McDonald's Names U.S. Chief Don Thompson President

New Position Makes Exec Front-Runner to Succeed CEO James Skinner

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CHICAGO (AdAge.com) -- McDonald's Corp. has promoted Don Thompson, the head of its U.S. business, to its No. 2 post worldwide, making him the front-runner to succeed CEO James Skinner. Mr. Thompson has been named president and chief operating officer and will oversee the company's 32,000 restaurants.

Don Thompson
Don Thompson Credit: McDonald's
Mr. Thompson, 46, has served as president of the company's U.S. operations since 2006. He replaces Ralph Alvarez, who resigned last month, citing knee problems.

"McDonald's needed to do something because it was too big of a job for Mr. Skinner to handle alone," says Janna Sampson, a longtime McDonald's investor and a chief investment officer with Lisle-based OakBrook Investments.

She says it seems likely Mr. Thompson would replace Mr. Skinner, 65, as the next CEO if he does well in his new role.

Mr. Thompson likely beat out Denis Hennequin, the head of Europe, and Tim Fenton, head of Asia, for the No. 2 spot.

"They clearly had choices, and there was not a sure front-runner for the job," says Ms. Sampson. Mr. Thompson has led McDonald's U.S. business, its most profitable region, but he has little experience running restaurants overseas.

Lead java rollout
He headed McDonald's recent launch of specialty coffees, its largest menu introduction in nearly three decades. But U.S. same-store sales have fallen in recent months for the first time in years.

"Don Thompson has done an outstanding job leading our U.S. business, and I am confident he will bring the same energy and innovative thinking to his new global role as president and chief operating officer," Mr. Skinner said in a news release. "Don's U.S. leadership experience, combined with the great record he had as executive vice-president of our global restaurant systems group, uniquely qualifies him for this next important responsibility at McDonald's."

Mr. Thompson began his career at McDonald's in 1990, and has overseen the Midwest and West divisions on his quick rise up the executive ranks.

Steve West, an analyst in St. Louis with Stifel Nicolaus & Co., says Mr. Thompson is a good fit because he won't be in as much of a rush to become CEO as his two predecessors, who both suddenly resigned from the position.

Mr. Alvarez, widely viewed as the successor to Mr. Skinner, told the New York Times that he didn't expect Mr. Skinner to retire anytime soon, and this played a part in his decision to retire. Mike Roberts resigned suddenly from the president spot in 2006 over the timing of CEO succession.

"Mr. Thompson can spend a few years learning about the international business, and Mr. Skinner can groom him," says Mr. West.

New U.S. chief
In addition to Mr. Thompson's promotion, McDonald's announced that Jan Fields will become president of the U.S. division.

She had previously served as chief operations officer under Mr. Thompson. She will be replaced by Jim Johannesen, the head of McDonald's Central division.

"From a diversity standpoint, they have a black president and a woman heading the U.S., which is the type of message McDonald's would want to send," says Ms. Sampson, adding that Ms. Fields is known as great restaurant operator.

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This story was originally published in Advertising Age sibling Crain's Chicago Business.

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