Talked into an after-school job at McDonald's by his mates, Levi Due had no idea it was to change his life.
"Most of my friends worked there and kept telling me to come too," the former Tauranga College student says. "I really only did it to have a bit of a laugh with them and make some money."
Nearly 20 years on Due still works for McDonald's, but no longer as a member of the crew at one of the fast-food giant's 170 restaurants across New Zealand. He has gone on to build a successful career with the company, today holding a key role in its Auckland head office as merchandising and digital brand manager, including looking after the McDonald's app.
His skills have been recognised on the global stage too. In 2019 he received the McDonald's President Award - which only the top one per cent of McDonald's worldwide employees ever get - from global company chief executive Steve Easterbrook at Navy Pier in Chicago. He was the sole New Zealander to win the award that year.
But back when he first walked into the McDonald's kitchen in Tauranga as a schoolboy, he never imagined anything like this could be possible. Neither did he think it would be the start of a long-term career, his sights being instead firmly set on studying to be a pharmacist.
"I started out doing three, three-hour shifts each week in Tauranga and, as I gained more skill, I added five-hour shifts on weekends," he says. "I did that for about a year and then went off to university in Auckland studying chemistry and pharmacology."
Even then, McDonald's remained in his blood. To supplement his living costs he worked part-time at the restaurant at Starship Children's Hospital (now closed) and continued to do shifts in Tauranga when back during university holidays.
But he soon came to realise that being a pharmacist was "not my thing". He quit the course after sticking it out for two years, went home to Tauranga where he once again turned to McDonald's. It was a decision that changed his life, and one he has never regretted.
Back in the fold he was put through a management development programme, shortly after qualifying to run shifts by himself and running administrative tasks such as hiring staff, scheduling and managing inventory.
In 2006, he went to Hamilton where he worked in several restaurants before being appointed restaurant manager, first at Frankton and then at Te Rapa where he was responsible for up to 100 staff.
Due has been in the head office for almost eight years. In that time he has held four different roles, one of which saw him visit every restaurant in the country to roll out a new piece of training software.
For a time he worked with the company's menu development team but in 2015 moved to the information technology department where he assumed responsibility for touch screen ordering kiosks and cash registers. He spent three months training in Australia for this job.
McDonald's New Zealand managing director, Kylie Freeland, says Due's example debunks the oft-held perception that a "McJob" is a dead-end. "It offers opportunities, both short and long term, for people at any age or stage of their life.
"Like Levi, Maccas was the first job for many Kiwis," she says. "It gives a good grounding in discipline, is well respected on CVs and can lead in many directions whether that be earning a diploma in hospitality, training to be a restaurant manager, becoming a McDonald's franchisee or working your way up, as Levi has done, to the head office."
Due believes his rise through the ranks is not just due to his own skills, but because of the support he has had from McDonald's.
"The great thing about McDonald's is they are really supportive and are happy to help with training. I've never had a manager say to me 'no, we're not going to develop you' and while a lot of what I've done is down to right place, right time, much of it is also due to having the right attitude and a lot of hard work."
So, what of the future? Due is happy at McDonald's and life in Auckland (he and his partner own a house in the city) and is not looking further afield for job opportunities.
"I would like to ultimately lead a larger team, perhaps in a global role and, if the opportunity arose to apply for managing director (in New Zealand), I would certainly put my hand up."
For more information go to: https://mcdonalds.co.nz/learn/careers