McDonald's Don Thompson

McDonald's Corp. president Don Thompson will soon become its CEO. (Yves Logghe / Associated Press / March 22, 2012)

Jim Skinner, chief executive of McDonald's, the largest restaurant chain on the planet, will retire this summer. McDonald’s Corp. president Don Thompson will take his place as one of the few black CEOs at the wheel of a giant multinational company.

Skinner, 67, will bow out on June 30 after 41 years with the company, having steered McDonald’s to strong sales and innovation since assuming the top position in November 2004.

During his tenure, the company’s market capitalization swung past $100 billion for the first time. McDonald’s stock was less than $25 a share when Skinner assumed his post;  Wednesday, it closed at $96.72. The burger giant pulled in a profit each year Skinner was chief executive.

Oak Brook, Ill.-based McDonald’s continued to grow even during the recession, even though it – like many other eateries – struggled with high food costs and had to raise menu prices. Still, as chains such as Burger King and Wendy’s struggled to advance their position, McDonald’s looked down comfortably from its perch.

But the chain did plenty of soul-searching under Skinner. He pushed for initiatives including healthier menu items, redesigned restaurants and a McCafe coffee line that turned McDonald’s into a rival for Starbucks.

Thompson, 48, has been with McDonald’s for 22 years. In his current role as president, which he has held since 2010, he kept watch over the company’s global operations, which include more than 33,000 restaurants in 119 countries.

When the one-time electrical engineer becomes chief executive on July 1, he will be the company’s first black leader since it was founded in 1955. As fast food royalty, he will grapple with an industry that is trying to dominate the breakfast market – a “huge opportunity,” he said, although there are “some consumer confidence issues” and a “challenging” competitive landscape.

During the UBS Global Consumer Conference last week, Thompson described the McDonald’s management team as being “very, very experienced.”

“We've all been together for quite a while,” he said. “Many of us have seen the downturns in the some of the cycles and there are places we never want to go back to again, in terms of how we managed prior to.”

And we thought that Burger King kicking out its monarch was major.

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