McD's offers full menu of challenges for Dillon

By Published on .

You don't hear a lot about Mary Dillon, McDonald's new exec VP-chief marketing officer.

That's because the 44-year-old president of Quaker Foods is the stylistic opposite of the man she is succeeding, Larry Light, the 64-year old architect of McDonald's "I'm lovin' it" strategy. "She is very smart, very serious, a doer and internally focused," said an executive with knowledge of Ms. Dillon. "She's not at all public, while he did amazing things at a time when the company was quite public about what it was doing."

That's not to say the buttoned-down, by-the-book marketer with classic package-goods training isn't highly respected. "Mary is the real deal," said an executive close to PepsiCo. "As good a marketer as she is, she's an even better overall leader."


In addition to the global brand management, strategy and country-level oversight, Ms. Dillon will assume leadership of the McDonald's balanced-lifestyles initiative and efforts such as the company's push to resonate with urban culture via new hip-hop uniforms. She didn't return calls for comment.

At the Golden Arches, Ms. Dillon will have control of a marketing budget that almost exceeds the $1.8 billion in sales for PepsiCo's Quaker Foods division. Outside of a four-year tenure leading marketing for Gardenburger, Ms. Dillon's entire career has been with Quaker. She's held a number of marketing leadership posts including director-product offerings for Snapple, VP-marketing for Gatorade and Propel Fitness Waters and VP-marketing of Quaker Foods before becoming president last year.

Bad timing

Perhaps her biggest challenge will be to maintain McDonald's sales momentum. It won't be easy for her given the timing of her ascent to the top marketing job: The restaurant category is slowing and McDonald's own 25-month sales juggernaut is losing steam.

Margaret Stender, president-CEO of the Chicago WNBA and a former marketing executive with PepsiCo and Quaker, however, predicts that will not fluster former colleague Ms. Dillon. "She works in the food business, where the category growth is less than 1%," said Ms. Stender. "Her approach will be `we make our own trends."'

Ms. Dillon's first task will be to oversee the next generation of the company's "I'm lovin' it" initiative, scheduled to break in April. "Yes, we've written a creative brief, but she may wish to modify it," Mr. Light said.

Although search consultants and industry observers called Ms. Dillon a well-respected marketer, they questioned whether the job was a bigger step than she may be ready to make. Among the issues they raised were her lack of fast-food or retail experience; the much larger and more complex marketing organization and budget to oversee; the significantly faster pace at which fast-food moves compared to package-goods; and whether she can weather the company's sometimes stormy political climate.

She will also be working with several executives at McDonald's passed over for the job. Among the insiders said to have been considered for the post are Kay Napier, former chief marketing officer for Europe, now senior VP-moms and families; Dean Barrett, senior VP-global marketing; Bill Lamar Jr., senior VP-chief marketing officer for McDonald's USA; and Peter Beresford, chairman-CEO of McDonald's U.K.

A spokesman confirmed these executives would "always be part of the discussion and all have significant jobs in the company" but that "it's the company's responsibility to look outside the company for talent ... in that capacity, a clearly outstanding candidate emerged."

Ms. Stender is confident Ms. Dillon, whom she describes as "thick-skinned," will rise above personal agendas. "We worked on Snapple at a time when everybody thought it was the worst acquisition in the beverage business. She treats people with enormous respect and her people love her."

In her past roles, Ms. Dillon has won over people with her intelligence and style. An expert presenter with boundless energy, she's well-liked by her associates. While not viewed as a political operator-partly because of Quaker's relatively apolitical culture-she held her own in the famously political PepsiCo system after it bought Quaker, said executives. To be sure, Ms. Dillon's lifestyle reflects her mental toughness. She runs marathons and is the mother of four school-age children.

"People should not underestimate Mary Dillon's intellect or political savvy," said the executive close to PepsiCo. "She's got all of that."

Breaking news: Light’s departure and Dillon’s ascent were first reported on, QwikFIND aaq88x

Among the challenges Ms. Dillon is facing in her new post:

* First time with a franchise organization

* Faster marketing cycle

* Moving into a political pressure cooker from a more politically protected culture.

* Lack of international experience.

In this article:
Most Popular