Born to wear the floppy red shoes

by The City Wire staff ([email protected]) 1,357 views 

FORT SMITH — Regional McDonald’s owner Michael Hadley has barely cracked his thirties, but he's packed in enough accomplishments for a man twice his age. Business and charity have been integral components for the entrepreneur ever since high school.

That’s when he met his wife Michelle. The two lived close to one another, but never really connected until then. While classmates were "busy partying or getting into trouble," Michael said, he and Michelle saw time after class as an even mix of romance and business. To escape that dreaded concept that plagued so many their age —curfew — the two decided they couldn’t get into trouble if they had something to keep them busy.

That’s when the Stripe-a-Lot business was born.

“We were dating at this point, and so this was one way to hang out together and make money. We went and bought three-inch rollers and some traffic paint and would go paint lines wherever,” Hadley explained.

The first client for Hadley was McDonald’s, where his dad was a franchise owner.

Michael Hadley continued: “We figured we could make money and hang out at the same time. While we were doing it, some guys were joking around with us and said we could do several in an evening if we bought a striping machine.” 

So that’s what they did.

Would you like fries with that?
In college, Hadley was able to hire employees, while he attended the University of Arkansas.

“[Stripe-a-Lot] did Lowe’s, shopping centers, Chili’s. We made business cards, got in the phone book and got our business going. If I saw a place that needed to be striped, I’d ask them to let me give them a bid and would leave my card.”

As Michael pursued a degree in accounting, he became part-owner in a cell tower business known as Ridgeline Communications, which would eventually sell, leaving the Hadleys with the money to invest in their first two McDonald’s, which they purchased from Michael's father Jim.

“He worked for me as soon as he was able to get behind the counter,” the elder Hadley said. “He went into the registered applicant program to become owner-operator at McDonald’s and attended Hamburger University, which is a several-year process. He then purchased his first store.”

Michael’s entrepreneurial spirit “was a bug I guess he caught from me,” Jim Hadley said.

Today, the younger Hadley operates four McDonald’s restaurants: two in Fort Smith, and one each in Booneville and Greenwood.

At just 32, Hadley has been married 10 years, has four young children, and built several successful businesses. If you wrote him as a fictional character in a book and threw in the fact he’s also heavily involved in charity work, readers would scoff.

But place a call to his colleagues or sift through the mountain of “Thank yous” for his work at the Ronald McDonald House Charities (RMHC) of Arkoma Inc., and it’s quite evident.

One handwritten note to the Hadleys reads: “Tonight my husband and I are guests in the Ronald McDonald Family Room; I just wanted to tell you thank you so much for being a part of something so amazing. I knew I had heard about it, but it never sunk in how amazing it is or how much it can mean for families with hospitalized babies. Thank you so much.” 

Why he does it
The RMHC is a partnership with McDonald’s, but acts as a separate entity. Hadley sits on the group’s board of directors, but his efforts go far beyond that, according to RMHC of Arkoma Executive Director Stephanie Medford.

“He and Michelle come up once per month and provide a big dinner to the families. They cook it, serve it, everything,” Medford said. “McDonald’s owner-operators can get involved with the RMHC, but they don’t have to, and even if Michael wasn’t an owner-operator, he’s so passionate about what we do, that you can’t help thinking he’d be involved regardless.” 

Sitting across from Hadley at the McDonald's office near U.S. 71 in Fort Smith, he looks rather out-of-breath. Whether he’s exhausted, he leaves that up for someone else to decide.

"Yes, it can be time consuming," when asked how he manages it all.

“They’re always positive, always follow through with their commitments and always there when they say they’re going to be there," said Medford from the Ronald McDonald House Charities.

Michael is always running between meetings, but as chairman of the RMCH Advisory Council, he’s always open with his availability.

She credits the Hadleys for "taking initiative" in getting the RMHC Family Room at Mercy Hospital in Fort Smith. The four-room suite, which serves the parents and family of of older children staying in the intensive care units, had 8,000 daily visits and 1,100 overnight stays in 2011.

The cost to build and furnish a family room costs $305,000, and thanks largely to Michael and Michelle, the charity was able to fund it without debt. The couple also organized a Red Shoe Shindig, which raised about $75,000, roughly half of the room’s annual operating budget, Medford said.

She continued: "Michael and Michelle don’t get involved because they want people to know who they are. Everything they do is always sponsored under McDonald’s or another business name, even if it’s just them supporting it. They don’t have to have their name on everything.”