Whether she’s hard at work with her restaurants, leading charity work in Louisiana or inspiring young Creole people to achieve their dreams, Jackie Marks is a woman on a mission.

Jackie Marks is a Louisiana-based McDonalds franchisee and one of the state’s leading Creole business figures. As a driven charity leader with a passion for helping others, she has reaped the rewards of success. Kreol sat down with Jackie to ask her what drives her forward and how her Creole origins have been important to her life’s work.

Jackie Marks on stage at the National Miss USA Ambassador pageant

Jackie Marks on stage at the National Miss USA Ambassador pageant

Pageant Queen with a business flair and a community calling

There is no doubt that Jackie Marks is a truly inspirational person. As Miss Louisiana Ambassador for 2017, she has attained significant acclaim across the region for her wide range of charity work, helping disadvantaged children secure a better life for themselves.

But there is so much more to Jackie than her achievements in the pageant. Jackie is one of the state’s leading entrepreneurs of Creole origin, and as a McDonalds franchisee she has proven herself to be a savvy businesswoman, with five restaurants under her belt, so far.

Speaking to Jackie, it quickly becomes clear that she is quietly dedicated to the community which has given her so much – and is determined to give back.

Jackie and fellow contestants

Jackie and fellow contestants

Interaction with kids

Jackie’s base is in Lafayette, where she works with the local Junior League to help underprivileged children get the life skills they need to become independent, confident adults. Her eyes light up with passion as she describes the “really rewarding” experiences she’s had.

“Boys and Girls Club is probably my favourite,” says Jackie, smiling as she remembers the experiences she was able to provide the children. “Getting to see little kids learn how to make their own food and some of them are like, ‘I don’t eat bananas’, and then they try bananas and they love it, or guacamole, that one was fun!”

“They were scared of it and then when they tried it, they were like, ‘This is good’. That has been really rewarding, to be able to teach them things at young age that can help them in the future, that help them make good choices.”

Jackie and fellow contestants

Jackie and fellow contestants

Jackie’s career trajectory leads back to Louisiana

And while Jackie might now be helping others to advance in their lives and careers, it’s not long before her mind looks back towards her own youth. As one of Lafayette’s leading Creole business figures, she has a reason to be proud of her achievements. Full of drive and determination, Jackie’s life and reputation speak for her.

She held roles at firms like Neiman Marcus and Nordstrom before starting life with McDonalds, and, after an undergraduate degree at the University of Louisiana, she moved away to Texas for an extra year of studying. She has clearly always prized gaining experience and seeing the world. While she currently has no children, she’d always encourage them to try a range of different jobs to find the one they loved. “I’d probably send them away for a bit so they could have experience in the business world,” she says.

But, despite Jackie’s wide range of experiences across the country, she always wanted to come back to her native Louisiana. A true Louisianan, she says that there is something very special about her home state which persuaded her to come home. “The people, the people. Have you guys noticed that yet?” she laughs, “You know, we have a different kind of personality here in Louisiana. Everyone is so friendly, they mean the best for their neighbour that they don’t even know, you know?”

I wonder if her charitable work with the likes of the Junior League and the Ronald McDonald Foundation had been inspired by the people of Louisiana. “People will help their neighbour that they don’t know, they will go above and beyond. I just think the hospitality in Louisiana is, by far, the best,” she says.

She studied Merchandising and Marketing in Dallas, and she did briefly consider basing her business there full time – but it simply wasn’t the right time.

“I love Texas as well and if my business was able to be in Texas I might think about it, but just being able to have such a great opportunity, that opportunity was here, so I needed to take it,” she says. “I did and haven’t regretted anything since then. I’m very glad that I went outside of the organisation and did something other than McDonald’s for a little bit because you have to love it”.

Jackie and fellow contestants

Jackie and fellow contestants

Is there a secret?

With five McDonald’s restaurants, her wide range of charity commitments and a boyfriend of three years to think about, Jackie comes across as a busy person with lots to do and many different responsibilities to juggle. So, what’s her secret?

“I try to just prioritise the things that I must get done and make sure that I keep in mind what is most important,” she says. “[I’m] just making sure that I’m fulfilling all of my obligations to the best of my ability. That means some early, early mornings and some late, late nights, but those are sacrifices that I’m willing to make to be able to do all the things that I’d like to do.”

For Jackie, delegation is one of the most important arts she has learned, in order to keep her businesses running smoothly. “I [make] sure that I train and develop my people so that I have more time to do things,” she says, “I have two supervisors under me that are able to help and assist in my store day-to-day operations and be here every day because I can’t be, it’s not humanly possible, but making sure that they carry out the goals that I have and making sure that they’re focused on being successful, so that I’m able to do some other things.”

jacquelyn

Mother and Daughter

Jackie’s Creole origins are clearly a real source of pride for her. Her mother, who trained to become a McDonald’s franchisee at night, alongside working as a school principal and battling cancer, is of part Indian heritage, and Jackie herself has what she describes as a “good mix”. Nowadays, her family is involved in the Creole community – Jackie’s brother-in-law, for example, runs a Creole-based social group in New Orleans doing volunteer work.

Does Jackie believe there are enough young entrepreneurs like herself in the Creole world?

“No, there’s never enough,” she says emphatically,

“I think that they’re out there. I guess the thing about it is really encouraging others to see the potential. I look at my situation and had my mother not gotten into McDonald’s, I don’t know that I would have had the courage to become a business owner.”

It’s clear that Jackie’s mother has been a real rock when it comes to career development. “She has been my inspiration for everything in life and even if I didn’t choose McDonald’s, she said, ‘Look at what your options are. You can do whatever it is that you put your heart to doing.’ So [I] definitely think that we need more encouragement of other Creoles in letting them know that the opportunity is out there, you just have to work hard to achieve it and you can.”

Inspirational advice

Speaking to Jackie is an inspiring experience, and it’s clear that she is a person with a deep sense of determination. As a woman with a glittering career and a well-deserved record of charitable endeavours, Kreol asked her what advice she would give to others who also wanted to succeed. “I would say that continue to follow your dreams, always be positive,” she smiles. “You’re going to have setbacks, you’re going to be disappointed, but if you keep your positive attitude and you keep your determination, you’ll succeed.”