James Skinner

Former CEO of McDonald’s and Executive Chairman Walgreen Boots Alliance
James Skinner
  • Departed McDonalds with the company’s best financial performance in its history
  • Brought about a “Golden Age for the Golden Arches,” according to Fortune magazine
  • Shares his moving personal underdog story as well as hard-won lessons (including the “Plan to Win” strategy) from his 41 years with McDonald’s

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As McDonald’s Corporation’s vice chairman and CEO, Jim Skinner led a turnaround at the world’s largest food service retailer, leaving the company with the best financial performance in its history. He was one of the three architects of McDonald’s worldwide revitalization effort launched in 2003 and upon becoming CEO in 2004, he brought about nothing short of a “Golden Age for the Golden Arches,” according to Fortune. His greatest accomplishment, the “Plan to Win” strategy, managed to reversing falling profits. His strategy focused on improving existing locations rather than building more, and his top priorities were long-term sustainable growth, talent management, and leadership development. Due to this successful shift in strategy, Skinner and his team presided over increased sales, reinvented menus, modernized restaurants, and innovative new food offerings. Exclusively represented by Leading Authorities speakers bureau, he shares hard-won lessons from his 41 years with McDonald’s and outlines his approach to strategy, focusing on his turnaround story, creating the buy-in necessary to successfully execute change, and leadership development.

An Incredible Personal Story Amidst Keen Business Insight. Jim Skinner’s incredible turnaround at McDonald’s reflects the amazing one he accomplished for himself. After a difficult childhood in an abusive home in Iowa, he enlisted in the US Navy immediately following high school graduation. He served for 10 years before returning stateside, getting a manager trainee post at a local Illinois McDonald’s—returning to the chain where he had held his first job. He never graduated from college, attending Roosevelt University in Chicago before dropping out after his sophomore year, but quickly became part of McDonald’s international management team. There, he rose up the ranks to oversee development and operations in Central Europe, the Middle East, Africa, and India. After working in every region of the world, he was named president and COO but was catapulted to CEO in 2004 after his two predecessors died suddenly and unexpectedly within one year’s time. He took the helm of the company not only at a time of internal, organizational tragedy but had to lead the company through the largest recession the US has seen since 1929.

Skinner’s Success By The Numbers. During Skinner’s tenure as CEO, McDonald’s became a standout in the fast-food industry, posting strong results despite a brutal economy. The chain’s shares more than tripled, reaching an all-time high of $102.22 a share, which dwarfed the sub-$13 it traded at in early 2003 before “Plan to Win” was introduced. Global sales at stores open at least a year went up every month for more than eight years, and the company grew at an annual rate of 5%. Same-store sales, a closely watched industry metric, climbed each of the seven years of his tenure.

Skinner and his success did not go unnoticed. Marketwatch named him “CEO of the Year,” and Restaurants & Institutions bestowed him its “2007 Executive of the Year” title. He was named one of “America’s Best CEOs” by Institutional Investor. Chief Executive named Skinner the “2009 CEO of the Year,” and Barron’s recognized him as one of the “30 Most Respected CEOs.”  He was also listed in SmartMoney’s “Power 30” and as one of “The TopGun CEOs” by Brendan Wood International. Skinner is also the recipient of the Congressional Medal of Honor Foundation Award and the Navy’s Lone Sailor Award. Currently, he is the executive chairman at Walgreen's Boots Alliance.

To book James Skinner to speak at an upcoming corporate event or conference, please contact Leading Authorities speakers bureau or call 1-800-SPEAKER.

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Understanding McDonald’s “Special Sauce.” Legendary CEO Jim Skinner shares hard-won lessons from his 41 years with McDonald’s. Stressing that a change in leadership doesn’t mean a change in strategy, when he became CEO, Skinner implemented a back-to-basics turnaround strategy that focused on growth through increasing sales at existing stores rather than by opening new locations. Guided by a zeal for satisfying customers, Skinner modernized the restaurants, improved the experience, and revolutionized the menu, even at the expense of his own ideas and preferences (he disliked the McDonald’s new coffee cup lids, but customers loved them). With a discipline learned from 10 years in the United States Navy, Skinner and his transparent approach to management created an environment where McDonald’s success didn’t depend on customers “trading down” during the recession. Instead, they are “trading in” and still spending more money at McDonald’s even as market conditions improve. In his presentations, Skinner discusses the McDonald’s revitalization story and takes us back to 2003 when the company “took our eyes off our fries.” He shares the important leadership principles and the effective strategies that helped him turn McDonald’s around, like keeping your brand modern, the importance of a robust consumer insights strategy, innovation and continuous improvement, having a leadership pipeline, and his passion for execution.

Leadership Development. The push for talent development and leadership development may be Skinner’s greatest legacy at McDonald’s. One of his core management beliefs is that leaders should always be grooming at least two potential successors, and diversity and inclusion play an important role in the company’s workforce—it’s not only the right thing to do, but the smart thing to do. Skinner, who was a ‘right-hand man’ for years, never feared his No. 2, and went out of his way to surround himself with “people that were smarter than [him].” In his presentations, he details how to develop winning talent and a succession plan that will ensure an organization’s success for years to come, all while sharing fascinating stories from his legendary 41-year career at the world’s largest food service retailer.

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