‘I still can’t believe it’

KAPAA — Coming from the Philippines to Kauai, the McDonald’s of Waipouli was the first and only job Debbie Palpal-latoc has had in the U.S.

“I wanted to work right away, and McDonald’s was one of the first places to call me,” she said.

Palpal-latoc started her career at McDonald’s 15 years ago as a crew member.

During those early years, she worked every station — from drive-through and front counter to grill. She also worked the night shift, and was a regularly closed.

In 2010, Palpal-latoc was promoted to general manager, a position she holds today.

Recently, Palpal-latoc’s efforts were recognized by the McDonald’s Corporation, which awarded her the Ray Kroc Award.

The award, which is given every year to top performing McDonald’s managers, was established in 1999 and named after the corporation’s founder to honor the top 1 percent of managers around the world “who make Ray Kroc’s vision of excellence come to life for customers each day in company-owned and franchised restaurants,” said a press release.

“It’s mixed emotions,” Palpal-latoc said. “I still can’t believe it because there are so many other managers.”

This is the first time a manager from Kauai has been recognized with the award, said Darlene Chung, McDonald’s of Hawaii owner/operator on Kauai.

“We’ve won many outstanding manager awards, but never the Ray Kroc,” she said.

On April 13, Palpal-latoc traveled to Orlando, Florida, with her husband, children and Chung for an award ceremony.

“I was shocked because she is a new manager, but I’m proud of her,” Chung said.

Palpal-latoc was one of 340 managers worldwide selected for the award. Winners received a cash prize, a trophy, ring, pin and a trip to the McDonald’s 2016 Worldwide Convention.

“I have grown tremendously both personally and professionally over the last decade and a half with the company,” she said. “The strong leadership skills I have developed working for McDonald’s are a testament to the investment the company has made in me.”

But she says the Ray Kroc recognition isn’t just about her.

“Everyone works together here, so I tell them it’s everyone’s award,” Palpal-latoc said.

As general manager, Palpal-latoc is in charge of 43 crew members and eight other managers.

“In the morning, I check in on everyone and go to each area of the store to make sure everything is in order,” she said.

Her positive personality separates her from the pack, Chung said.

“She’s always positive, which is good for this industry, because if you don’t have a positive attitude, you won’t have positive results,” Chung said.

Palpal-latoc said she keeps a good attitude because she knows people look up to her.

“The people I work with look to me, so I have to set an example,” she said. “The manager sets the tone, so if you’re positive, it attracts positivity.”

In addition to running the store, Palpal-latoc trains new hires. As a principal trainer, she travels to different McDonald’s locations on the island.

“She has become an excellent coach,” Chung said.

Recently, Palpal-latoc was put in charge of developing an orientation class, which the company will start using this summer, Chung said.

The project has become Palpal-latoc’s “baby,” she said. “I wanted something specific for Hawaii,” Chung added.

Palpal-latoc did such a good job preparing the orientation program that other managers and human resources officials want to meet her, Chung said.

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