When Levi Due started working at McDonald's as a shy 17-year-old, he had no idea over a decade later he'd shake hands with the boss of the world's largest hamburger chain.
But last month Due did just that, he was flown to Chicago on an all expenses paid for trip to receive the fast food operator's most prestigious employee award.
An Aucklander, Due, was one of 112 of McDonald's 1.7 million global employees to receive a US$12,500 ($19,000) cash bonus in recognition of receiving the company's President Award - and the only Kiwi in the marketing team to receive it.
The 33-year-old started off as a "fries fryer", or a crew person by the official term, in a Tauranga restaurant. Over the past 16 years he has worked his way through the ranks to merchandising and digital brand manager, his current role, where he works as a one-man band responsible for McDonald's app.
With no formal training, he learnt on the job as he climbed the ranks.
From the fries station to shift and then restaurant manager, before moving to the company's head office in Auckland to work in the restaurant solutions team.
Most of his promotions have come from a tap on the shoulder.
"I started when I was 17, just working the fries station, for a couple of hours after school," Due told the Herald. "I did that for eight months and slowly started learning other facets of the business: how to make burgers, serve customers, how to work the drive-thru, and then I got to the point where I was promoted to crew trainer.
"After another year or so I was tapped on the shoulder, asked if I wanted to start learning management."
He was put through a management development programme and shortly after began running shifts by himself, learning how to do administrative tasks of hiring scheduling and inventory management, then became a restaurant manager.
"At one point I had a team of 100 staff under me, which was pretty cool - running a really busy restaurant in Hamilton, and then I was tapped on the shoulder to work in the corporate office doing work for the restaurant solutions group."
Due has been in the corporate office for five years now, where he has held four different roles. In one role, he was responsible for the roll out of a new piece of training software, which saw him visit all 170 McDonald's restaurants in the country.
For a time he worked in the company's menu development team, and in 2015 he moved to the information technology department, responsible for touch screen ordering kiosks and cash registers, where he spent three months training in Australia.
He was then again tapped on the shoulder to take on the role of brand manager for digital and merchandising. These days he is responsible for McDonald's app, digital menu boards, content on store kiosks, and the marketing emails sent out to customers.
He works closely with the team at NZX-listed software company Plexure Group, which built and services the back-end of McDonald's app. His day job revolves around making sure the app is updated with offers.
"The digital side of the business is still quite a new part of the business so I can make my mark. And it's still early in its life cycle globally as well so being able to shape that in New Zealand is pretty cool.
"That was kind of what got me the attention from global to receive the award this year based on last year's achievements."
Those achievements include: growing a database of customers from 300,000 to 1.5 million and the company's Big Mac giveaway marketing campaign, he said.
At the glitzy "Oscar-like" award ceremony held at Navy Pier in Chicago last month Due received the McDonald's President Award from company global chief executive Steve Easterbrook.
The top one per cent of McDonald's employees receive the award. It "felt surreal" to go from the restaurant floor serving up fries to the only New Zealander to win the President's Award this year, Due told the Herald.
"Looking back, I don't think when I was 17 I would have thought I'd be at this point after 16 years - let alone still at McDonald's."
Due has his eyes set on moving into global management, based overseas. Initially, however, he had not planned a career with the company.
"I didn't think it was a company I could have a career with - I kind of expected it to be that fast food job for kids," he said. "The more I learnt the more I could see that there was a huge career path in it, and McDonald's is extremely generous with the perks you get throughout."