Lindsay Hughes ’73 embraces hard work and lifelong learning
Lindsay Hughes ’73 was in sixth grade when his mother told him, “The top of the hill is the place to rest.” It was advice that he has lived by since.
He grew up poor in the Watts area of Los Angeles as one of 12 brothers and sisters. Coming of age in an era of political turmoil, Hughes saw his most likely choices out of high school as “the Vietnam War or jail.” But he had good grades and was accepted to many colleges.
Ultimately, he chose to go to the University of Redlands on an academic scholarship. Redlands had a good reputation, and he knew he would benefit from the smaller class size. “[In addition,] I could help my mother with my brothers and sisters by just taking a bus,” he recalls.
To supplement his studies, Hughes worked a variety of jobs, eventually landing a part-time job at a McDonald’s in Los Angeles, where he mopped floors and became a cook.
After graduating from the University with a bachelor’s degree in theology, Hughes continued at McDonald’s as a full-time employee. First, he was a manager, then a supervisor. By 1981, he knew the whole operation from top to bottom, made an investment, and became certified as a McDonald’s owner and operator.
Today, Hughes owns two McDonald’s franchises; he has served multiple leadership roles within the corporation, such as chairing the Ronald McDonald House Charities/African-American Future Achievers fundraiser and serving on the board of the Long Beach Ronald McDonald House.
Working within McDonald’s has been a lifelong learning experience for Hughes. He not only absorbed lessons about operations and management, but also about real estate, organization, technology, and more. “McDonald’s isn’t, as people think, just a hamburger joint,” he says. “This company has evolved; I was there before drive-thrus, before Playlands, before breakfasts. We just had 15-cent hamburgers and French fries. But we stick to our bible—quality, cleanliness, value, and service—and that’s the most important thing.”
The company has also given Hughes an outlet for charity work; for 17 years, he has managed McDonald’s GospelFest, a music extravaganza in Southern California benefiting various nonprofits. Hughes is also a trustee for foundations including 101 Ways to Save a Child Foundation, Greater Los Angeles Harbor Division, and Mayme A. Clayton Library and Museum.
Ironically, when he tried to get a job at McDonald’s in Redlands in the 1970s, he could never get hired. “It was because I was Black,” he says matter-of-factly. “But that doesn’t bother me. What you wear, what you look like—that’s not a measure of a person. What’s important to me is that I treat somebody like I would want to be treated.”
Today, Hughes lives in Long Beach with his wife, Connie; they have twin boys, Matthew and Alexander, and a daughter, Charlie. He remains upbeat in the face of life’s challenges.
“I had no choice [as to]where I came from,” he says. “But everybody has a starting point. And when you wake up in the morning, you choose what that option is going to be.”