An Australian has gone from flipping burgers and cleaning toilets in a suburban restaurant to running the worldwide McDonald's fast food empire. Charlie Bell 43 who started at the Kingsgrove McDonald's store in Sydney at 15 becomes the first nonAmerican to head the company. He was appointed chief executive of McDonald's International hours after the sudden death of his friend and mentor Jim Cantalupo 60. Mr Cantalupo died from a heart attack while attending a franchisee conference in Florida.
Mr Bell who was second in command as president and chief operating officer could earn an additional $2 million in salary and bonuses. McDonald's paid Mr Cantalupo $4.7 million last year while Mr Bell his righthand man earned $2.6 million. Both were rewarded with big bonuses for turning around the company's ailing fortunes within one year by introducing healthier products improved service and the “I'm lovin' it” jingle. McDonald's Australia boss Guy Russo who began his career with Mr Bell at the Kingsford restaurant said his mate would often tell their fellow staff how to run the company. “There were a lot of people who were older than us” he said. “When we were about 16 we were telling everyone how to run the company at that age. We thought we would one day.”
Mr Bell progressed quickly becoming Australia's youngest store manager at 19. In 1993 he was appointed managing director of McDonald's Australia and began heading up the firm's Asiawide operations in 1999. Mr Bell was widely accepted as the heir apparent when he was promoted in December 2002 from head of European operations to McDonald's global headquarters in Chicago. At the McDonald's board meeting on April 19 he was appointed to lead the company that operates 30000 restaurants in 118 countries with 400000 staff worldwide. “Charlie Bell has worked side by side with Jim during these past 16 months to revitalise McDonald's all over the world” read a board statement released after the succession vote. “He is ideally suited and prepared to continue Jim's remarkable focus and discipline on our business.”
A funny thing happened to Charlie Bell on the way from Kingsford near Sydney to Chicago in the US. Everyone is talking about Charlie's story this week—how a 15yearold Sydney school kid was a parttimer at McDonald's just like a million other Aussie school kids. But this one became the youngest store manager at 19 and this week became the CEO of McDonald's worldwide at 43—again the youngest ever. A former schoolmate Peter Byrnes says “He was always singleminded about the whole McDonald's thing never frightened to do things his way or to back his own feelings. He was always his own person and you couldn't help but admire that about Charlie.”
Australia's ConsulGeneral in New York Ken Allen noted the close working relationship and friendship Mr Bell and Mr Cantalupo enjoyed. Mr Cantalupo translated Mr Bell's favourite Australian slang. Mr Allen said there was no better man than Charlie Bell to carry on the great legacy left by Jim Cantalupo. “He'll continue to make McDonald's one of the most successful companies in the world” he said. Mark Kalinowski of another company welcomed Mr Bell's appointment. “He has worked at McDonald's for 30 years. As they say ketchup runs in his veins” he said.
While Mr Cantalupo worked hard to revitalise the McDonald's brand and achieve a healthier image in the age of obesity his critics said it was not enough. He tried to downsize McDonald's huge highcalorie meals by phasing out Super Size fries and bucketsized drinks and introduced salads and a breakfast sandwich. Wall St. commentator Art Hogan said “Here's McDonald's trying to change its image and promote itself as providing a healthy diet and the big boss dies of a heart attack. What does that say about the company's meals to the average consumer﹖ A lot of people could be avoiding Big Macs in future.”
After the successful turnaround of its U.S. business McDonald's Corp. faces a new challenge—the sudden death of CEO Jim Cantalupo puts a young and unproven leader in charge of the world's largest restaurant company. Charlie Bell has risen impressively within McDonald's and helped craft the strategy Cantalupo employed to revive its flagging U.S. sales and performance. But after spending most of his career in regional posts in his native Australia Bell must prove himself quickly in a job he was elevated to ahead of schedule. Analysts and franchisees attending the McDonald's convention in Orlando Fla. voiced confidence Mr. Bell will be able to keep the company on the upswing. Nonetheless even after rising 15 cents to $26.90 on Tuesday afternoon the stock price was down 2 per cent since Monday's abrupt transition showing that shareholders have a waitandsee outlook.
It was a focus on the front counters of the more than 13000 U.S. McDonald's—a backtobasics approach emphasizing more efficient operations and swifter service—that enabled McDonald's under Cantalupo to lift sagging sales and revive a lacklustre brand. The fastfood giant slowed its breakneck expansion pace and sharply boosted U.S. sales with help from three new products—entreesized salads McGriddles breakfast sandwiches and whitemeat chicken nuggets—as well as by keeping more of its domestic restaurants open late at night. The company reached out to younger consumers with a new global advertising campaign and the tag line “I'm lovin' it.” It also has been trying to attract more dietconscious consumers with not only its salads but last week's announcement that it will introduce adult Happy Meals featuring salad bottled water and a pedometer and fruit and lowerfat options for its kids' Happy Meals.
Independent consultant Dick Adams a former McDonald's franchising executive said“There's a general sense that Mr. Bell will go along with Cantalupo's agenda and plan because he's one of the adopters of that plan.” But his impact as CEO “remains to be seen.”Mr. Bell had been the heir apparent since the company promoted him from head of European operations to president and chief operating officer in December 2002 as part of the shakeup that saw CEO Jack Greenberg depart. The company said Mr. Bell would have help in the transition from Andrew McKenna the presiding director of McDonald's board who was named to take over Mr. Cantalupo's other duties as chairman. But Mr. McKenna 74 is unlikely to hold that post for the long term.