We like to pretend it isn’t so, but by any numerical measure the most influential figure in the restaurant business in Chicago by far isn’t a chef, or even a Melman, but the head of a certain company out in suburban Oakbrook. Chicago Business has a look at the man who would be Ronald McDonald’s boss, incoming Mickey D’s CEO Don Thompson. Thompson joined the company as an electrical engineer in 1990 but moved into operations within a few months and has risen steadily since then, serving as president of McDonald’s USA and most recently as President and COO under outgoing CEO Jim Skinner. Chicago Business sees three main challenges for Thompson: one is, achieving the kind of month to month growth that Skinner did with new products, when those new products will tend to be the kinds of things that people don’t think of McDonald’s for— healthier items, more upscale items, and so on. Skinner succeeded in getting some fruit and veggies onto the menu to defuse criticism without hurting the bottom line, but with ingredient prices shooting up, it won’t be so easy for Thompson.
Second is negotiating the political ramifications of being McD’s first African-American CEO and one of the highest-profile blacks in corporate America— which should give him a more receptive press than the average corporate white guy, but also raises expectations for a company that employs and feeds a huge portion of black America. Expect political agitation aimed at the company to increase. And third, he’ll need to keep growing McDonald’s overseas— “China offers an ‘almost limitless’ opportunity where Mr. Thompson could make his mark. ‘You could just focus on Guangdong, China, and equal almost Jim Skinner’s growth,’ says Morningstar analyst R.J. Hottovy. Described as “famous for his megawatt smile and enthusiastic bearhugs” but “by nature a careful person,” can Thompson continue the dream of a planet united peacefully under golden arches?
Big Mac changes CEO, not course [Chicago Business]