Emma Sinclair, founder and CEO of EnterpriseAlumni

In our regular series, industry big wigs take us back to their first jobs


Hi, Emma! Who are you and what do you do?

I’m Emma Sinclair and I’m founder and CEO of EnterpriseAlumni.

What was your #MyFirstMcJob?

McDonald’s in Brent Cross, age 16. I had this little dream of being financially independent and desperate to earn money, so the prospect of an extra £20/£25 a week was wildly compelling. I filled in a paper application, but in the interview the manager, Andy, said: “I think you might be overqualified.” I was not prepared for that, so I effectively begged for the job. A couple of weeks later they handed over my sexy brown McDonald’s outfit.

What did you have to do?

Wipe trays and clean the table, floor and toilets with the perk of a Filet-O-Fish and fries at lunch. I did every job as if my life depended on it. I was soon moved onto the tills, which is you gain your stars.

How long did you work there?

Originally it was a Saturday job, but I soon started working all school holidays through Sixth Form, and it wasn’t long before I had five stars on my badge.

How much did you get paid?

£3.25 an hour. I remember taking a photo of my first pay cheque and going to Top Shop to buy a white, short sleeve, perky tight T-shirt. I paid with my Barclays debit card and felt like a real player.

What skills did you learn that you still use now?

Begging for a job was an early life lesson in negotiation. Eight hours on your feet was pretty tiring, trying to fit fries into a small packet, prepare 17 diet Cokes, put everything into a bag with ketchup and clean up gherkins stuck to the table leg. Having to turn up on time and do what you’re told sets you up for life. If I hadn’t worked at McDonald’s, I’d probably have turned into a diva.

Are you still in contact with any of your old colleagues?

I ended up dating someone who I worked with — my first work-based crush — so I’m still in contact with them. Someone else is the head of a huge finance company in The City. He was really naughty at school, so you never know what people are going to become. And I occasionally cross paths with a couple of the ladies from the tills.

Why are alumni so important in business today?

We spend all this time, effort and money trying to recruit, retain and up-skill people to make sure they’re happy in their jobs. Then they leave and you say: “Thanks, bye,” and dispose of them the moment they walk out of the door. Alumni are your best advocates. They’re a marketing army. They can offer business and introduce new connections, and you can recruit them back. It’s such a waste if you don’t stay in touch.

How have alumni been important to you?

Alumni is important because you can carry the people you meet with you for the rest of your life. I’m still in touch with people I met at McDonald’s, working in a bar at my bank internships in the City. These are the people who will high five you on a good day and lift you on a bad day. The whole concept of meeting people who become a part of my life story has ended up as my job.

What would happen if you went back to work in McDonald’s today?

I left with five stars, so I’m sure I could just slide back in after 25 years! I’d be super focused on up-sell and would definitely make sure that I was salesperson of the week.

What advice would you give your younger self?

I’d probably say: you don’t look as good in a deep shade of dark brown/maroon as you think. I think I did everything right. I was loyal, turned up on time, never cut corners, worked hard and never took more than one apple pie. Maybe I should have asked for a pay rise as they told me I was overqualified?

Do you look back at that time fondly?

Everyone I know who worked in a fast food restaurant or high street retailer remembers it for the rest of their life. I made life-long friends, dated someone I really fancied and I had a lot of Filet-O-Fish, apple pies and fries. It taught me how to be financially responsible. There’s no greater grounding than a job where you really have to roll up your sleeves. We don’t always love and adore our jobs. Sometimes you have to do jobs you don’t like, and I learned that lesson there too.



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