Player Profile: Ryan rises at McDonald's; change may be on menu

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Predictably, Tom Ryan is bringing variety to McDonald's Corp. in more ways than one.

On the heels of launching the New Tastes Menu, a 40-item menu aimed at creating what insiders call "predictable variety," McDonald's elevated its architect, Mr. Ryan, into the top marketing post for the world's largest quick-service chain. The 44-year-old executive added the title of senior VP-marketing to his current post as senior VP-menu management/new concepts for McDonald's USA, replacing Larry Zwain, who after two years has moved to the company's international division.


Observers say the move aligns the menu and marketing teams under one leader as the company tries to elevate the role of food in its marketing efforts and position the company as a growth stock to Wall Street.

Until recently, the only variety coming out of the chain's Oak Brook, Ill. headquarters was in its marketing and management ranks. Mr. Zwain had succeeded Brad Ball, now president of theatrical marketing at AOL Time Warner's Warner Bros. R. J. Milano, senior VP-U.S. marketing and the executive in charge of McDonald's marketing calendar, was considered the front-runner for the post.

But it was Mr. Ryan who got the nod after helping the company create news with a slew of new product introductions, including the yogurt parfaits, breakfast bagels and McSalad Shakers. So while Mr. Ryan's promotion was anything but predictable, it appears to be one that pleases both franchisees and analysts.

It seems logical that McDonald's biggest newsmaker this year, its new menu, came from Mr. Ryan, who has a doctorate in flavor and fragrance chemistry (that's in addition to a master's degree in food toxicology and a bachelor's degree in food science from Michigan State University).

He also used those foodie skills as senior VP-business development at Yorkshire Global Restaurants' Long John Silver's after developing the Big Foot and Stuffed Crust pies for Pizza Hut, then a division of PepsiCo. Mr. Ryan also has worked for Procter & Gamble Co. and Pillsbury.

But Mr. Ryan, who looks rather like a movie studio executive with his cascade of curly amber locks and a flair for the dramatic, bristles at the idea of being called a food guy. "I don't make food, I make business cases," Mr. Ryan asserted at a McDonald's press junket last June.

Known for his scientific yet collaborative approach, he is considered by franchisees and co-workers a strong leader. "He is able to pinpoint what the contribution should be from each member, and he has the insight and confidence to let him do their jobs," said John Buchanan, a consultant with Lettuce Entertain You Enterprises, who's helping Mr. Ryan develop fast-casual and deli concepts.


"He deals at all levels of the operation to lay out his vision," said Don Hoffman, senior VP-group account director at Omnicom Group's DDB Worldwide, Chicago, the adult market agency for McDonald's.

While Mr. Ryan said it was too early to say whether he'd be making any changes in staff or agencies for the Golden Arches, those familiar with him say he has a "take-no-prisoners" approach to business-and his changes will be anything but predictable.

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