Donald Thompson brought diversity into corporate leadership and innovation to McDonald’s. He is remembered as a Fortune 500 executive.
It is inspiring to see diversity in leadership. And without controversy, our iconic image Mr Donald Thompson braved the corporate storm with such humility and grace. Even in his low moments, he continued to show substance in leadership.
Mission made possible
Donald Thompson joined McDonald’s in 1990. His first assignment was to develop robotic equipment that will ease the transportation of food in customer services. He was also assigned to design a control circuit for cooking, which he did successfully.
Little did he know that an invitation to put his engineering capabilities to test will land him a job of significant importance. And one that will soon make him one of the few black men to climb the corporate ladder. And become a Fortune 500 corporate executive. Including earning the first black Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of the McDonald’s chain restaurants.
Donald Thompson installation into leadership showed the company's commitment to support and value diversity at all levels. And most importantly, at the helm of corporate leadership.
Donald became CEO of McDonald’s in July 2012. He served in this capacity for three years but had to step down from this position in 2014 amidst a sales decline due to some business decisions. Around this same period, there were rising low-income protests by workers in the food chain industry across the board. The impasse contributed to overall industry performance at the time.
At McDonald’s, Thompson was initiated into the company’s Black Career Development program to train all employees. He quickly rose through the ranks showing competence in leadership. He was appointed Project Manager and Staff Director after merely two years of service, and in 1992, he supervised the Quality Development Department in this capacity.
Determined to go further in the company, he spent some time in the operations department in 1994, learning first hand running of a typical McDonald’s restaurant as a floor manager. This training prepared him for his next prominent position. He becomes the regional manager for the San Diego, California area having 350 restaurants under his supervision in 1998.
Donald Thompson became the Chief Operations Officer (COO) of all United States restaurants. He was responsible for the business performance of almost 14000 restaurants. Donald Thompson was also instrumental in directing the global strategy and operations of McDonald’s establishments in 119 countries which consists of over 33000 restaurants.
Since he started his career as a mechanical engineer at McDonald’s, Donald Thompson held many other corporate positions before becoming CEO, including executive vice president and divisional president at different levels.
Donald Thompson earned his Bachelor of Science degree at Perdue University in 1984. The university had since awarded him with its Outstanding Electrical and Computer Engineering Award. He also gained recognition as a fellow of Perdue University's Old Master Fellowship.
He is honoured with a master's degree from the Excelsior College and serves on Exelon Corporation's board. He also serves on the board of directors of several companies, including the Northwestern Memorial Hospital.
There are speculations that McDonald's is in the process of employing Donald Thompson as a consultant after his resignation in 2014. There has, however, been no confirmation on the speculation by the restaurant giant.
He lives with his wife and two children.
Lessons from Donald Thompson
Using our talents effectively provides us with a thriving livelihood. We must all strive to maintain high standards and believe that we can accomplish our mission in life. However, making both smart knowledge-based and intuitive business decisions are critical in asserting business authority and growth.
Enoch Antwi is the managing editor at The Business Frontal. He worked as a business and an environmental journalist in the late 1990s with the Business and Financial Times. His passion is to provide on-demand valuable information and insights on business, entrepreneurship, leadership, innovative technologies, and principles for corporate success in today's business world.