(NewsNation) — After working at McDonald’s since he was 14, Nimi Rama says he has “ketchup in (his) veins.”

Now 35 and a director of operations for McDonald’s franchises in Florence, South Carolina, Rama worked his way up to his current position by starting as a teenage crew member at a McDonald’s in Jefferson, Wisconsin.

“Twenty-two years in, and ‘I’m lovin it,'” he said, quoting the McDonald’s slogan.

After being a crew member, he became a shift manager, then assistant manager. From there, Rama got the chance to hold a number of other leadership positions as McDonald’s sent him across the country, from Chicago to Miami, where he was made a general manager. In Miami, Rama even won the Ray Kroc award, which is given to the top 1% of McDonald’s general managers worldwide. 

Through his time in so many places, Rama says he was able to build a lot of relationships and explore other places — something he’s always wanted to do. 

“I worked my butt off, did a lot of hours, and really embraced McDonald’s at that point,” he said. 

Rama is no stranger to working at a restaurant. His father owned a family-style restaurant in Jefferson where his mother also worked. At 7 years old, Rama said, he was doing dishes there. 

When a teenage Rama told his dad he took a job at the Golden Arches, though, his father didn’t mind the move to a big company. 

“He’s like, ’Yeah, do it. Have fun,’” Rama recalled.

Rama attributes his passion for the restaurant industry to his father, who came to America from what was then called Yugoslavia (now Albania) with nothing. 

“He was always a tough guy,” Rama said of his father, who died in February. “He just pushed (my brother and me) every day to be better than yesterday.”

“The fire is lit from my dad, my mom really,” he added. 

It was that drive that helped Rama on his journey through the McDonald’s ranks. 

As a 14-year-old, Rama said, all he wanted was enough money to buy his own Nokia phone. As he progressed, though, he started to really want to impact people. 

“I use McDonald’s as a platform, and understanding leadership has been a big passion of mine, understanding how you can be a servant-leader, and understanding being empathetic,” Rama said. “It’s all about leadership. It’s all about community involvement. It’s getting to know your employees and its people-first culture.”

Even when things were stressful, especially through the COVID-19 pandemic, Rama focused on turning a negative situation into a positive one. 

“I consider my employees customers,” he said. “I want them to go home and be like, ‘Hey I had a good day at work.’”

Everyone has a different experience and perspective, Rama said, and it’s his job to understand that. 

“As I progressed from a crew member to where I am today, because I’ve taken that journey, I can understand what that crew member’s going through, because I had to deal with it,” Rama said. 

 Looking back on his career, Rama says, he wouldn’t change a thing.

“I’ve been so blessed to see so many different markets and work with some really great people,” he said. “If you stay dedicated, and you really are focused on what your goal at the end of the day is, that can definitely happen.”