Don Thompson’s Recipe for Growth

McDonalds president and COO reveals why innovation and diversity make the Golden Arches sizzle

Photo: Lonnie C. Major

As president and COO of McDonald’s Corp. for the past year, Don Thompson has been working on flipping the business model at the world’s largest fast food restaurant chain—and he’s loving it. Flying from the Philippines to New York to receive the Achievement Award from the Executive Leadership Council, the highest honor from the pre-eminent organization of black senior executives, the energetic, 20-year veteran met with editors of Black Enterprise about major developments taking place to transform the Golden Arches.

He discussed adapting the corporate “Plan to Win” for today’s environment including the $2.4 billion the company has allocated to radically redesign 2,000 restaurants and build another 1,000, as well as new menu offerings such as oatmeal, smoothies, and frappes that promise to broaden the iconic corporation’s customer base worldwide. Innovation, Thompson says, serves to buttress the $23.5 billion company’s focus on customer service and affordability.

The recipe is clearly working: Third quarter earnings for McDonald’s, which serves 47 million customers a day at 32,000 outlets in 100 countries, rose 12% on the strength of global sales. In fact, sales were up 5.3% in the U.S.; 4.1% in Europe; and 8.1% in Asia/Pacific, the Middle East, and Africa.

Thompson also believes that further development of its diverse talent pool will propel the company forward in the coming decades. There’s a reason why McDonald’s has made our 40 Best Companies for Diversity list for six consecutive years: More than 50% of McDonald’s managers are women and minorities. The following are excerpts from our exclusive interview with Thompson on how the fast food chain maintains its competitive edge.

How do you define corporate leadership in today’s environment?
Corporate leadership today is transitioning. Historically, corporations decided to define themselves around both short- and long-term profitable growth and if they were publicly held it was about [making] sure that they had provided total shareholder return. Today, I think the additional point relative to how corporations are defined is much more by consumers. It’s not just financial anymore. It’s also what role corporations play in the overall community and overall corporate social environment.

There’s a lot of fear and uncertainty due to the economy. What strategies should companies employ to attract customers and boost sales?
The challenge today in business is that although there’s quite a bit of economic uncertainty and disposable income is quite depressed, you have to stay tied directly with customers. For us that means we’ve got to remain a part of their lives even though

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  • Ken Hunter

    I just want to say thanks to the board of “Micky D’s” for the trust they have put in Mr. Thompson to increase shareholder value!