For most people, stepping up to the plate at McDonald’s means devouring a juicy Big Mac. For Rob Liddle, ’72, it means quite a bit more. Liddle works at the Fortune 500 company’s global headquarters in Oak Brook, Illinois, managing employment law and labor relations that affect more than a million workers worldwide.
Liddle is used to the responsibility. He’s been stepping up to the plate his entire life. “When I was 13, I was the player-manager for my MUNY baseball team,” said Liddle, who grew up in a working-class family on Buffalo’s West Side. “I attended league meetings with adults at the Delaware Park casino, went downtown to City Hall to pick up park permits, and knocked on doors of different businesses to ask for sponsorships. I never thought about it at the time, but I had a lot of freedom and a lot of responsibility at a relatively young age. I think that helped me get where I am today.”
Today, Liddle and his staff of 17 legal professionals monitor the ever-changing labor laws in 72 countries. When a nation passes new employment legislation, the McDonald’s team ensures that the law is incorporated into the company’s human resources policies and that franchise owners receive the information. It’s painstaking work, but vitally important to the successful operation of the world’s largest chain of hamburger fast-food restaurants.
“When you’re conducting business in that many countries, you get to see how various labor relations models work. There are a lot of differences between United States labor law and the laws of other countries, but there are also a lot of similarities,” Liddle said. “At the end of the day, no matter where you do business, it comes down to good people practices. You must treat people fairly.”
This spring, Liddle was on campus to speak to Buffalo State students as part of the university’s Leadership Lecture Series. He spoke about ethical leadership and those “good people practices,” emphasizing the importance of corporate and personal responsibility.
“Operating by well-defined values and standards of conduct is essential for corporations,” said Liddle, who joined McDonald’s in 1982. He has played a part in such efforts as the company’s global women’s initiative, which aims to place more women in management roles. “Personal responsibility is about doing your work to the best of your ability and looking for opportunities to be productive.”
Despite his natural intelligence and self-sufficient ways, Liddle said he never really enjoyed studying and learning until he enrolled in college. He credits Tom Weinberg, professor of sociology, and a course called Sociology of Addiction with flipping that switch.
“After writing a major research paper for that class, I realized that I was pretty good at the soft sciences. “And for the first time, I enjoyed digging deeper into a topic and writing a persuasive argument,” said Liddle, who earned his law degree from the University of Akron and a master’s degree in labor and industrial relations from Michigan State University. “I realized then that I had the ability—and the desire—to pursue a career in law.”
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