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What made Jollibee and McDonald’s work together?

By BIANCA GONZALEZ, The Philippine STAR Published Jul 04, 2021 6:00 am

So, what would entice huge fast food rivals Jollibee and McDonald’s to work together?

“That’s the pandemic,” Margot Torres says, matter of factly.

I’m speaking with both McDonald’s Philippines managing director Margot Torres and Jollibee Foods Corporation’s chief sustainability and public affairs officer Pepot Miñana in an intimate interview I honestly never thought was possible.

“How come McDonald’s is just this strong, really, and I have to give it to Margot as the marketing head, then (she) became the managing director pa? So it became even tougher,” says Pepot.

“I’ve heard a lot about Pepot,” Margot says. “His name was a big name because this guy really knew his stuff, he is an operations expert. Pepot, you’re a legend in McDonald’s.”

There is no typo here. The heads of two of the largest fast food companies in the country, long-time rivals in the industry, are singing nothing but praises for each other.

Margot Torres of McDonald's and Pepot Miñana of Jollibee meet for the first time ever at Sec. Vince Dizon's home.

When rivals become allies

“I never thought that I’d get to work closely with Pepot in my career. The restaurant industry was severely hit by the pandemic,” says Margot. “So both our brands had the same challenge, probably even greater because we have so many stores compared to the other restaurant brands, lalo na sila Pepot who have several brands and thousands of stores.

“We had to really unite as a restaurant industry and get our concerns known to the DTI and the IATF… As the private sector we’ve partnered with the government and the National Task Force to really navigate this whole crisis together.”

It was working together to do their part in safely reopening the economy that brought Jollibee and McDonald’s together, not just for the food industry but the entire private sector.

With her expertise in leading marketing for McDonald’s Philippines for 17 years, Margot was invited by the Task Force T3 in July 2020 to be the communications head for the private sector’s efforts to safely reopen the economy. The message was: “You can go out, do your work, as long as you wear your mask, shield, wash your hands and practice distancing.”

A total of 31 brands from different industries came together to support the Ingat Angat Tayong Lahat campaign, which included the Jollibee group.

“Let’s take a picture because this Zoom meeting will never happen again,” laughs Margot as she recalls the day she virtually met and presented the campaign to Pepot and the Jollibee team. The JFC group immediately committed their support.

Bianca Gonzales interviews the two head honchos of the country’s biggest fast food chains.

“Margot, you don’t know this, this is something I tell my kids… I’ve always wanted to serve the public and try to really help out. And what we are doing now is a dream come true for me,” reveals Pepot.

“But I would have never been able to do what I’m doing if I was not humble enough to say yes to my toughest competitor. If I just said, ‘No way, I don’t want to go together with Margot, kalaban ko yan eh,’ the dream would have never come true. It opens doors. Margot has opened doors not just for me — it’s amazing, I really salute her not just as a leader, but as a person.”

The greater goal

I recently listened to a podcast episode by organizational psychologist Adam Grant where he talked about becoming friends with rivals, and he said this: “Psychologists find that rivals become allies when they form a common identity that transcends their differences. Instead of competing against other individuals, you see yourself as part of a group that’s working together to achieve larger goals. Supportive rivalries click into place when you’re working for something larger than your own success.”

It was working together to do their part in safely reopening the economy that brought Jollibee and McDonald’s together, not just for the food industry but the entire private sector. Even other fierce competitors like Shell and Petron, Ayala and SM, Globe and Smart, agencies and production companies, and many others came together for the cause.

The collaboration did not end there. In December 2020, National Task Force Against COVID-19 deputy chief implementer Sec. Vince Dizon asked Margot if she could again be communications lead, this time for the vaccination campaign.

“As I joined the meetings, I could really sense a struggle. But I did not have the kind of expertise that Pepot has,” says Margot. Pepot, who has over 25 years of experience with Jollibee, from heading North Luzon to North America, leading store openings and operations, acquiring foreign and local brands for the JFC group, is who Margot calls the supply chain expert.

“I kept pushing, I told them I have the perfect person to pull in, he was the leader of the largest QSR (quick service restaurant) in the Philippines and he knows this,” she says.

Of Chickenjoys, Big Macs and vaccines

In an article on Harvard Business Review, Hamel, Doz and Prahalad wrote this about working with competitors: “For collaboration to succeed, each partner must contribute something distinctive... The challenge is to share enough skills to create advantage vis-à-vis companies outside the alliance while preventing a wholesale transfer of core skills to the partner. This is a very thin line to walk.”

“‘Pag nasa bakuna meetings kami, we never talk about McDonald’s or Jollibee,” says Pepot. “We really have to put aside all differences, anything about competition... you just focus on what is necessary and it has never been an issue between Margot and I, about the sensitivities.”

Their collaboration has been dubbed as the #MARPOT tandem

Margot explains: “There’s so much parallelism between the vaccination rollout and the fast food business. Pepot had a very, very long message telling the vaccine consortium their similarities. It’s perishable goods and it has an expiration… our buns actually expire much faster than a vaccine. And you need to distribute that to multiple points, and in Jollibee’s case, it’s thousands of stores nationwide, and then you need to serve those goods safely to as many customers as possible. That’s exactly what they need to do at a vaccination center!”

In this case, it’s not how many Chickenjoys or Big Macs you can sell, it’s how many jabs you can give.

Margot acknowledged that she knew the right person who could figure it out, even if he was “competition.” She fondly calls it “The Miñana Formula'' and it is an end-to-end model that can be scaled to fit each local government unit. “In this case, it’s not how many Chickenjoys or Big Macs you can sell, it’s how many jabs you can give,” Margot says.

“If there’s a common denominator that we have, one is our purpose and why we are doing this, and number two, we are all volunteers,” Pepot shares. “We are doing this not part-time, but double-time, I don’t know what time, but talagang volunteers. For the sake of the country talaga. Humility aside, we’ve done similar things in our past decades of experience, as Margot expressed, and it’s nice to share it so we can help out in one way or another.”

With Pepot’s operations expertise and Margot’s marketing mastery, Jollibee and McDonald’s were able to help the National Task Force develop the most efficient way for all cities to roll out their vaccination plans and reach their targets, so that even more Filipinos can get vaccinated.

Ingat Angat, Bakuna Lahat

While they do their work, we can do our part by getting vaccinated and encouraging others to get vaccinated as well, to achieve population protection.

The private sector comes together for Ingat Angat.

“I’m confident that, even within the year, at the very least, I think we will see that in NCR,” says Margot. “Seeing the performance of the LGUs, you see their jab rate increasing every single day, every single week, easily with the very powerful Miñana formula. If they adopt that, the other LGUs, it’s scalable and it can easily be implemented.”

Pepot adds: “You can say what you want about your own impressions and biases, but with the private sector, we are volunteers here, not for any other thing but to get population protection. Everybody is working together, putting aside differences.”

“When you’re just one, your voice is so soft that you’re not really able to make that impact,” Margot points out. “And so we really have to unite.”