In our regular series, industry big wigs take us back to their first jobs
Hi, Hilden! Who are you and what do you do?
I’m Hildengard Allgaier. I’m the CEO of ehlo. We work with people in the UK and here in Brazil, helping them to transition careers to jobs that are meaningful to them.
What was your #MyFirstMcJob?
An internship as a marketing assistant at McDonald’s in 2004 when I was 19 years-old, while studying for my BA in Public Relations. I thought it would be a good opportunity to understand how a global brand has been positioned in Brazil and also to learn some basic customer service skills.
How did you get the job?
I was always looking for ways to get practical exposure. At the interview, they asked if I was studying for a degree, but I think I got the job more because of my smile! My smile has opened a lot of doors for me over my career.
What did you have to do?
Help coordinate internal campaigns, train staff, and keep on top of customer experience. If a customer’s Big Mac was not up to their expectation, I would be the one giving them their money back. Other days, I’d just be given a mop to clean the toilets, or a broom to sweep up all the discarded ketchup packets.
Was it hard work?
I worked at Silva Só in Porto Alegre, one of the first McDonald’s in Brazil to have a drive-thru. I had to take two buses, and we had to work weekends. But it was a good environment for someone starting a career in marketing communications, and well paid.
My boyfriend years later, who had a degree from Harvard and did hid PhD in England told me: “Don’t tell people that you worked at McDonald’s.” But for me, it was all about learning from the experience, so I was very focused.
How much were you paid?
R$800 a month, so about R$12–15 an hour. A Big Mac cost around R$15,even though I got to eat for free every day. Going to McDonald’s was a big deal. You could tell that people had been saving up because they would come in and pay with exactly the right change. Part of my job was to organise the McParties, where Ronald McDonald would arrive to entertain the children. The first time I saw him, I remember thinking: “How do people have fun looking at him?”
How long did you work there for?
Close to a year. I eventually left for a job in technology in Porto Alegre.
Why is alumni so important to you?
Relationships are taken very seriously in Brazil. I’ve relied on alumni networks my whole career, to get jobs, opportunities, and mentorship. Most of the opportunities happen informally, so nurturing these channels is essential.
Why is alumni so important in business today?
A good ecosystem of people is essential to develop strong ties in every aspect of your working life. Sometimes the people you don’t believe in end up being the ones that make things happen. Working in a vibrant and fast-paced environment like McDonalds — regardless of your age or your function — can be a great school for learning the basics of discipline, organisation, community and especially collective action.
What skills did you learn back then that you now use in your job today?
I learned the dynamic between always being available, paying attention and listening. I figured I needed to learn how to listen. I also I learned about serving others, and that if we remove ourselves from the centre and listen to the people we serve, we become systems orchestrators and field catalysts.
What would happen if you went back and work in McDonald’s today?
I think I would ask better the questions, not only just: “Do I really have to?!” One of the qualities I’ve developed as a young leader is to be interested and curious in asking questions. Young people are faced with so many options, they can have problems making decisions. You can only learn by getting your hands dirty and failing, and that’s what I did. Every job is important. But it’s the mindset that makes that job unique to you. We have three power forces in our body, that you should always follow: our mind, our heart and our intuition.
What advice give yourself your past self?
Follow your heart and keep smiling!