Ex-McDonald’s CEO Don Thompson Launches Venture Capital Group

McDonald’s former top executive Don Thompson has begun a second act in his career, this time as venture capitalist. Crain’s Chicago Business reports that Thompson has launched Cleveland Avenue, an investment group and accelerator, which focuses on building new food, beverage, and restaurant concepts.

Thompson’s Scale of the Golden Arches


By profession, Thompson, 53, is an electrical engineer. He joined McDonald’s in 1990 after working for a military aircraft manufacturer that is now part of Northrop Grumman, and quickly climbed the corporate ladder at the golden arches.

Thompson had an illustrious, 25-year career at McDonald’s, which included serving for nearly three years as CEO of the restaurant chain. Approximately a month after announcing his retirement, McDonald’s agreed to continue to work with Thompson as a consultant, paying him $3 million.

Thompson’s Second Act


Cleveland Avenue quietly opened an office last fall in a three-story building. The firm is reportedly named after the Chicago street where Thompson grew up. According to Crain’s Chicago Business, the company announced the opening of its first restaurant concept, a non-alcoholic beverage bar called Drink.

Developed in partnership with the clothing retailer, Drink serves a rotating list of 20 non-alcoholic beverages made by startups and entrepreneurs, ranging from organic slushies to fresh fruit sodas on tap. The bar is located inside the American Eagle Outfitters flagship store in Chicago’s Times Square.

Crain’s Chicago Business reports that Cleveland Avenues has also invested in a Washington, D.C., fast-casual restaurant called HalfSmoke, along with other undisclosed investments in the food and beverage industry.

Thompson’s Corporate Legacy


Last year, Thompson joined the board of directors of vegan, meat-alternative company Beyond Meat. He is also on the board of directors for the Chicago-based financial services provider Northern Trust, making him the third black board member at the company.

Likewise, The Cleveland Avenue Foundation for Education, a nonprofit charity led by Thompson’s wife Liz, sponsors efforts and make grants to organizations offering career support, education, and mentoring to urban students and young professionals of color. This is significant because nowhere is the diversity issue more evident than in the venture capital sphere, which is dominated by white men who fund very few startups founded by women and minorities: African American men receive 2% of the VC funding other startups get, while black women get a fraction of that.

Thompson has also been listed on Black Enterprise‘s 100 Most Powerful Executives in Corporate America list.  At the time of his departure from McDonald’s, Editor-in-Chief of Black Enterprise magazine, Derek Dingle, appeared on Roland Martin to discuss Thompson’s legacy:

“Thompson leaves a legacy of the value of diversity at the top in fueling innovation and inclusion. He has created a pipeline of African American and minority managers–50% of McDonald’s managers are minorities and women–that will ascend to the top of corporate America. That’s the primary reason McDonald’s has consistently made our 40 Best Companies for Diversity.”