Parents are responsible for setting their kids up to have the best possible future. There are different routes parents can take to help prepare their kids for life. The Harper sisters benefit from the work ethic passed down from their parents and the business IQ that helped them purchase a McDonald’s in the 1980s.
Patricia Williams and her husband cashed their savings and applied to the McDonald’s franchisee program in the early 1980s. Unfortunately, the couple divorced, but Williams wanted to continue her journey as a franchise owner. When she went to apply for a loan to purchase her ex-husband’s share of the business, the banker asked her to bring along her husband to discuss the terms, but she declined.
“Because of her involvement with the restaurant and her operational excellence, mom was able to convince the corporation — and the banks — that she was the person to take over the restaurants,” Nicole Harper Rawlins said. “Life was hard in those days. She was a single parent with two kids to feed, but also had a great opportunity.”
Fast forward 20 years and eight locations later, William’s daughters, Nicole Harper Rawlins and Kerri Harper-Howie joined the family business after both excelled in their careers. Harper Rawlins, working for Los Angeles County, made a career change and went through the McDonald’s franchise training program for owners and purchased a store. She later went on to become the first female Black chair for the McDonald’s Southern California Regional Leadership Council. Harper Rawlins helped her mother acquire several more locations bringing the total to 13.
Her younger sister was not far behind in joining the family legacy.
In 2012, Harper-Howie traded in her successful law career to join the family business. Before her career as an entrepreneur, she worked for the prestigious international law firm of Paul Hastings, where she represented Fortune 500 companies in every phase of employment law work. She later held in-house leadership roles at AT&T and 24 Hour Fitness, before venturing out as an entrepreneur.
“I was never interested in becoming an owner/operator, I always wanted to be a lawyer. I had a successful career, but once I became a mom, I saw the importance of becoming a franchisee.” Harper-Howie said as she described what made her change her career path. “ When I moved from the Bay Area to Los Angeles, it was my first time seeing my mother and sister work together. Seeing how those two operated reminded me that it was a family business, and I started thinking about the possibility of passing this legacy to my child.”
Harper-Howie had to make a variety of changes, not only career-wise but life-wise once she chose to start working at McDonald’s.
“It was a complete 180 as I went from working a desk job to working fries. I did that and worked in different restaurants we owned while I went through the Next Generation program over four years,” she said. Harper-Howie then completed the Next Generation training program for children of McDonald’s owners who wanted to own their stores.
Advocating for other Black McDonald’s franchise owners, the sisters are members of the Black McDonald’s Operators Association, a diversity group to support Black owners.
The family now owns 18 McDonalds throughout Los Angeles, including all the sites in Compton.
“It was an organic process as people typically expand where they are, and my mother was intentional about that,” Harper-Howie said, explaining that in 1995, her mother sold two restaurants in the Los Angeles area to purchase five restaurants in inner city areas like Compton.
In 2013 Harper Rawlins closed two restaurants in the Los Angeles airport and bought the last McDonald restaurant’s in Compton.
The Harper sisters also look out for the community.
“We try to get engaged and involved in our communities in different ways just to let people know that we are privileged to be here. I live in Los Angeles. Nicole lives in Inglewood, not far from our restaurants. We could live somewhere else, but we chose to live here,” Harper Rowlins said.
Kerri volunteers with the Ronald McDonald House Charities of Southern California and her sorority, Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc. Additionally, she serves on the board of her local Mocha Moms chapter and has spearheaded baby item donation programs in the community.
The sisters also have a track record of looking out for women as the majority of the management positions are full of women of color. “It was organic as we view our organization as a place for women to thrive. We don’t close off our promotions to women only, we do create the opportunity of flexibility for our employees as we try to build our team as a family.”
When Williams purchased her first McDonald’s, she joined the National Black McDonald’s Operators Association (NBMOA), which was formed to unite Black McDonald’s franchisees as they navigated an extensive franchising system while creating a network to share ideas and support one another.
“This association gives a sense of security as you see people like you doing the same thing while also dealing with some of the same stuff as you. It gives Black people a space of normalcy, and provides the ability to move up in the organization and meet other owners and operators at higher positions,” Harper-Howie said.
She encourages people who can own a franchise to look into buying one as she believes it is beneficial to the community, helping Black families build generational wealth and family legacies.
“McDonald’s is currently in the works of unveiling different programs to help make franchising more affordable for African-Americans,” she said.
Our Weekly coverage of local news in Los Angeles County is supported by the Ethnic Media Sustainability Initiative, a program created by California Black Media and Ethnic Media Services to support minority-owned-and-operated community newspapers across California.