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McDonald's Leader Speaks Frankly About Food and Restaurant Decisions

McDonald's Leader Speaks Frankly About Food and Restaurant Decisions
Don Thompson returns to Indianapolis to 'tell it like it is.'

Don Thompson went to high school in Indianapolis, and earned a degree in Electrical Engineering from Purdue University. That may not be the path most executives take to the top of the world's largest food company, but it certainly worked for him.

Thompson was in the Hoosier state recently to address the Purdue Ag Alumni Fish Fry crowd. He joined McDonalds in 1990, and became CEO in 2012. He became a Purdue University trustee in 2009. He started out with a clear message, and never wavered.

Top man: Don Thompson, a Purdue graduate, leads McDonalds, the biggest food company in the world.

"Relationships with suppliers is one of our most important things," Thompson says. "Until just a few years ago we did everything by handshake. Now the legal types insist we have it in writing. But we feel like our suppliers and us run the business together."

Related: How Sustainable is Livestock Production?

There is a lot of concern in ag today, especially in livestock circles, when activist groups call for changes in how animals are raised. Thompson is very clear about McDonald's position.

"We realize that we are large enough as a company to influence practices that happen on farms. We also realize that farmers can't change how they raise things overnight and remain profitable," he says.

The important piece of the puzzle is to listen to everyone, whether you agree or like their message or not, he says. "And we listen to our customers first and foremost. We do our best to be customer driven. If customers are talking about it, then we need to know about it as well."

Thompson has sat down with the National Cattlemen's Beef Association and he's also talked with Greenpeace and even the Humane Society of the United States.

His management staff helps collect comments, data and information. In the end, they insist, it's Thompson who makes the final call if McDonalds is going to change a policy or ask a supplier to make a change.

"There has to be sustainability," he says. "That means sustainability for our suppliers and their producers too."

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