New McDonald’s Mildura owner Leigh Colbert with crew members Charisma Odal, Michelle Macdonald and Ashlea Morris.

By PAUL MENSCH

FORMER Geelong and North Melbourne footballer Leigh Colbert has taken over Mildura’s two McDonald’s stores under an agreement that will see him operating the outlets for the next 20 years.

Leigh told the ‘Weekly he is looking forward to the opportunity to be involved with the Sunraysia community for the next two decades.

Born in Mildura in 1975, Leigh 44, has moved back to town with his wife Alex and their three children Thomas, 7, Lily, 5, and William 2.

Leigh attended Mildura West kindergarten before his parents, who were school teachers, moved to Nhill to take up new positions, and 12 months later his family moved to Bendigo and it was there he did the bulk of his schooling.

In 1992 Leigh was recruited by Geelong Football Club when he was 17, and he would go onto play 105 games over 10 years, before moving to North Melbourne in 2000, where he played a further 104 games during his six years with that club.

In 2006 Leigh worked as an assistant coach under John Worsefold at West Coast Eagles, “where they were pretty sharp,” with players such as Judd, Cousins, Cox and Kerr, and they came away with the premiership.

Leigh said the experience was great, but coaching was not something that he wanted to pursue as a full-time career.

“I had always had an ‘itch’ I needed to scratch, and that was to fly commercial aeroplanes, so I started my training,” he said.

“While I was training and studying to be a pilot, I was working at Fox Sports for seven years doing commentary on the boundary, covering two games a weekend. It was a really nice way to transition out of playing football. I still got the access to players, still said G’day to them, was around the game, but didn’t wake up sore on the Sunday. I have never played a game of footy again after finishing with North.

“I had two knee reconstructions on my left knee which only made me slower each year. I like to think that I left with a little left in the tank and was able to leave the game on my own terms, seeing as I still had 12 months to run on my playing contract when I decided to retire. Not too many players get that opportunity.”

During his time at Fox, Leigh was flying freight to and from King Island. Crayfish, sheep, whatever they could get on the freight aircraft they would take, morning or night, basically to build up his flying hours.

“For the past five years I have been a commercial pilot with Tiger Airlines based out of Tullamarine Airport and flying the Airbus,” Leigh said.

“I finished up with them in September 2019.

“Since then I have been training at McDonalds with the aim to become a franchisee.

“It is a pretty impressive system. You start at the very beginning, learning every facet of the business, you clean toilets, mop floors, clean grills and learn how to operate every station in the store. I have been put through every training course available, and all of this is just to get to the starting line to become a franchisee – and McDonalds can still say ‘no’ at any stage.
Leigh said that from a training perspective, what had impressed him most was that the disciplines taught are not dissimilar to football pre-season training, or running check lists for an aeroplane.

“How all this came about was my wife’s dad, who has now passed away was a licensee. I had two brothers who are involved with the business in Melbourne and they spoke to me in 2015 and asked if I would be interested,” he said.

“To which I replied that I knew nothing about McDonalds, other I know that they are franchisee’s, they are getting on in their working lives and it convinced me that it would be a really good fit for me.

“I started to think about it. I did some research on what it takes and the application process, which takes almost two years to complete. It is harder to get accepted by McDonalds than it is an airline!

“This is a hands on, get involved with community type of business, and it’s a bit surreal that this opportunity to take on Mildura franchises, with my family heritage in the area, came to me.

“My goal moving forward is to be recognised as an integral part of the community. We employ 370 people locally, and the training that goes into our employees and the disciples that go with it really sets them up for future employment, training and education.

“The vast majority of McDonalds licensees around Australia started as a 15-year-old crew member, including Andrew Gregory, the CEO of McDonalds Australia.

“I’m in the minority in that regard, but that is the beauty of the system.

“I’m just a country kid who was born here, went to school in Bendigo, put my head down, did the work, did the study, and here I am today.”