Big Cheese at golden arches

Don Thompson was chosen to become president of McDonald’s USA in August. Thompson learned the business and honed his skills after years of serving in executive positions with the company. Thompson was chosen to succeed Ralph Alvarez, who was promoted to president and chief operating officer of McDonald’s Corp. McDonald’s is one of BE’s 40 Best Companies for Diversity.

“I am delighted that my partner Don Thompson will lead the U.S. business,” says Alvarez.

Thompson’s promotion is particularly impressive because McDonald’s is such a high-profile company, says Carl Brooks, president and chief executive officer of The Executive Leadership Council, an organization representing the most senior African Americans in corporate America.

“When you think of logos and symbols of corporate America, McDonald’s is one of those that catches your attention. To have an African American in such a visible leadership position at McDonald’s is a big deal,” says Brooks.

As executive vice president and chief operations officer of McDonald’s USA, his most recent position, Thompson oversaw the operations of more than 13,800 restaurants in the U.S. Previously, Thompson served as innovation orchestration leader for McDonald’s Restaurant Solutions Group. Thompson, 43, started with McDonald’s in 1990 as a restaurant systems engineer.

Thompson’s rise exemplifies the importance of having African Americans in all levels of corporate America so that they will be ready to take over the reins of leadership as the current crop of corporate leaders retires.

“Opportunities are created all the time, but if we don’t have talented people ready to move into those positions, then nothing happens,” says Brooks. “In this situation, McDonald’s developed Don through a series of managerial moves in which he gained increasing responsibility. This is a natural thing that occurs in a progressive company that’s really utilizing its full talent.”