The successful, 40-plus journey for this McDonald’s franchisee ends in Fort Wayne — and with Commerce Bank.
“Everything about Commerce has been perfect. There are so many things I don’t have to worry about because the bank will help me take care of it.”
Jim Wong, McDonald’s Franchisee
Ft. Wayne, Indiana
With a bachelor’s degree in accounting and a love for the Golden Arches, Jim Wong took a part-time job at McDonald’s in 1977 when he finished college. More than 40 years later, he’s still there.
Wong’s rise through the organization is a testament to the value of a positive attitude, a dependable track record and a lifelong desire to take on new challenges.
For the first 18 years of his career, Wong worked his way through virtually every accounting department at the company’s corporate headquarters in Oak Brook, Illinois, meeting his wife along the way.
And there he might have stayed, were it not for a job opening in McDonald’s Licensing division, a position that would allow Wong to work directly with the operators of McDonald’s restaurants across the country. His boss — soon to be named vice president of Licensing — recommended Wong take the job.
“That was one of the best career decisions I ever made,” Wong recalls. He would spend the next 20 years immersed in the division, later renamed Franchising, holding a variety of positions within the group before being elevated to a director. Along the way, he started dreaming about his next career move.
Long story short: When two McDonald’s stores became available in Fort Wayne, Indiana, Wong fulfilled his dream. In September 2017, he purchased the franchises and became a McDonald’s owner-operator.
Less than two years later, he added a third Ft. Wayne store to his portfolio, this one in need of a turnaround. With 40 years of experience behind him, Wong knew what to do. He provided the store’s general manager — a 30-year McDonald’s veteran herself — with the additional training and resources she needed and watched her transform the struggling operation it into a “gold mine.” It is now his best-performing location, Wong says.
Success breeds success, and soon the McDonald’s field office approach him about purchasing three additional McDonald’s restaurants in the Ft. Wayne area.
Then, in November 2019, while talking late one evening with a fellow franchisee at a regional franchisee meeting, a text message came across his friend’s phone. It was from the friend’s banker.
“His banker was contacting him with important information at midnight,” says Wong. “I could hardly believe what I was seeing.”
Contrasting that with the lackluster service he received from his own bank, Wong asked about the bank. “That’s how I was introduced to Commerce,” he said. “My friend said it is a big bank with a small-town feel.”
A Chicago native, Wong had never heard of Commerce Bank. But he wanted to learn more. He asked for the contact information for the Peoria-based banker.
“We started texting back and forth,” Wong recalled. By March 2020, Commerce had refinanced the loans on Wong’s three existing stores and made arrangements for the loans needed to acquire the three new locations, which were scheduled to close in April. Another Commerce banker stepped in to help Wong refinance his home loan. Wong was thrilled with his decision to move the loans to Commerce.
Then the coronavirus pandemic hit. The closing on the new store acquisitions got delayed till July 1 while Wong focused on bolstering his existing operations with funding from the Small Business Administration’s Payroll Protection Program (PPP).
In a meeting with other Fort Wayne McDonald’s operators, Wong was hearing PPP horror stories. “The portals at many of my fellow-operators’ banks were not open and the operators were having a hard time getting their bankers to respond to their questions,” he says. “Some of these franchisees had been in relationships with their banks for 10, 15, even 20 years.”
Wong’s experience was just the opposite. “With Commerce, everything went smoothly,” he recalls. “I had a single person I could call with questions. I was in, out and done. My banker even drove the documents out to my house.”
“After hearing my experience, the other McDonald’s operators in my group started looking to me for information — like I am from Commerce,” he adds. “Now I tell them that they should just work with Commerce themselves. They’re everything a franchisee wants in their bank.”