The New York Times' self-proclaimed foreign policy guru Thomas Friedman's recent sophistry that no two countries who have Big Mac franchises within their borders have gone to war with one another failed to take into account the lengths -- war or no war -- the U.S. based McDonald's Corporation is willing to go to preserve its bottom line.
As the Wall Street Journal's Robert Block recently reported, angry mobs forced McDonald to temporarily close its 15 restaurants in Yugoslavia at the outset of the recent 78-day air war in that country. However, when local managers opened the doors again, they accomplished an extraordinary comeback using an unusual marketing strategy -- putting the company's U.S. citizenship on the back burner.
Not only did the local franchises promote the McCountry, a domestic pork burger with paprika garnish, but in a national flourish to evoke Serbian identity and pride, they produced posters and lapel buttons showing the golden arches topped with a traditional Serbian cap called the sajkaca (pronounced shy-KACH-a) and handed out free cheeseburgers at anti-NATO rallies. The basement of one restaurant in the Serbian capital even served as a bomb shelter.
As Dragoljub Jakic, the 47-year-old managing director of McDonald's in Yugoslavia who masterminded the campaign to "Serbify" -- at least during the war -- an American icon, told Block with a grin: "We managed to save our brand."
On March 26, the day after the mob attacks began, Jakic closed all his restaurants. He then called his top managers to Belgrade for brainstorming sessions to devise a survival marketing strategy. Within a week, Block reports, they had launched a campaign to identify the plight of ordinary Serbs with the big burger joint. "McDonald's is sharing the destiny of all people here," read a sign at one branch. "This restaurant is a target, as we all are. If it has to be destroyed, let it be done by NATO."
Now that the war is over and in spite of falling wages, rising prices and lingering anger at the U.S., McDonald's restaurants around the country are again thronged with Serbs hungry for Big Macs and fries. And why not, asks 16-year-old Jovan Stojanovic, munching on a burger. "I don't associate McDonald's with America," he says. "Mac is ours."
In bringing back a low-priced McCountry pork burger at a lowered priced, which was first released throughout Central Europe in early March, Jakic, while recognizing that the economy of preindustrial Yugoslavia was based on the pig trade and that pork is considered the most Serbian of meats, said his relaunch wasn't an attempt to pander to local sentiments, but to give people a break during hard times.
McDonald's spokesman Chuck Ebeling at the corporation's headquarters in Oak Brook, Illinois, was quick to point out that the Yugoslav campaign was a product of local management and was in no way directed or encouraged by the head office. "Mr. Jakic was functioning as a hamburger guy and not as a politician," Ebeling added. "He was doing what he felt he should do, and needed to do, to be locally accepted and to maintain the support of local government and of his employees. He demonstrated how adaptive he could be under the circumstances."
While admitting he is happy that his campaign helped McDonald's to prosper during exceptional circumstances, Jakic was also quick to return to business as usual. As soon as the war ended, on June 10, the arches reappeared, without the green cap. "We simply believed that our message was received and there was no reason to continue," Jakic says
Perpetuating his reputation of servicing corporate agribusiness, Mickey Kantor, the internationally known trade attorney and former U.S. Secretary of Commerce (1996-97), U.S. Trade Representative (1993-96) and National Chairman for the Clinton/Gore Campaign, 1992, will represent the grain trade's industry-oriented U.S. Wheat Associates at the forthcoming World Trade Organization (WTO) meeting in Seattle, Washington.
Wheat industry advocates claim their trade needs are too "diverse" to be handled by just the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
"We want to make sure U.S. negotiators understood them and knew they were a top priority," Chris Shaffer, a Walla Walla farmer and chairman of the U.S. Wheat Associates, told the Spokane Spokesman-Review. "Our trade needs are much larger than just one facet of our government."
Kantor, for representing the 17 wheat-producing states, will be paid $20,000 a month with money from many of the wheat commissions.
"Some are not participating because of their financial straits," said Tom Mick, executive director of the Washington Wheat Commission. But the Washington commission figured Kantor's fee into its budget ahead of time.
Idaho's wheat commission also is contributing to Kantor's fee. "We took a look at the last time the WTO process was conducted and realized we pretty much left everything up to the government," said David Sparrow, commission administrator. "I don't think the producers were particularly happy with the results."
Sparrow's remarks left one WTO observer puzzled since it was Kantor, the U.S. trade negotiator, who played such a large role in formulating the WTO "process" as it was "conducted." One of his more notable achievements as trade representative was restarting the stalled WTO round in Uruguay several years ago. It was there that the current trade rules for the 134 WTO member nations were set.
"When it comes to understanding and negotiating trade, Kantor's qualifications are top-notch. He knows the people within the U.S. Trade Representatives office. A lot of them used to work for him," Shaffer said.
It was Kantor, as U.S. Trade Representative, who helped his long-time friend Bill Clinton pay off a 1996 campaign debt to Chiquita International's Carl O. Lindner.
According to a March 31, 1997, report by Michael Weisskoff in Time magazine two years prior "Lindner wanted U.S. Trade Representative Mickey Kantor to help him pry open European markets, which rely on various tariffs and trade barriers effectively to shut out Lindner's bananas. Though hundreds of companies ask Washington to investigate unfair trade practices, the U.S. Trade Representative accepts only about 14 cases each year. Even fewer are taken to Geneva for resolution by the World Trade Organization. And only rarely do such cases make the cut when hardly any U.S. jobs are at stake; Chiquita employs most of its 45,000 workers in Honduras and Guatemala. And yet Kantor took the case."
But, as Weiskoff adds, "You wouldn't know how grateful Lindner was by checking records at the Federal Election Commission; he gave the Democratic National Committee only $15,000 in the final 15 months of the campaign. Instead, D.N.C. officials instructed Lindner to give directly to state-party coffers, which are subject to far less public scrutiny than federal-election accounts. On April 12, 1996, the day after Kantor asked the WTO to examine Chiquita's grievance, Lindner and his top executives began funneling more than $500,000 to about two dozen states from Florida to California, campaign officials told Time."
"He has a lot of connections and a lot of reputation," said Neal Fisher, administrator for North Dakota's wheat commission. "We think he's very well-placed and well-respected."
Currently Kantor is a partner in the law firm of Mayer, Brown & Platt since 1997 and serves on the board of directors of "life sciences" corporation Monsanto where he owns 6,255 shares of company stock. As a Monsanto board member, one of the world's largest agriculture and chemical companies, he was paid $90,000 last year.
Iowa's Buena Vista County Board of Supervisors, joined by many of the financially strapped farmers who elected them, have accused the area's leading employer -- IBP Inc., the nation's number one beef packer -- of not only slaughtering meat, but of producing employees who are draining county tax money through excessive costs in jailing lawbreakers and treating physical and mental health patients.
IBP employs 1,700 people in its Storm Lake plant, the vast majority being immigrants from Mexico, Central America and Southeast Asia. County officials acknowledge that their conclusions are drawn mostly from anecdotal evidence, such as an increase in crime and other social problems.
In Iowa's southeastern Louisa County, however, where IBP's Columbus Junction plant is located, officials do track inmates by employer. Two years ago, monthly averages showed that up to 70 percent of the jail was filled with inmates who claimed IBP as their employer, according to Louisa County Deputy Curt Braby
"There is more crime in meatpacking towns and meatpacking counties, and I want to know why," Buena Vista County Supervisor Doug Bruns, a rural Alta farmer, told the Des Moines Register's Jennifer Dukes Lee.
In their resolution, the supervisors declared that IBP ought not only to help pay for a new jail and the old jail's operating costs, but the company should also provide child care and mental-health coverage for all employees. They also want IBP to offer medical insurance for employees from the date they are hired.
Many rural residents, Lee reports, and even many city folks, are relieved that someone finally said aloud what they've been thinking all along. "People have finally reached a point where they've had enough; that's the point I reached," said Jim Gustafson, a county supervisor and Storm Lake farmer. "We've been patient over the years, but things have come to a head. There is a frustration level that I have never seen before."
Gustafson said the supervisors have made little progress in closed-door meetings with IBP, who has in the past been branded as the nation's number one "corporate outlaw." They took a more visible step this time, protesting IBP's policies but not its work force, he said.
"Concerns are best solved by all of us working together, not by publicly ridiculing the largest employer," IBP spokesman Gary Mickelson noted in responding to the supervisor's resolution. From its headquarters in Dakota Dunes, South Dakota Mickelson questioned the fairness of the supervisor's requests.
He noted to the Register that even some county employees are not immediately covered by medical insurance. County employees wait up to 30 days before their coverage kicks in, depending on the time of month they were hired. IBP employees must wait several months before their health insurance coverage begins.
IBP, with a payroll in 1998 totaling more than $43 million, is the county's third-largest property taxpayer and reportedly spends $500,000 locally each year on goods and services.
The supervisors have acknowledged that IBP is a major economic player in Storm Lake, helping two shopping districts stay afloat, including Wal-Mart and Hy-Vee stores and an area of fast-food restaurants and retail chains on the city's north side while closer to the lake for which the city is named, the downtown area accommodates gift shops, clothing stores, a bookstore and a bakery.
The five supervisors say they are doing only what they were elected to do: make tax revenues stretch as far as possible. "People say we'll never get anything out of them, and we probably won't," Bruns told the Register's Lee. "We've been criticized for trying to run IBP out of town. We're just looking for answers, because normal citizens cannot afford this."
A.V. Krebs is Director of the Corporate Agribusiness Research Project, P.O. Box 2201, Everett, Washington 98203-0201 e-mail: email@example.com