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SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA ENTERPRISE : Passing the Torch to the Next Generation : Restaurants: Minority business owner Lonear Heard-Davis will transfer a booming McDonald's franchise to her daughters.

October 31, 1994|SHARILYN BANKOLE | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

A large crystal trophy on Lonear Heard-Davis' desk reflects the huge success the Buena Park resident has had with her McDonald's restaurants over the past 23 years. But Heard-Davis, who spent much of her youth toiling in the cotton fields of Mississippi, says building the franchise is not enough.

The high point in her career will come when she transfers control of James T. Heard Management Corp.--the Cerritos-based parent company of seven Southern California McDonald's--to her daughters, Heard-Davis says.

The transition to Lonjeana Heard, 29, and Sharon Heard, 24, will take place over 10 years, says Heard-Davis, 52, which will give her heirs time to learn the business from countertop to corporate headquarters and give employees time to get used to a different style of management.

Such business transfers are becoming more common for two reasons, according to female business leaders. There are more businesses owned by women, and because many of those businesses have now been around a long time, the average female entrepreneur is getting older, making for a natural transition to daughters, says Julie Weeks, director of research for the National Foundation for Women Business Owners.

"Women bringing daughters into the business is a natural outgrowth of a nurturing relationship between a mother and her child," says Karen Caplan, president-elect of the Los Angeles chapter of the National Assn. of Women Business Owners and president of Frieda's Inc., a Los Alamitos-based specialty produce company. (Caplan took over the business from her mother.)

Like Caplan's mother, Heard-Davis is a female pioneer in an industry dominated by men. The businesswoman, who is black, says she must prepare her daughters for an industry still dominated by white men. The next generation of minority female restaurant operators, she believes, will have fewer obstacles than their parents did.

Carroll Ellison, 58, who is also black, began shifting the operation of her two Pasadena McDonald's restaurants to her daughter Monica Ellison-Williams in 1992, shortly after Ellison-Williams completed the license requirements to become an owner-operator.

"The transition will be very easy because Monica knows the operation and the administration and we have a very competent supervisor," says Ellison, who still handles administrative duties. From 1986, when her husband became disabled due to a stomach condition, until 1992, Ellison ran the two restaurants alone. Her daughter had worked at the restaurants for a few years before leaving for college, then returned in 1984 when her father was forced to cut back on his hours because of his illness.

Heard-Davis, recalling that she had to learn the business in a hurry, said she wants to make sure her daughters have a smooth transition. She took over the then-four-store Heard franchise in 1981 when her husband, James, died of cancer, and today is company president.

The couple started with one restaurant in Compton in 1971. James Heard died a month after they opened their fourth McDonald's in Los Angeles.

"It was at that point that I had to make the most important decision of my life . . . to sell or to remain with the business," she said. "We'd talked about it and decided that I should keep them. I'd learned a lot from my husband."

Up to that point, Heard-Davis had handled bookkeeping and helped work the counter during lunch hours. But by 1984, she had completed the McDonald's basic operations course and graduated from the company's Hamburger University in Oak Brook, Ill.

The next year she was awarded McDonald's Golden Arch trophy, the highest honor a franchisee can receive from the company. She attributes the award to the work she did to double the sales revenue of a store she purchased in 1983 in Watts. Today, the restaurants generate between $10 million and $12 million in annual revenue.

Heard-Davis' daughters say she is their single greatest inspiration for success.

"I really admire her," said Lonjeana, director of training for the restaurants. "Not only does she balance the business with family, but she mixes and balances God and family and community as well."

Sharon, a store shift manager at the family's Gardena restaurant, said she sometimes wonders if she will be as good as her mom, but then remembers her mother's encouraging words: "All you can do is your best."

Lonjeana has already completed the training courses to become a McDonald's franchise owner, including a Next Generation McDonald's Owner program covering store operation. Heard-Davis' other two daughters Karon Heard, 24, Sharon's twin, and Jamette Heard, 20, are pursuing careers outside the restaurant business.

Lonjeana recalls that one of her biggest childhood complaints was having to work at the family restaurant during summer vacations while her schoolmates headed for the beach. Still, she decided to continue with the family business after earning a bachelor's degree in English from UC Irvine and after considering a career in medicine.

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