"I had the burning desire to be my own person, my own boss," said Gary Oerther. "I wanted to leave a legacy for my family. But I knew I needed someone to help me, someone to prop me up. That's what McDonald's did."
Oerther opened his first McDonald's restaurant in Ohio in 1973. He now owns 22 restaurants in Central Florida and employs more than 900 people.
Oerther began his career in computers after graduating from college. He rose quickly and was soon a director of computer operations for a large Ohio company. He remembered watching his father go off to work in a factory each morning. He wanted to find out if there was more to be had from life.
"I always thought about how wonderful it would be if my father had his own business that I could go into it, too," Oerther said. "We could have a legacy and build it together."
With that dream for his family, Oerther walked away from his job in computers and partnered with McDonald's. He spent more than two years in training, working in McDonald's restaurants near his home to learn the business. Finally, McDonald's offered him the chance to open his own restaurant.
It was a new restaurant - and while Oerther knew he was in for a challenge, he was not prepared for the depth of that challenge.
"I actually lived in the basement of the restaurant because I had to be there constantly," Oerther said. "It was a struggle for the whole family, but we knew we were on to something big."
"While Oerther worked at the restaurant to make it operate as smoothly and profitably as possible, his wife worked in the community. She spoke at Rotary meetings, PTA meetings, and high schools, talking about McDonald's and inviting people to come to the family's restaurant. With much hard work, they made the restaurant a success - and eventually opened two more McDonald's in Ohio.
Oerther eventually realized that there would be more long-range opportunity in Florida and sold his Ohio business to purchase McDonald's restaurants in Central Florida.
He had used his time in Florida to establish a reputation as an innovator. His McDonald's on Orlando's International Drive near Sand Lake Road has been among the highest revenue-generating McDonald's restaurants in North America, thanks to a high-efficiency customer-service system Oerther developed. He has pioneered the use of credit cards in McDonald's and had led the introduction of new products such as pizza and hand-dipped ice cream.
After years of hard work, Oerther has built the legacy he always wanted. His two sons are in McDonald's Second-Generation Program, where they are learning to be owner/operators and continue the Oerther legacy.