Weathering such a tragedy is tough enough under ordinary circumstances. But a CEO felled by an apparent heart attack as the company faces allegations it's contributing to the nation's obesity crisis-and coming as thousands of franchisees gathered in Orlando for the marketer's operator convention-could have been a disaster of gigantic proportions.
McDonald's moved fast. Within hours, it had convened the board and installed heir apparent Charlie Bell to succeed Mr. Cantalupo. That decisiveness impressed analysts and investors as the share price stabilized.
Moreover, it signaled that the world's largest fast-feeder would continue on the turnaround track forged by Mr. Cantalupo. Under his tenure, McDonald's made some savvy moves, particularly to address the unhealthy nature of its food by introducing salads and active "Go Meals." He cut costs and improved service and drive-through times, all of which contributed to the chain's revival.
That comeback map is likely to be followed by Mr. Bell, a young but well-regarded McDonald's veteran who graduated from the grill, guided the company through the mad-cow scare in Europe and turned in a standout performance in Australia. It will be up to Mr. Bell now to lead McDonald's not just through the obesity epidemic but also through a time in which over-population of restaurants strains McDonald's ability to grow and beat comparable store sales.
But if the corporation's reaction to Mr. Cantalupo's death is any indication, it will forthrightly face these challenges. Yes, as the weeping Ronald ad says, McDonald's will "miss you, Jim." But the chain is correctly drying its tears and moving on.