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44-Year-Old Exec Helped Turn Company Around

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CHICAGO ( -- McDonald's Corp.'s former president-CEO, Charlie Bell, died Jan. 16 of colorectal cancer, the company said. He was 44.
Photo: AP
Charlie Bell, former CEO of McDonald's
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Mr. Bell died in his native Sydney, Australia, after a seven-month battle with the disease. He is survived by his wife, Leonie, and a daughter, Alex.

"This is a tragic loss. Charlie Bell gave his all to McDonald's. Even during his hospitalization and chemotherapy, Charlie led this company with pride and determination," Andrew J. McKenna, chairman of McDonald's board of directors, said in a statement. "Now he leaves a remarkable legacy -- a legacy that the McDonald's system will benefit from for years to come."

Marketer of the year
Advertising Age named McDonald's Marketer of the Year for 2004 on the strength of its 24-month turnaround. After learning the news, Mr. Bell e-mailed his reaction on Nov. 3. "It's certainly been an amazing and gratifying year, seeing our entire McDonald's system mobilize very successfully behind a powerful, fun and relevant brand strategy," he wrote.

Flipping burgers
Like many McDonald's executives, Mr. Bell started with the Golden Arches as a 15-year-old part-time crew member at the Kingsford restaurant in Sydney. By 19 he was Australia's youngest store manager, and by 27 he became a vice president. Two years later he was on Australia's board of directors. Mr. Bell frequently joked that he was destined to lead the company because his red hair matched that of the chain's iconic clown. Ronald McDonald. For Mr. Bell, McDonald's was family. He even met his wife at the restaurant.

He was the only second CEO after Fred Turner to rise to the top job after starting behind the counter.

He spent much the 1980s working in restaurant development and operations in various parts of Europe, before becoming a vice president of marketing in 1990.

He was named managing director of McDonald's Australia in 1993. Mr. Bell continued to move into international management positions, including president of Asia/Pacific, Middle East and Africa Group and president of McDonald's Europe. He became president and chief operating officer of McDonald's Corp. in December 2002.

Succeeded his mentor
He succeeded his mentor, Jim Cantalupo, as CEO after Mr. Cantalupo died from a heart attack April 19, 2004, on the first day of the company's annual franchisee convention. The two were preparing to celebrate the stunning turnaround they had led. Fifteen days later, Mr. Bell announced he had surgery for the cancer.

Mr. Bell resigned in November to fight his cancer, and the company named Jim Skinner as CEO and Mike Roberts as president.

"Charlie was an incredible leader," Mr. Skinner said. "He was also my good friend. More than anything, Charlie was a role model for each of us -- and we are better off, as individuals and as a system, because of him."

Ronald McDonald House Charities
Mr. Bell was a global board member of Ronald McDonald House Charities as well as a member of the group's Australian board until 2001, and the advisory board of the Juvenile Diabetes Foundation from 1993-99.

Tributes to Mr. Bell are beginning. Publicis Groupe's Leo Burnett USA, Chicago, has donated $15,000 to the Chicago/Northwestern Indiana chapter of the Ronald McDonald House Charities, said Doug Porter, a former Burnett executive who is now executive director of the chapter. The funds will provide scholarships to five youths who are crew members in the Chicago area in honor of Mr. Bell's early career flipping burgers.

Mr. Bell continued work while undergoing two surgeries and treatment for his cancer. In November, before announcing his resignation just before Thanksgiving, he oversaw the opening of a McCafe, a restaurant concept he championed and first introduced in Australia, at the company's Oak Brook, Ill., headquarters.

In addition to his wife and daughter, Mr. Bell is survived by his mother, Margaret, brothers Matt and John, and a sister, Liz.

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