Mark Sweeny, founder and CEO of de Novo Solutions

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


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

I’m Mark Sweeny and I’m the founder and Chief Executive of de Novo Solutions, an Oracle and ServiceNow systems integrator implementation that creates digital experiences and insights for organisations, employees and customers.

What was your #MyFirstMcJob?

I’m a Southeast London boy, so working for McDonald’s in Bexleyheath when I’d just turned 17, in 1985. I started in December because I remember it was a dark and rainy night and I got told to get my hair cut on my first shift! I survived my O Levels but school had become a turn off, so instead of revising for my A Levels, it was far more appealing to earn some money, so I bunked off and moonlighted during my revision periods.

How did you get the job?

I just filled in an application form and they gave me an interview. I started at the bottom with a green badge. The first thing I had to do was clear out the rubbish! But it was a regimented training program across the operation. Eventually I was offered but turned down the roll of Floor Manager.

How come you turned it down?

I had decided University wasn’t for me. I’d flunked my A levels, but had been offered a job at the Data Processing Department at Lloyds Bank. It sounds glamorous but I was working shifts printing people’s bank statements! It was a way into the tech industry that I wanted to be in, so I took it and said goodbye to McD’s.

What else did you have to do?

I ran a grill team of three people and was also on “wrap and call”. Today, McDonald’s cook to order, but back then, we would take an educated guess what food was needed on how many people were coming through the door so orders could be cooked in advance and we could serve people in under two minutes. Saturdays between 12 and 2pm was organised chaos. The grill teams competed with one another, and the front of house got a small bonus if your ‘till’ team of two sold the most.

What skills did you learn that you still use today?

McDonald’s is a brilliant training ground. 35 years later, I can still remember the three Cs — communication, coordination and cooperation. They are also absolute masters of process re-engineering. All business is part of being a team, so being taught age 16, 17, how to work in a team puts you in pretty good stead for later in life. Plus it was the camaraderie with great nights out, lots of beer drinking and a lot of hamburgers!

What did you spend your first pay cheque on?

I was on about £1.24 an hour. I remember getting excited when I got a pay rise up to £1.42. I spent most of my money on records. I was always buying vinyl and was really into Paul Weller and The Style Council.

Did anything particularly funny happen?

Well, it’s not funny, but I slipped and fell on the grill. I cried my eyes out. The grills were gas-fired, over 100ºC. Our uniforms were made of nylon, so I was very lucky someone pulled me out before I caught on fire. I went to hospital, McDonald’s gave me a large sum of money and I bought my first car. But I do not recommend that to anybody as a way of getting your first car up because I was badly burnt all down my arms. I’ve never cried so much!

Why is alumni so important today?

Before de Novo, I created Certus Solutions, the company that were the original pioneers of Oracle SaaS Cloud applications in the UK and Ireland back in 2011. We had to work out from scratch how to implement, support and most importantly sell SaaS! Loads of stories and adventures, but that’s for another day — preferably down the pub.

The adage we always say at de Novo is: if you come and work with us, no matter how good you are, we will make you better. When people move on with their careers, you want them to have great memories. The first 20 people we hired had previously worked a decade ago for me at Certus. So alumni is a great way of staying in contact with people. Creating an environment that combines experience, enjoyment, learning, and working alongside like-minded people will put your employees in a good place for whatever they do in the future. If you’re good to people, they tend to be good to you. And the best bit of that is you don’t have to pay recruitment agency fees.

What would happen if you went back and worked in McDonald’s today?

I always say: I wouldn’t employ someone to do a job that I wouldn’t do myself. My natural business acumen is that I would want to buy lots of McDonald’s stores through their franchise programme. But I’d be quite prepared to clean tables, pick up the rubbish, empty the bins and even flip a burger.

If you went back and visited your 17-year old self, what advice would you give yourself?

If you’re not the smartest person in the room, keep your mouth shut and listen to what others have got to say. And if you are the smartest person in the room, you’re probably in the wrong room!




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