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He’s Loving It

Owner and operator of seven McDonald’s restaurants in New Orleans, Henry L. Coaxum Jr. thrives on giving back to the city he serves.

Pamela Marquis
He’s Loving It

“I want to hold that door open to the next entrepreneurs who are inspired by not only how I made it, but by where I’ve come from.”

– Henry L. Coaxum Jr.

Beneath the golden glow of the famous McDonald’s arches, Henry L. Coaxum Jr., president of Coaxum Enterprises Inc., shines.

Coaxum is the owner/operator of seven McDonald’s restaurants in the New Orleans area. He has distinguished himself throughout his corporate career- receiving numerous awards for his exemplary operations, marketing, employee relations practices and community service, including being the first McDonald’s operator to receive Nation’s Restaurant News’ 2007 Franchisee Star Award.

After losing all three restaurants, an office complex and his home during Hurricane Katrina, he was recognized in April  of 2008 with the Phoenix Award from the U.S. Small Business Administration for his outstanding disaster recovery effort. According to PR Newswire, “He moved quickly to find innovative ways to recover and rebuild, while getting his 275 employees back to work as soon as possible.”

That same year, in recognition of his outstanding service as an ambassador in his community and displaying excellence in leadership, Coaxum was selected by the McDonald’s Corporation to attend the 2008 National African American History Month celebration at the White House.  

Recently Coaxum was recognized yet again by McDonald’s at the company’s 2014 365Black Awards show. Held in New Orleans during Essence Festival weekend, the show honored Coaxum for his leadership and community involvement.

A passionate giver of his time to various causes, Coaxum is a Junior Achievement Business Hall of Fame Laureate and received the highest honor of the United Way of Southeast Louisiana -- the Alexis de Tocqueville Award.

Currently Coaxum serves as chairman of the New Orleans Business Alliance. He was appointed to the position by New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu in a move that launched the city’s first-ever public-private partnership for economic development.

And if that weren’t enough, he also serves as treasurer of the city’s Hospital Service District Board, is on the board of GNO Inc.; and is a member of The Greater New Orleans Sports Foundation, and The Committee of 100 Louisiana, which assists the state in attracting and retaining industry and ensuring quality jobs for Louisianans.

He and his wife, Karen, have served as co-hosts of many philanthropic endeavors such as the Ladies in Red, an annual fundraiser of the African American Heritage Program of the Preservation Resource Center and the Edgar “Dooky” Jr. and Leah Chase Family Foundation Gala.  He remains active with the 100 Black Men of Greater New Orleans; the Grambling University Athletic Foundation; the New Orleans African American Museum; the United Way of Southeast Louisiana; the United Negro College Fund; and the American Heart Association.

Coaxum is also known for his work with New Orleans area young people.

“Our youth need to learn that you can get rewarded if you work hard at both school and a job,” he says. “Who knows – that job could end up being your career.”

You started as a manager-trainee with the McDonald’s Corp. in 1984. What has that meant to you throughout your years of involvement? After reading Tom Peter’s In Search of Excellence, I was inspired to work for a major corporation like McDonald’s.

My brother had been with McDonald’s for almost 10 years at this time and encouraged me to join the company with the golden arches. Many long-time McDonald’s employees started out as crew, but since I was already in my 30s and had been in urban planning and had held other jobs, I started out as a manager-trainee. In this position, I learned all there was to learn of the operational day-to-day tasks of a McDonald’s restaurant.
 

In 2002 you became an owner and operator of your own McDonald’s. What led you to that decision? After years as a member of the McDonald’s Corporation team, the restaurant where I started my career became available, so I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to own and operate it. Besides, I married a native New Orleans lady in 2000. I bought the restaurant on the I-10 Service Road and Read in 2002, solidifying New Orleans as my home.

What are the challenges of working as a franchisee? What are the advantages?

There are challenges associated with any job, but especially when you are an owner and the operator. When you own the business, you own all of the responsibility and liability. Everything is on your shoulders. As a franchisee, you must be diligent about keeping up with all of the changes mandated by the franchisor. The advantage of working as a franchisee is that all of the operating systems are in place. You don’t have to create or re-create procedures or an operational manual. Successful strategies are the hallmark of the McDonald’s Corporation.

How are you building your business for tomorrow? There are a lot of my employees who have embraced the McDonald’s corporate philosophy and who have shown an interest in moving up the ladder of opportunity. I am making everything available to help make those individuals become successful.

Is that one of the reasons you created the Coaxum Enterprises Training and Resource Center, a 6,000-square-foot, state-of-the-art facility that houses your corporate office and training and equipment labs? I built the Training and Resource Center to be able to provide the ongoing training that keeps our restaurants operating. At the center, our new hires get e-learning and shoulder-to-shoulder instruction that readies them to work without the major distractions of being in an unfamiliar environment, such as a busy restaurant. This builds up their confidence and comfort level. The Training and Resource Center also can be made available to community organizations that need a venue for similar needs.

You have more than 300 employees. What are you doing to attract the best workforce and what are you doing to retain it? We at Coaxum Enterprises participate in the McDonald’s Corporation’s “Hiring to Win” platform. We have a 24/7 online application process that provides a perpetual stream of applicants. Through this application process, we are able to review applications and schedule interviews.

You offer two education incentive programs for student employees who have good grades: pay raises for those in high school and financial help for books and tuition to college students. Why is this important to you? It is not enough to provide a job to someone. It is even more important that everyone at least has the opportunity to receive an education. If they can do both under my watch, I consider myself successful.

Is there anything you bring to your career simply by virtue of being African-American that enables you to be more effective? I think it’s important to be a coach to others. I strive to be someone others can look to for inspiration and serve as an example of what can be achieved if you have the vision and drive to work hard. I want to hold that door open to the next entrepreneurs who are inspired by not only how I made it, but by where I’ve come from.

Coaxum Enterprises Inc. is very active in the New Orleans community, from serving on public boards and working with city agencies to sponsoring and hosting charity events. Why is this work important to you? You can’t be successful without the support of everyone around you. It is a responsibility of a businessperson to give back, not just through monetary means but by providing leadership, insight and resources.

What do you see as your business’ purpose for existing? After being in business for many years, a business owner’s role should naturally morph into a mentorship position, where you continuously focus on the future of the business and of the next generation. We are only as successful as our last customer’s visit, so we are always working to exceed our customers’ expectations. And while we keep our “eyes on the fries,” we also are pulling up those in the ranks who are delivering to our customers. Our customers and our employees are the purpose of our existence.