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The McDonald’s president who became a vegetarian hermit and tells you about it

The McDonald’s president who became a vegetarian hermit and tells you about it


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By Laila Abu Shihab

Now he takes a deep breath, gives dozens of hugs a day, collects stones, bathes in the river, grows all kinds of herbs, fruits and vegetables, collects those that grow wild. And memorize numbers, yes, but related to the diversity of the fauna and flora of Colombia, for example. Or with the vitamins that a specific food provides. Now he goes to sleep with the croaking of frogs in the forest, organizes fragrance tours, lies down to look at the stars on the roof of his house, recycles and reuses everything he can It does not need a refrigerator or television, it has a wall that leans against a huge rock and a dry bathroom that does not pollute the water, takes advantage of solar energy and allows waste to be used as compost.

Now he proposes another meaning for the word success and travels the world giving talks in which he teaches how to believe in Colombia.

This is the story of a powerful businessman who one day took a radical, truly radical turn in his life.

The before

Pedro Medina was only 35 years old when he brought McDonald’s to Colombia. After 24 months of coming and going from the United States, making calls, getting papers and money, and proving that he could take care of that franchise, he opened the first restaurant of the most famous multinational fast-chain company in the world.

It was in the exclusive Andino shopping center in Bogotá. On July 14, 1995. Even the president of Colombia at the time attended the opening.

“We opened 10 restaurants in the first 12 months. We had the fastest McDonald’s opening in the world, up to that point. We became the largest employer of university students in the country, with 1,125 young people, ”Medina recalls today. His dream of when he was 18 years old and studying at the University of Virginia, United States, was fulfilled. Some time after being the CEO of McDonald’s in Colombia, he became its president.

The Pedro of that time was "quite psychorigid, quite perfectionist and quite strict." He was running around. He gave everything to his work and did not know how to balance the different aspects of his life.

“That world absorbs you very much. I think I did a lot at the expense of my family. That is one of the important challenges, when one rises to a position of these, be careful with the balance, with the balance ”, he says calmly today.


The triggers

Medina acknowledges that there were three moments that led him to turn the position of his life 180 degrees.

The first was a strategy class that he dictated to future business managers and economists at the Universidad de los Andes. It was 1999. Colombia was going through a strong economic recession, drug trafficking had permeated a good part of society, the war between guerrillas, paramilitaries, and public forces had terrorized civilians.

Medina asked his 39 students how many of them saw each other in Colombia in five years and only 12 answered yes. "When I asked the other 27 what was happening, they responded asking me for reasons to stay in the country and I didn't quite know what to say to them." He spoke of coffee, emeralds, the two seas that bathe it, the flowers. And the arguments ran out.

“I was not able to sell Colombia to my students. From that frustration a reflection was born: we do not sell what is ours because we do not know how to sell it, because they have always shown us the bad and we have not investigated the good. And they have always told us that everything foreign is better, that what counts is the foreign model ”, he explains.

The next day, he began to mount a research project that took 18 months and led him to create a talk called "Why believe in Colombia?"

The second trigger was in 2001. Medina was still at McDonald’s, increasingly tired and increasingly eager to dedicate himself to his conference and the ideas that emerged from it. Until one day his direct boss surprised him with two questions.

Two very direct questions:

What do you want to do? You want to quit right?

For Medina it was obvious, but he was afraid. The terror of not having a stable job. “I wanted to keep the connection with McDonald’s because of that security it gives you,” he says. He was lucky: when he resigned, in 2002, he was appointed an external consultant for a couple of years, in which he finished consolidating the foundation project that he wanted to set up based on the talk he had already given hundreds of times.

Medina welcomes students and volunteers from various countries around the world to his home in Choachí. In the photo, in addition to Colombians, there is a Danish and some Chilean.

And the third moment was the most dramatic. The most difficult one. Chronologically it was the first, but he likes to tell it at the end because he became aware of what it meant 15 years later, when by chance he met the person who was next to him the day he suffered a stroke that left him on the verge of death.

On March 12, 1995, Medina had to travel to Caracas to supervise the training of a group of McDonald’s employees. But things did not go as planned. He barely made it to the airport, he had to return to the office for some material, the plane was delayed, his chair did not exist, he argued with the flight attendants. An intense headache. He began to feel dizzy, to be very cold.

“I had an aneurysm. They opened my head a few days later and when they sealed it, they left a screw a bit loose, "he says now, smiling. The scar is still visible on the left side of his forehead.

"That is what allows me to do what I do today ... I have no loose screws, but the truth is that when one has been on the verge of death, life is very different."

What was Medina doing selling burger combos with soda and fries?

The now


The Pedro Medina version 2017 is very different from the Pedro Medina of 1995. The values ​​with which McDonald’s is usually associated (speed, homogeneity, serial production) no longer accompany it. Neither was the luxurious apartment in the north of Bogotá where he lived.

At 57, Medina lives in Choachí, a town of about 13,000 inhabitants located almost 55 kilometers southeast of the Colombian capital where, he says, "there are only three thieves and everyone knows them."

His house is on a sidewalk 2 kilometers from the town's urban center, where there are 148 houses and only 500 people live, mostly peasants. Doña Lola, Doña Margarita, they all know each other, greet each other, help each other.

You have not eaten a hamburger for years or entered a McDonald’s. “Before, I considered that there should be a McDonald’s in each municipality of Colombia, today I think that local models are very valuable and we must work more locally. I no longer eat red meat, I no longer drink soda ... let's say that I am a flexivegetarian, I only eat fish, and I live a very rich life, I live a very different life in which I no longer think that the foreign model is the best ”.

Medina's happiness is inversely proportional to the amount of things he buys.

“Today I think that success is too hackneyed a word, that many times it implies competing with others, my success at the cost of your failure, but the planet is too overheated to keep looking for more and more success, all the time. People ask me how many hectares I have here and when I tell them that only one tells me to buy more. But I do not want. One is more than enough. I'm not looking for a bigger car, I'm not looking for more things, I enjoy what I have, I enjoy it and I share it ”.

The richest is not the one who has the most, but the one who needs the least. That is the phrase that at this moment best fits your life.

“I need very little to live. I'm going to the Choachí market place and everything is worth 1,000 or 2,000 pesos (one dollar today equals 2,900 Colombian pesos). We no longer need a refrigerator because we cook our food fresh. I feel much freer and happier, I earn less but I live much better. I have more time for myself. I went from old consumerism, how many cylinders your car has and how much you earn, to new consumerism, which is being in the same pair of pants, with the same shirt ... ", he jokes.

He lives in a minga, a Quechua word that means collective construction. In a house built almost with the same materials as his, a few meters above, live his eldest son, his partner and the two grandchildren who most give life to Medina today. His other two daughters live in Cali and Barcelona.

A few meters below both houses is the Museum of Peace, a place that must be entered kneeling for a question of space, but also for a symbol. "The one to apologize for something we have done," he explains.

It is a place full of objects that apparently have no connection to each other, some brooms, coffee roots, fish scales, wooden ladles, plants, flags and maps of Colombia, cushions, stones of different sizes, many books. With each of those things, Medina goes through four states, which he says are also challenges: inspiration, innovation, transformation and food. And so he builds peace, he is convinced.

"Yesterday at a conference they asked me how many McDonalds there are in Colombia and I 'well, no idea, I don't know'. Before I knew how many hamburgers were served every minute, all that ... now better ask me how many species of amphibians there are in Colombia, and I'll tell you 733 species of amphibians. Today I apply that memory to other things that are much more relevant to me ”, he assures.

According to the foundation's website, Yo Creo en Colombia has already given more than 8,000 lectures to 847,000 people in 166 cities in 33 countries, “creating a school of thought about a capable, resourceful, intelligent, hard-working, passionate Colombia and Latin America. , happy, curious, productive and competitive that exists but that many do not see ”.

He gives many talks alone, but sometimes he gets together with another businessman who has a history very similar to his, named Santiago Jiménez —ex vice president of Telecom and former director of marketing at BellSouth Colombia—, to give a joint conference called “Yo Creo en my, I believe in Colombia ”.

Because by changing the stories we tell, Medina explains, we change the paradigms.

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