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Departing McDonald’s chief Skinner leaves legacy of change

 Jim Skinner CEO McDonald's Corp is shown file photo. John H. White/Chicago Sun-Times

Jim Skinner, CEO of McDonald's Corp, is shown in a file photo. John H. White/Chicago Sun-Times

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Updated: May 24, 2012 8:18PM



The annual shareholders meeting at McDonald’s Thursday marked one of the fast-food industry’s most important changing of the guards in years — the last meeting presided over by CEO Jim Skinner, 67, who steps down June 30 after guiding McDonald’s through one of its most successful, yet change-embracing, periods.

Under his tenure, McDonald’s became less a food company and more a beverage company. It became less a fast-food company and more a fast-change company that tweaked everything from its Happy Meals to salads to restaurant design. When Don Thompson, 49, steps in as CEO, becoming one of the nation’s most powerful African-American executives, the pressure will mount for him to change McDonald’s at an even faster clip.

At issue: Can Thompson build on Skinner’s accomplishments?

†Skinner’s accomplishment: Sold unrelated stuff. He divested non-core businesses, including Chipotle, Boston Market, Donatos Pizza and Pret a Manger, notes analyst Steve West at Investment Technology Group.

†Thompson’s challenge: Dinner growth. It’s the toughest fast-food meal to grow.

†Skinner’s accomplishment: Beverage expansion. McDonald’s is not just a burger joint any more, but also a beverage destination much like Starbucks, West says. “And the drinks are affordable.”

†Thompson’s challenge: Taking on fast-casual. Competitors with better-for-you menus such as Panera Bread and Chipotle continue to steal business. “This is clearly a long-term challenge,” West says.

†Skinner’s accomplishment: Nutritionals improved. Skinner was not hesitant to add more healthy foods and overhaul Happy Meals, says Scott Hume, editor at BurgerBusiness.com.

†Thompson’s challenge: Nutritionals must improve more. Shareholders will again vote on a resolution that would require that McDonald’s assess how the links between fast food and diet-related disease can affect McDonald’s bottom line.

†Skinner’s accomplishment: Steadied the boat. Following the deaths of CEOs Jim Cantalupo in 2004 and Charlie Bell in 2005, Skinner brought stability that calmed fears internally, among franchisees and on Wall Street, Hume says.

Thompson’s challenge: Charting a new course.

Thompson’s biggest challenge is following Skinner, says Todd Hooper, partner at Kurt Salmon. “Whether you are the replacement for Joe Montana, Steve Jobs or Charlie Sheen, comparisons are inevitable, and often rough.”



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