Why Warren Anderson worked for free for McDonald’s to build his $500 million company

BY Preta Peace Namasaba January 29, 2024 2:47 PM EDT
Warren Anderson. Photo credit: The Anderson-DuBose Company

Warren Anderson worked for McDonald’s for close to free in order to learn how to run a distribution and logistics business. Over three decades later, he is the CEO and President of The Anderson-DuBose Company which generates over $500 million in annual revenue. The company supplies food, paper products, cleaning supplies and other items to more than 700 restaurants chains.

Even Anderson understands that the gamble he took is not for everyone, given people’s circumstances. At the time he and is business partner Steven DuBose approached McDonald’s with the idea of learning how to operate a McDonald’s distribution center, Anderson was 36. That is a small distance from the adventure-seeking career years.

Anderson was the child of an American diplomat and an executive at the Institute of International Education. He graduated with a Bachelor of General Science degree and a master’s degree majoring in broadcast journalism from the University of Michigan School. He became an advertising executive selling air time on radio and TV, fulfilling his childhood dream of working in the media.

He rose to second-in-command at a CBS affiliate but was fired from the job due to disagreements with a boss. The experience was immensely devastating and Anderson took the decision to make sure future employment opportunities do not threaten to undo his mental and financial well-being if these opportunities go sideways. He consequently set out to start his own business in the distribution and logistics sector.

“I had a vision of being able to buy a business without a business background. Not only did I buy my original business back in 1991, but I’ve grown the company and bought several companies as far as in South Africa, and halfway across the country. I have a business in Oklahoma City. I’ve been able to own businesses around the world,” Anderson said about actualizing his dreams.

In Anderson and DuBose’s arrangement with McDonald’s, the pair asked the global brand to allow them to purchase and operate their own facility if they successfully completed the trial period. This was still very financially intensive as Anderson and DuBose had to raise money from all their credit cards as well as from friends and family.

In 1991, Anderson and DuBose bought a unit in Solon, Ohio that laid the foundation for The Anderson-DuBose Co. The selling company guaranteed the debt so that the hopeful duo could access traditional bank financing. Anderson bought out his partner and was able to pay off the debt two years before the deadline. His narrow approach to the distribution business has ensured the company’s success and profitability.

“We looked at things and we understood where we could add value and where we could be profitable. We tried to stay in our lane, which was distribution, whether it was food or beverages. So I would say for my company, our success has been narrow in the kind of businesses that we look at. We knew what we were doing in our space,” Anderson identified the reason for his business success.

Anderson pitched to McDonald’s about setting up a South African distribution when the franchise was opening up restaurants in the African country. He received the deal and opened distribution centers in Johannesburg, Durban and Cape Town. He then acquired Chipotle distribution rights for Ohio, Pennsylvania and West Virginia. In 2007, Anderson bought a second McDonald’s distribution center in Pittsburgh.

He combined the company’s two locations in Solon and Pittsburgh into a new distribution center in Lordstown, Ohio in 2012. The $28 million, 158,000-square-foot facility enabled the business to operate more effectively and efficiently. A year later, Anderson bought a distribution center from Golden State Foods in Rochester, New York that supplied 220 McDonald’s restaurants at the time.

Today, the Anderson-DuBose Company offers distribution services to more than 700 McDonald’s and Chipotle restaurants. The company was awarded 2021 U.S. Supplier of the Year by McDonald’s USA. Anderson is also a shareholder in Capital Beverage, a beer distribution business in Oklahoma City. He was recognized as Male Entrepreneur of the Year by the U.S. Department of Commerce and as Ohio Minority Supplier Firm of the Year, among other awards.