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McDonald's next CEO credits diversity for fast-food giant's success

McDonald's Corp. President and Chief Operating Officer Don Thompson gave the keynote speech at the Chicago Urban League annual luncheon summit at the Hyatt regency Wednesday May 2, 2012. Thompson becomes McDonald's CEO in July. | Rich Hein~Sun-Times.

Don Thompson, who in July will become the first African-American chief executive officer at McDonald’s Corp., credits diversity with fueling innovation at the world’s biggest hamburger chain.

Delivering the keynote at the Chicago Urban League annual luncheon Wednesday, he said diversity has been and remains a business imperative at the company that has produced payoffs. Among those payoffs are helping expand its menu choices and helping the company’s operating income grow 10 percent last year and earnings per share grow 11 percent.

Forty-five percent of McDonald’s owner-operated franchisees are women- and minority-owned companies, and 55 percent of McDonald’s food and paper purchases are made from minority- and women-owned vendor companies giving them a big slice of McDonald’s more than $9 billion annual shopping bill in the U.S., he told the gathering.

Half of McDonald’s board is made up of women and minorities, and the company has been recognized as among the top companies for multicultural female managers, he shared.

But diversity isn’t about “chasing the number, but chasing the insight, the experience, the background,” he said “You don’t get products like what we’ve done, you don’t create some of the newer products without having the insight. You have to have that diversity,” and that extends in and outside the U.S. he said.

He pointed to salads, which he said women at McDonald’s played a key role in getting on the menu.

He noted McDonald’s has 160 products in its global pipeline, including Chicken McBites, which originated in Australia, kiwi pops sold in Europe; and blueberry oatmeal, which could appear on the market in a couple of weeks.

The impact of diversity is apparent relative to menu and flavors, “relative to customer relevance, to architectural design, to community outreach, to how we address certain critical issues that may face the brand,” Thompson said.

“Our intent to reflect the demographics of the customers we serve has never been stronger, and that’s something that we do because it’s a business imperative… If you have a diverse team, your business results will be much better. That’s why we were No. 1 on the Dow last year.”

McDonald’s announced in March that Thompson will become CEO following the retirement of current CEO Jim Skinner June 30.

Thompson is a 22-year veteran of McDonald’s. He has served as president and COO since January 2010, directing global strategy and operations for more than 33,000 McDonald’s restaurants in 119 countries. He previously served as president of McDonald’s USA.

Thompson spent part of his childhood in the neighborhood surrounding the Cabrini Green Housing project. His grandmother moved him to Indianapolis from Chicago when he was about 10 because she feared gang influence in the neighborhood in the 1970s, Thompson once told Black Enterprise magazine.

In other news at the luncheon, Chicago Urban League President and CEO Andrea Zopp used the occasion to call on employers to provide summer jobs for Chicago area teens. Young people need to develop the skills to become innovators, skills they can only get through on-the-job experiential learning, Zopp said.