George T. Yang is the subject of the book “The Voice behind the Arches,” published by the Golden Arches Development Corp. It came out in 2012 as part of the celebration of the 30th anniversary of McDonald’s Philippines.
The book reveals the essential George T. Yang, a name that has become a byword in the fast-food business. It presents his holistic views on family and social relations, entrepreneurship, the musical arts and philanthropy. The book highlights his achievements as fast-food pioneer in the Philippines.
Sleek and handy, it is designed as a coffee-table book. Writer Tara FT Sering adopts an inspiring tone as she unfolds the story of Yang in a straightforward manner.
Others on the editorial team are An Mercado-Alcantara, executive editor; Noel Avendaño, art director; and Margot B. Torres; and Adi M. Timbol, project coordinators.
The book is a fitting “tribute” to his father, says Kenneth S. Yang in the foreword.
The moving force behind McDonald’s Philippines, Yang has revolutionized the fast-food industry in the country.
Yang, writes his son, is “a businessman, a mentor, a colleague, a friend, a husband, a father and a patriarch rolled into one; indeed, the brilliant ‘Voice behind and beyond the Arches.’”
Apart from Yang’s “voice,” the book has also relied on “other voices” from his family, colleagues, friends and many more, making its tone dialogic and texture-rich.
McDo is only one of the several business ventures Yang has successfully ventured in. But his phenomenal success with McDonald’s has made his name synonymous with “McDo” and has made him a paragon in Philippine entrepreneurship.
Despite being shy and introvert, Yang says he had early on wanted to become an entrepreneur. He paid close attention to his gut feeling, pursued it with the right academic training, and stood by his choice until it bore fruition.
Success is a “validation of your instincts, your choices,” he says. When one gets burned, one must bounce back, “each time faster than the last, this time having learned lessons on how to do things better” and with a “difference.”
“You must learn to trust your instincts—a collection of your own private experiences, insights from books you read or people you’ve met and talked to, plus that innate gift of knowing. I believe in research as a guide, but at the end of the day, in life as in business, you have to go by your instinct when making decisions.”
His spouse, Kristine, agrees. She says Yang “has made many right life choices. First of all, he married me. Secondly, he chose to pioneer the fast-food business in the Philippines with McDonald’s. And third, he has chosen to pursue his passion for music and singing at a time in life when he can afford to do it and still be strong enough to do it.”
Their only daughter, Karen, says she has learned from her father not to “be held back by a fear of failure,” because if one does not try, one has “failed already.”
It was from his grandfather, Yang Wen Ying, that Yang learned entrepreneurial values. He was exposed to the admirable Chinese trait of strong filial kinship that enshrines the family as a solid foundation of social relations.
The keen entrepreneurial acumen he learned is complemented by the strong sense of generosity he got from his grandmother.
How he got the franchise to operate McDonald’s in the Philippines reflects his keen instinct and strong determination.
He said he had to wait four years before he could be awarded the right to operate the chain in the Philippines after meeting with McDo executives in 1975.
Months before he got the franchise, he and Kenneth, then only 15 years old, went to McDonald’s branch on Granville Road in Hong Kong’s Kowloon District for their on-the-job education.
Donned in McDo uniforms, they joined the ranks and did the chores.
The patriarch mopped the floors, wiped kitchen counters, flipped burgers and manned the cash register.
Kenneth, a minor at the time, worked only for the allowable three hours, manning the counters and arranging orders on the tray.
For Kenneth, his father’s foresight was telling: It was an initiation for him to become a master, which he is now. Kenneth now exercises executive stewardship over McDo Philippines as president and CEO.
Four long years of waiting did not daunt Yang’s optimism. He wasn’t even discouraged by the specter of competing bidders that “included a successful conglomerate and at least one taipan.”
In comparison, Yang says he was a “small fry,” a “nobody.” “Everyone else had either huge assets or names that could back them up, I didn’t.”
The first McDo fast-food restaurant opened in 1981 on Morayta Street in the University Belt. Now there are some 350 McDonald’s outlets nationwide.
To keep the common touch, McDo has introduced local flavors in the standard menu, boosting its clientele.
Passion for singing
His love for singing came rather late. He had kept such a passion since he was 12 years old. Asking permission from his father to take voice lessons, he was told to work and “work better.”
As he figures it out now, his father was right; for he would not have been successful in business had he gone into singing early on, a passion he now pursues.
Possessed with an innate or natural light tenor voice, Yang sings bel canto. His tone is brilliant and pleasant to hear. He intones his lines with caress, does not force out his voice but unfolds it smoothly. Listening to him, therefore, is not a bore but a gratifying moment.
He has cut several CDs of a wide gamut of musical genres, from pop to light classics, Neapolitan songs and arias.
For him singing is a “popular way of unwinding.” He started with karaoke and moved on to performing on the legitimate stage, sharing the stage with big names in local pop or classical music.
Wife Kristine says singing has “brought more happiness to George.”
He surprised Manila’s music-lovers with his debut performance at the CCP Main Theater, surviving the ordeal of a full concert as he hit the high notes with elan.
Beauty of intangible
“Music is for the soul,” Yang said, because it “enhances a person on a more profound level” and “connects you to the universe because you feel the beauty of what is otherwise intangible.”
Of his singing, third son Kris says it articulates his father’s credo: “You can have much success in anything you put your heart and mind to.”
Giving back and sharing one’s blessings is another virtue Yang lives by. This he imbibed from his grandmother who would pause and give coins to beggars on the street.
The McDo patriarch puts a big premium on the truism “what one has given back, not what one has accumulated, is the true nature of success.”
“Giving back,” he says, “is also a way of self-preservation, because when you give back, contribute time, energy, ideas or money to something, you acknowledge the continuity of life, that there is something beyond you that will survive you and continue.”
It is in this spirit that the Ronald McDonald House Charities (RMHC) and Klassical Music Foundation were established. These foundations aim to enhance education.
Yang learned about the transformative power of education from his father.
The program Bright Minds Read (BMR) aims to articulate RMHC’s vision; it is a reading program for elementary kids, designed in response to the Department of Education’s reading program.
It has been noted that a big number of first graders who passed the level have poor reading skills. RMHC is now implemented in 4,000 public schools.
Klassical Music Foundation provides scholarships to voice students in music schools in Manila. So far, 33 scholars have finished their voice degree.
“Someone gave me a small gift for me to enjoy in my old age, so I’m giving back in my own little way,” says George Yang.
He says his music-education assistance has taken him “full circle: from being a fan, to being a student, to being a practitioner, and finally to being a most earnest and generous patron.”