The company is searching for a successor to Bill Lamar, the highly respected 22-year company veteran who is considering leaving his position as early as next year, according to executives close to the situation. The news indicates that management upheaval is far from over at the fast feeder following the departure of President-Chief Operating Officer Mike Roberts only two weeks ago.
Mr. Lamar, who helped fuel a turnaround at the company's domestic units, to more than 40 months of same-store-sales gains from the negatives, declined to comment. Since being named to his post in August 2002, Mr. Lamar oversaw the launch of the company's Dollar Menu and premium products from McGriddle breakfast sandwiches to gourmet salads and coffee, and introduced digital marketing to help reduce its dependence on TV advertising.
"I can neither confirm nor deny any personnel changes in U.S. management," a company spokesman said.
The fast-feeder is said to be grooming as Mr. Lamar's successor Neil Golden, VP-marketing for McDonald's USA, said at least two executives. Other candidates who have been discussed include U.S. marketing VPs Peter Sterling and Wendy Cook.
A popular executive who drew rousing applause at the company's headquarters when McDonald's was named Advertising Age's 2004 Marketer of the Year, Mr. Lamar's departure could prove a psychological blow to the system still adjusting to a polar-opposite marketing management styles after Larry Light, exec VP-global chief marketing officer, last year was succeeded by Quaker Foods executive Mary Dillon.
Ms. Dillon's collaborative, consensus-building manner is in stark contrast to Mr. Light's rallying cries, results-driven urgency and self-promotional flair. In fact, the departure of Mr. Roberts, who hired Ms. Dillon, sparked discussion that she herself might considering leaving the Golden Arches. She will now report directly to McDonald's CEO Jim Skinner, rather than Mr. Roberts' successor, the company confirmed.
Ms. Dillon, however, denied she has any interest in leaving and brushed off the notion that she had lost her key champion at the company. "I joined a team and a company and management team," she said. "It's not a concern for me whatsoever.
"I have a vision for this brand. It's to be the world's most admired brand," she said. "The role I'm bringing is long-term vision, long-term strategy."
"They are two different people for different times," said Eric Leininger, senior VP-global consumer and business insights at McDonald's, who was brought in by Mr. Light. "Larry was brought in during time of crisis and took aggressive immediate action to make something happen. That was then this is now."
Others chalk up Ms. Dillon's relative lack of visibility to her different style. "She's making a real attempt to understand the business and Larry never made an attempt to understand the business," said a McDonald's insider. "It's too early to say whether she's going to be the next guru."
Don Hoffman, exec VP-account director for McDonald's shop DDB, Chicago, who has worked with eight CMOs there, said Ms. Dillon "brings a higher sense of marketing capability than anybody in the company. We've had more meetings in the past 12 months than the 24 preceeding months collectively."
Chris Beck-McKay, a franchisee who owns seven restaurants in Salt Lake City, Utah, is taking it all in stride. "I think McDonald's people and maybe operators in general don't necessarily like change," she said. "I hope [Bill Lamar] doesn't leave, but if he did, we've got folks in line. Neil Golden is an amazing individual and he could more than adequately fill that position." She added, "We're going to work through this period of change and I think were going to come out stronger."