Catholic Diocese of Spokane, Washington

From the

Official News Magazine of the Diocese of Spokane

Deacon Eric Meisfjord, Editor
P.O. Box 48, Spokane WA 99210
(509) 358-7340; FAX: (509) 358-7302

Faith in the Workplace:
‘It goes way beyond sandwiches and drinks’

Story and photo by Mitch Finley, Inland Register staff

(From the Dec. 21, 2006 edition of the Inland Register)

Spokane Serra Club member Dave McGann uses his business success as an opportunity to help his employees and the wider community. “I’m just glad that we’re successful enough that we can help,” he said. (IR photo)

Dave McGann and his wife, Bobbie, are longtime members of Spokane’s Our Lady of Fatima Parish. They also are the parents of two grown sons, who live with their families in Spokane, and a daughter who is single and lives in San Diego.

Dave’s work, where he spends many hours each week as owner and president of Arby’s Restaurants, Inc. – which owns five Spokane-area Arby’s stores – is obviously a business. As a lifelong Catholic, however, McGann believes that the success of Arby’s in Spokane should benefit not only himself but his many employees, his church, and the wider community. For Dave McGann, living his faith in the workplace means acting in the everyday world in ways consistent with a life dedicated to love of God and neighbor.

McGann grew up in Peoria, Ill. with two older brothers – his mother, almost 105, still lives there – where he attended Catholic elementary and high schools. He graduated from the University of Illinois in 1962, where he played football, then he went on to teach and coach at a public high school for six years before moving to Spokane to establish an Arby’s business.

“I grew up in a mom-and-pop grocery store,” McGann recalls, “so getting involved in a business was something natural for me. When we came to Spokane in late 1969, two weeks after we arrived, my partner decided to leave. It was pretty rocky for quite a while. Arby’s didn’t do very well in the beginning.”

Balancing family, work and church has been a constant challenge over the years.

“I really like to go to noon Mass at the Cathedral,” he said. “I always wanted to go, even 35 years ago, but noon-time in a restaurant, you can’t go at noon-time! So that was a struggle for a long time. At some point, I had to say that at noon-time I wasn’t going to be (at work) anymore, I was going to Mass at noon.”

Over the years, McGann has served on his parish’s council and other parish organizations, and he is a lay Eucharistic minister, plus for many years he has been a member of the Serra Club.

McGann believes that the good of his employees is one of his primary responsibilities. He recalls a former employee who worked for him for many years. “She interviewed prospective employees,” he said, “she did some training, and she was magnificent. She did so much behind the scenes. She monitored all the stores and all the employees in the stores, she monitored whether they were late, tardy, absent. She followed up on them, because some of them might have addictions. When you have 200 employees, some small percent are feeding an addiction of some sort, but she was right on them like a little bulldog, but with a great heart. She would help them in any way she could, in any way that Arby’s could, and she would never tell me, she would never violate the privacy of the employee. That’s the way I want it.

“Next, are they mentally ready? Some come from bad situations, and they’re a wreck when they get to work. We do a pretty stringent interviewing process, but you can’t ask them a whole heck of a lot. Sometimes you find out later that they don’t even have transportation. So when this stuff comes up later, we don’t just fire the employee. We try to work with him or her. The worst thing we used to do is enable. ‘Well, don’t do it again. Well, don’t do it again.’ You can’t do that!”

He has more than a few success stories to tell, and he does all he can to share his own good fortune with those who help make it happen.

For example, he said, last year, “at the store on Third Avenue, sales were huge, and at the end of the year they were short on cash $4.67. Unbelievable. But one reason is that we offer an incentive every day. Employees can earn ‘stars’ each day if their till is less than 25 cents off, and eventually those stars add up to money, so the employee gets extra money.”

As far as McGann is concerned, there is a direct correlation between his work and his Catholic faith. “We’ve always supported the CAPA (Childbirth and Parenting Alone) program at Catholic Charities,” he said. “We are making money not only for ourselves but to give it away to programs like this. I believe that. We give the CAPA cards that they give to these young women that are good for 14 free meals. And we need to train our people, and that includes the new ones as they come along. We train them on this program, so when someone shows this card, the one thing we don’t want to do is embarrass them. It’s called a V.I.P. card. So when an employee sees this card, they don’t make a big fuss about it, or call the manager. All of our people know about this.”

Observers who become informed about McGann’s approach to business may be tempted to re-name it Dave McGann’s Arby’s and Social Service Agency. Among the other good causes McGann regularly supports is the Vanessa Behan Crisis Nursery, the Christmas Bureau, and more than a few other similar agencies. He traces his sharing attitude to his father who, he says, “never had anything, but he would re-pay people with goods and cooking. He loved to cook. So those were the things he gave to the church. He did every father/son, mother/daughter, athletic banquet, grade school, high school. The priests who got ordained, he would do their ordination dinners and never ask for a dime.

“It would be very hard,” he said, “if there weren’t opportunities to reach out and help. That would be very hard for me to take. I’m just glad that we’re successful enough that we can help.”

In an industry with an average annual employee turnover rate of 300 percent, McGann says that his turnover rate is from 25 to 80 percent each year. “About 75 percent of our staff is very stable, it’s that other 25 percent that just keeps turning over,” he explains. “But I’ve lost only one assistant manager in 35 years. We have five managers, and they average about 25 years with Arby’s, and they’re all about age 40 to 45.”

Going to school is one of his regular soap box themes with his employees. “I beat the pavement at all the stores every quarter,” he says, “to get them to go to school. I’m visible at least once week, usually on Saturday, in all five of our stores. Any of our employees who needs help, all he or she needs to do is ask.”

McGann grabs a plastic filing box and flips it open to reveal photos of every one of his employees. “I want to know who they are,” he said. “My goal is to know all 200 of them. I’m not great with names, so I try to do it in this way. I want to get to know each one well enough that I can say, ‘Where are you in your education? Have you thought about going to school?’ I’ve always got the community college catalog, and I know the counselors. One of my employees was in last week, 45 years old, she’s worked for us for 10 years, and she said, ‘You know, I’ve got to go back to school. I can’t handle the job anymore, my feet.’ And I’d pay the whole thing if that’s what she needs to get going. We have an assistant manager, and I’ve been on her case for years about going back to school, and she keeps saying, ‘Next quarter, Dave;’ but I know she’ll do it eventually. I love to get our employees to go to school.”

McGann and his managers are always on the lookout for older persons who would like to supplement their Social Security income. “I love the old and the young working together,” McGann said. “Those are people that we would really like to have. Older people have a good work ethic, and that’s what we want. It’s beautiful to watch the old and the young; they help each other. Quite a few of our kids, they don’t have that good family life. They attach themselves to other crew members, to the manager, to me. I get invited to their weddings. That Arby’s store becomes their life. It goes way beyond sandwiches and drinks.”

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