McDonald's Japan CEO Sarah Casanova
executive impact

Mending Mac: McDonald's Japan CEO on how she turned around a brand

26 Comments
By Maxine Cheyney for The ACCJ Journal

It has been nine years since Sarah Casanova joined McDonald’s Company (Japan), Ltd. Beginning with five years in Japan learning about the local market, she then took on the role of managing director of McDonald’s Malaysia before assuming the role of CEO for McDonald’s Company (Japan) Ltd., four years ago. Casanova represents the growing number of women taking on leadership positions in some of the world’s largest enterprises.

A lack of women in leadership is a prominent feature of business in Japan, and something the government and various companies are attempting to tackle.

“I don’t think there is a silver bullet that is going to, all of a sudden, make leadership positions diverse,” Casanova told The ACCJ Journal in an interview before speaking at a luncheon event on September 26. “I think it’s going to take ongoing, combined efforts.”

GROUP CHANGE

It’s not just the role of the government to make these changes, she explained. Companies and individuals also play an important role in encouraging women to seek leadership roles and change the status quo in Japan. She cited two major barriers for women attempting to re-enter the workforce: childcare and the prospect of long working hours.

“I know the government has been talking about how to increase the amount of daycare that is available, so that it is easier for women to re-enter the workforce; but there is only so much they can do,” she said. “They can set aspirational targets, but that in itself is not going to be enough.”

McDonald’s offers work-from-home policies and a program that allows women to re-enter the workforce, but “even with government and company efforts, it is not going to be enough if women won’t step up to the plate.

“In 2008, when we embarked on this journey, about six percent of our restaurant managers were female,” she explained. “Now, it is about 24 percent. In management, about six percent of our directors and above were female, and I think now it is 17 or 18 percent.” But, simply reaching key performance indicators isn’t enough, she said. Promoting men or women into positions they are not ready for does not work.

KEYS TO CHANGE

Speaking to 246 members of the American Chamber of Commerce in Japan at Tokyo American Club, she detailed how she guided McDonald’s Japan through the stormy waters of 2014 and 2015 and returned the company to growth.

“This is the story of a complacent giant, shaken awake before it was too late,” she said. McDonald’s entered the Japanese market in 1971, and by 2010 had grown to more than 3,300 restaurants and ¥542 billion in sales.

But then the company hit a speed bump, which Casanova pins down to a focus on expansion rather than reinvestment in its existing restaurants.

Quality issues put an uneasy spotlight on the famous brand just as Casanova was taking on her new role in 2014, and in 2015 sales dropped 30 percent from the record numbers of 2010 and McDonald’s saw losses of ¥34.9 billion.

“I think the number-one challenge was getting the company focused on customer-oriented strategies—and listening to customers and doing what is good for customers—not just making decisions that might be good for the company.”

She also shared the four pillars of her business revitalization plan:

Customer focused initiatives.

Investing in upgrading the restaurant portfolio.

Localizing business structure and operations.

Achieving cost and resource efficiency.

The fourth pillar involved closing 131 loss-making restaurants, and empowering teams across the country was another crucial element.

MARKET MATCH

The chain has also made strong efforts to adjust to the Japanese market. “Earlier this year, we launched Oishisa Kojo Sengen, our tastiness declaration. It is about working to make our regular menu even more delicious. We launched our new premium roast coffee in January, and in April—for the first time in eight years—we launched a new burger lineup created especially for the palates of Japanese customers.”

Modernizing the restaurants was also a top priority. Rolling out the dual-point ordering and pick-up system, digital menu boards, Wi-Fi, and a points program were all important. Mobile apps such as the McDonald’s Japan loyalty app and Kodo, a customer feedback tool, have proven very popular. With 39 million downloads and 7.3 million pieces of customer feedback to date, they are helping solidify relationships with customers.

And that’s important to Casanova. “The one thing that differentiates McDonald’s from our competition is our people. With restaurants, any competitor can copy most of the menu, the pricing, and the promotions; but they can’t copy the people. And it is our people that give our brand its personality.”

Custom Media publishes The ACCJ Journal for the American Chamber of Commerce in Japan.

© The ACCJ Journal

©2021 GPlusMedia Inc.

26 Comments
Login to comment

Bring back the quarter pounder.

3 ( +4 / -1 )

It still sucks though.

7 ( +7 / -0 )

And how about not cheating?

I mean, when (or if) I order a fishburger, I would like to have it with a full slice of cheese, not that 1/3 stuff!!

Picture can be sent if requested!!

5 ( +5 / -0 )

Is the gold one on her chest a Mac's lapel badge ...? Even that looks like a lovely piece of jewelry.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Bring back the quarter pounder.

What's the point. They started getting chincy with the toppings and that's what really made the burger, the fresh onions. I would actually pull onions off and take it back just to get more onions. Wasn't there a story here where they got busted for purposely leaning the fry containers so not to fill them up all the way?

1 ( +2 / -1 )

I try to give this place the benefit of the doubt but I generally have a negative experience there. For example, breakfast at Shonan McDonald's, just a mob at the counter with noone clarifying where to order. In Tokyo stop at local McD with my kids a few times and many tables hogged by people doing homework with a cup of water. I cannot recall anyone walking around and cleaning tables so you have to eat right after the next guy (fyi, I worked at a Burger King in high school, and cleaning the tables was a very important function). Finally, I don't drink soda much but their iced tea is terrible and tastes like mop water. Please!

I may go 2-3 times a year for the kids and I do like their breakfast, but really clean up the tables!

3 ( +3 / -0 )

Many of the problems with McDonalds in Japan are specific to Japan.

They don't accept credit cards (sorry, but points cards are not the same thing).

They'll have 20 staff members on duty behind the counter and in the kitchen, but nobody cleaning tables.

They should seriously think of imposing time limits on customers eating in (not only McD, but all places in Japan). Reason mentioned by others. Whether one student or a group, they will camp out for hours on end. Doesn't matter to me if they buy the cheapest item on the menu or one of everything. They take up space that was meant for customers. You cease being a customer once you're finished eating and just sitting there for the sake of sitting there. There are limited seats available. Have some manners since people love to blather on about how kind and well mannered Japanese are.
4 ( +4 / -0 )

They don't accept credit cards (sorry, but points cards are not the same thing).

As of last monday, they're now accepting credit cards. Slow, but at least its a start.

https://en.rocketnews24.com/2017/11/14/travel-tip-mcdonalds-japan-will-finally-let-you-pay-for-your-food-with-a-credit-card/

1 ( +3 / -2 )

so wait, she expanded women executive percentage and lost huge amount in sales starting 2014 and it keeps dropping till now... is revitalization working? Or maybe her plan is just bad and she is a bad ceo....

In any case, the sooner that crap fast food brand is out of Japanese market - the better its for everyone.

3 ( +5 / -2 )

Has anyone noticed the burgers at Micky D's tend to have a lot of pepper mixed in the patty?

Certainly more so than back in the UK.

Not nice at all.

+2 bring back the quarter pounder.

0 ( +2 / -2 )

I tried a Wendy's recently. Looked like someone had sat on the damn thing. Back to McD's if I must. Or the superior Mos Burger.

Other fast food outlets are available etc.

0 ( +2 / -2 )

They don't accept credit cards (sorry, but points cards are not the same thing).

As of last monday, they're now accepting credit cards. Slow, but at least its a start.

https://en.rocketnews24.com/2017/11/14/travel-tip-mcdonalds-japan-will-finally-let-you-pay-for-your-food-with-a-credit-card/

They had better - with the Rugby WC and Olympics coming, many foreigners want something familiar to eat, and they won't always be carrying local bills

2 ( +2 / -0 )

Not impressed, they still suck and they have a long way to go to match the States. What about skinless chicken sandwiches or sweet potato fries or how about “Baked” apple pie? That would be a start. Quality isn’t something Miki Dees is known for, but the Japanese market less so.

Better burger joints in Japan and higher quality as well.

3 ( +4 / -1 )

Has anyone noticed the burgers at Micky D's tend to have a lot of pepper mixed in the patty?

Yeah, I've been ordering all my burgers without the seasoning for a few years now. It's possible where I'm at, not sure about the big cities, and you always get them freshly cooked. I think they do it to flavor it up as there's less fat than the US burgers.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

I think they do it to flavor it up as there's less fat than the US burgers.

The meat is from Aust. or NZ and the chicken nuggets from either Thailand or Viet Nam.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

I tried a Wendy's recently. Looked like someone had sat on the damn thing. Back to McD's if I must. Or the superior Mos Burger.

You mean Wendy's First Kitchen (because there aren't any real Wendy's in Japan)? They managed to almost double the price of the original Wendy's while serving burgers not nearly as good.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

What's the point. They started getting chincy with the toppings and that's what really made the burger, the fresh onion

I happened to be in Taiwan last month and there was a MD on the same block as my hotel. Had a few quarter pounders there and they were the best I have ever eaten at McDonalds. Lots and lots of fresh onions, and burger was hot off the grill. Price was very cheap as well.

They should send some Taiwan execs to Japan to tell them how to do it properly.

2 ( +2 / -0 )

I like the Fillet O Fish and the Chicken Crisp(100yen).

But still think Becker's beats McD overall.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

Any discussion of Micky Ds always brings out a lot of people who rant on how bad their food is, I can't understand why they have to express an opinion on it, if you don't like it just don't go there. I like it sometimes, I like sushi, would not eat either one every day. I strongly dislike tofu, but would not disparage anyone who does................and YES, bring back the quarter pounder!

-4 ( +0 / -4 )

Any discussion of Micky Ds always brings out a lot of people who rant on how bad their food is, I can't understand why they have to express an opinion on it, if you don't like it just don't go there.

But then people couldn't whine on the internet!

I rarely eat McDs, because it's unhealthy, but I go there 2-3 times a year, and I always love it when I do. Big Macs are delish!

-4 ( +0 / -4 )

Any discussion of Micky Ds always brings out a lot of people who rant on how bad their food is, I can't understand why they have to express an opinion on it

Maybe a second read of the thread you'll find we're not "rant on how bad the food is", but the service, lack of toppings, etc. Those that rant about how bad it is I'm sure never go there.

And just for you Droll, one burger, one pickle. Order a double burger, still only one pickle.

Chincy!

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Gave up McChucks ages ago. Moved on to bigger and better things, Kuaina Burger - little more expensive but a whole lot tastier. Do yourself a favor folks.

0 ( +1 / -1 )

Moss burger everytime. The food is actually "HOT" and not slammed into the microwave.

The fries...well I can actually see potato in them, unlike McDs fries which seem to be full of fresh air. They'll bring it to my table, clean it up, and there are some magazines to read. Well, look at. The soups kinda ok at McDs though.

-1 ( +0 / -1 )

I was at a MacDonald's in Guangzhou last month. They have incredible large touch screen kiosks (like giant iPads the size of a TV) where you order and pay, so you just pickup at the counter as your number is posted on monitors.

It was the best double cheeseburger I've ever had and the fries were better than the US, Japan or Canada.

Japan is even losing burgers to China.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Micky Ds should just go OLD SCHOOL. Instead of competing with the new trends, just go back to the way it was in the 50's. People would love that.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

May be she should look into the franchisees, as some are not paying or giving staff any annual leave in line with the labor law, some staff have worked 5,10 and 15 years and have lost their entitlement to that annual leave.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Login to leave a comment

Facebook users

Use your Facebook account to login or register with JapanToday. By doing so, you will also receive an email inviting you to receive our news alerts.

Facebook Connect

Login with your JapanToday account

User registration

Articles, Offers & Useful Resources

A mix of what's trending on our other sites