When McDonald's USA Chief Marketing Officer Morgan Flatley told her family she was joining the company, her 5-year-old daughter asked if she'd be working the drive-through.
Flatley, who leaped from wellness to fast food in May when she left her job as CMO of PepsiCo's Nutrition Group, has a lot more than wait times on her mind. The 43-year-old executive now controls a $1.5 billion U.S. advertising budget and a nascent relationship with a brand-new agency, We Are Unlimited. Reporting to the chain's also relatively new U.S. president, Chris Kempczinski, she's charged with maintaining momentum at McDonald's USA, which has posted three consecutive quarters of comparable sales gains and two straight quarters of increased visits at comparable locations.
Add to that a coming price war as Flatley's team prepares for a $1, $2 and $3 value play that's new for 2018.
She's willing to roll up her sleeves: She worked in a McDonald's restaurant near the Oak Brook, Illinois, headquarters to get a feel for the business—including a shift at, yes, the drive-through window, which has confused her daughter. Says Flatley: "She's still convinced I work there every Friday."
Before joining McDonald's, Flatley was best known for using her consumer-driven marketing insights to propel PepsiCo's Gatorade business back to growth during her decade on the brand, including two years as its chief marketing officer. Prior to Gatorade, she got her start at Saatchi & Saatchi as an account manger on businesses such as Tide and Tylenol.
"Deep understanding of the consumer got [the Gatorade] business back into a very healthy growth mode," she says. "And I think there's a lot of similarities from my time on Gatorade that I can bring to McDonald's."
Flatley says she's been interested in consumers as far back as the time she scooped ice cream as a teenager at a shop in Cape Cod, Massachusetts, one summer. She discovered "a real curiosity and interest in understanding what motivates people," she says.
Lisa Mann, president of PepsiCo's global nutrition business, calls Flatley "as talented a marketer as she is insightful, empathetic and creative." She adds that Flatley is "so inclusive, authentic and challenging of the status quo."
Joining McDonald's was a "no-brainer," says Flatley. And her kids "think that it's the coolest job in the world." Even if she's not manning the drive-through.