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Purdue graduate takes top job at McDonald's

March 22, 2012

McDonald’s Corp. said Chief Operating Officer Don Thompson will take over as CEO, becoming the first black chief of the world’s largest restaurant chain, after Jim Skinner retires this year.

Thompson, 48, grew up in Indianapolis, graduated from North Central High School and Purdue University, and is on Purdue's board of trustees.

He became president and operating chief at McDonald's in January 2010, and will assume his new role July 1, Oak Brook, Ill.-based McDonald’s said in a prepared statement Wednesday. Skinner, 67, who ran McDonald’s for more than seven years, also will retire from the board, where he serves as vice chairman.

“It will be a seamless transition,” Peter Saleh, an analyst at Telsey Advisory Group in New York, said. “They’re not going to skip a beat going from Jim to Don,” he said.

Thompson takes over as the company works to keep boosting sales and profit amid increasing competition and higher commodity prices. Wendy’s Co. and Yum! Brands Inc.’s Taco Bell chain recently have been testing breakfast foods at some U.S. locations. Burger King Holdings Inc. also began selling soft-serve ice cream and more upscale menu items last year in a bid to lure McDonald’s diners.

“Everyone today is trying to steal share from them,” Saleh said. Thompson needs to protect the breakfast business and continue to expand McCafe specialty beverages, he said.

Restaurant operators also are enduring higher commodity costs. Raw ingredient-prices may rise as much as 5.5 percent in the U.S. and 3.5 percent in Europe in 2012, Chief Financial Officer Peter Bensen said during an earnings call on Jan. 24.

Thompson, a 22-year company veteran who started as an electrical engineer, was president of McDonald’s USA from 2006 to 2010 before he became operating chief. He is a director at McDonald’s and Exelon Corp., according to the McDonald’s website. He received his bachelor’s degree in engineering from Purdue in West Lafayette.

Thompson, through Lisa McComb, a McDonald’s spokeswoman, declined to be interviewed.

As COO, Thompson led remodeling efforts, added double-lane drive-throughs to stores and expanded the hours at some restaurants About 40 percent of U.S. locations are open 24 hours a day. McDonald’s is “just beginning to ramp up” store remodels in the U.S., Thompson said during an investor conference on March 14.

Last year, the fast-food chain remodeled 2,500 stores worldwide and this year plans to spend $2.9 billion to open 1,300 new restaurants and remodel 2,400.

McDonald’s hasn’t decided who will fill the COO position, McComb said in an e-mail. The company has operated in the past without a COO, she said.

Skinner started at McDonald’s as a management trainee in 1971. Thirty-three years later, he became CEO, the company’s third in seven months, taking over from Charlie Bell who resigned to focus on his fight against cancer. In April 2004, then CEO James Cantalupo died of a heart attack.

Revenue at McDonald’s, which has more than 33,500 stores worldwide, of which about 80 percent are franchised, has jumped 42 percent since 2004. The company posted revenue of $27 billion in 2011. Analysts forecast revenue will increase 5.3 percent to $28.4 billion this year, according to data compiled by Bloomberg.

The Big Mac seller’s stock has tripled since Skinner took the helm on Nov. 22, 2004, making it the best performer in the Dow Jones Industrial Average since then.

 

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