McDonald's CEO to retire after righting the ship

Skinner will step down after a tenure that saw the fast-food giant's stock soar more than 230%.

By Jonathan Berr Mar 22, 2012 12:22PM
Image: Hamburger (© BananaStock/Jupiterimages)McDonald's (MCD) CEO Jim Skinner, who assumed the leadership of the iconic burger chain after his two predecessors unexpectedly died, has decided to call it quits effective June 30. 

His career was remarkable for many reasons.

For one thing, Skinner wasn't the first choice for the job. When CEO Jim Cantalupo died of a heart attack in April 2004, he was succeeded by Charlie Bell, who had been McDonald's chief operating officer. A month later, Bell was diagnosed with cancer and was soon forced to resign for health reasons. Bell died in January 2005, two months after Skinner replaced him.

One of Skinner's biggest challenges was to continue the turnaround begun under Cantalupo and Bell, a task that Skinner was ready to tackle. Skinner began his career at the Golden Arches as a restaurant manager trainee in Carpentersville, Ill., in 1971. He later held a variety of management positions overseeing operations in McDonald's Asia Pacific, Middle East and Africa (APMEA) group, as well as in Latin America.

Under Skinner's leadership, McDonald's revamped its stores and upgraded its menu, adding premium chicken sandwiches and coffee drinks, among other items. The strategy worked and Wall Street took note, pushing shares of the Oakbrook, Ill., company up by more than 230% under Skinner's leadership. Chief Executive magazine and Barron's are among the media organizations that have lauded Skinner's leadership. Given Skinner's success, expectations for his successor Don Thompson are high.

Thompson will need to protect McDonald's lucrative breakfast franchise from heightened competition from Wendy's (WEN) and Burger King. He also needs to continue the fight against a lawsuit by the Center for Science in the Public Interest alleging that McDonald's practice of providing toys with Happy Meals is deceptive advertising to children. The fast-food giant has already made Happy Meals, which account for less than 10% of revenue, healthier by reducing the size of the French fries portion. The company denies any wrongdoing.

In addition, activists are calling on McDonald's to retire its Ronald McDonald brand mascot, arguing that the spokes-clown encourages children to eat unhealthy food sold by the chain. McDonald's rejects these arguments and experts note the company has been scaling back the clown's use for years. Thompson may be forced to retire him to get the critics off his back.

Jonathan Berr is long McDonald's.




Tags: MCDWEN
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