately led to confidence in my ability to try to do it all. My husband still gives me flack for trying to do it all. We have five kids. I’ve done five marathons. I play tennis now. But that’s Ellis! It was fostered here.
What other values did you learn at Ellis that have carried into your career or personal life?
I actually really like the slogan "Where Girls Soar.” It’s this belief that you can do anything, and you have the support network giving you the push to do it and then reach higher. Everything was so nurturing. I am Catholic, and both at St. Edmunds and [at Ellis] I think I was one of just a few practicing Catholics. I never really talked about my faith, or even about a family value system, but there was natural acceptance, natural camaraderie that was akin to my belief systems. Sure, there were friend groups, but everyone came together and got along, especially toward junior and senior year.
A lot of times I’m the only woman in a room at work. The voice I gained as part of being an Ellis student really made me confident. I was at the summit last week in Las Vegas for managers, and we did an event for our women operators, which is a minority—it’s probably 20% women owned. I talked about how I went to a girls’ school and those themes of women supporting women, which are still really important. I do have an almost completely women leadership team right now; my two operations officers, my HR officer, and my marketing officer are all women.
Is there any advice or encouragement you’d like to share with current Ellis students?
Just to be uniquely you. Don’t be afraid to show up for who you are but also explore who you want to become. Successful leaders at my company, and I think everywhere, are authentic, genuine, unique personalities. Playing the political game and fabricating who you are will only get you so far. That’s my advice.