Brand Turnarounds: McDonald's 2003-2005

Former Global CMO, McDonald's

Why is this interview interesting?

  • How McDonald's lost its way (lack of customer-centricity, focus on new store openings to drive revenue vs driving revenue from existing footprint, failure to drive successful innovation)
  • The Pillars of the 2003-2005 turnaround (customer-centricity, change from focus on building new stores to focus on driving better economics from existing footprint, focus on franchisee success and profitability)
  • Obstacles To Implementing The Turnaround Plan (How cultural resistance to the turnaround plan was overcome by redefining McDonald's mission as a business: changing the mission statement)
  • A Framework For Turning a Brand Around: The Eight Ps (Purpose. Promise. People. Product. Place. Price. Promotion. Performance)
  • How McDonald's defined the success metrics for the 2003-2005 turnaround plan: more customers, more often, more loyal, more revenues, more profit
  • The Eight P Framework Applied to McDonald's 2003-2005 turnaround (Purpose, Promise, People, Product, Place, Price, Promotion, Performance)
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Executive Bio

Larry Light

Former Global CMO, McDonald's

Larry is CEO of Arcature, a marketing consulting company founded in 1988. Larry was Global CMO of McDonald's from 2002 to 2005. More recently, as the interim Global Chief Brands Officer of IHG, Larry led the global marketing organizational change to increase the effectiveness of IHG's global and local marketing. Read more

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Interview Transcript

To begin our conversation, can I ask you to share context on your career experience and your career history?

I worked on a variety of brands. I was head of the market research function. Then I moved to Ted Bates and I was in charge of the Mars business worldwide. I ran that account for a few years. Then Bates was purchased Saatchi. I left and got into the consulting business. I focused on troubled brands. I remember when people commented that this was a ridiculous way to build a consulting company. Why don’t you work for successful brands and successful companies? Won’t that be easier? I said, that’s exactly the reason why I didn’t choose that. There’s no incentive or real evidence that marketing works if you take something that’s successful, the best you can do is keep it successful. The real challenge of good marketing discipline is if you take a troubled brand and you bring it back to life. That’s what I have maintained as the focus of my consulting to this day.

Could you highlight some of the turnarounds you’ve been involved in before we dive into a couple of specific examples?

Nissan was a fascinating one. I think one of the most interesting ones. Nissan is, of course, a Japanese company. Had global challenges. In 1988, Nissan was in serious financial distress. Then later came McDonalds, which has become the most famous case I’ve worked on. Fast food of course is the number one retailer of food as an industry in the world. McDonalds is the biggest brand in that big industry. A lot of notoriety. Not just from the marketing industry, but from friends and relatives. Everybody has had an opinion. McDonalds in 2002 declared its first ever loss as a public company. Three years’ later because my approach to a turnaround plan is if you do a turnaround plan in a disciplined professional manner, you should be able to revitalize the brand within 36 months or less. My approach is always a three-year plan, like the Nissan NRP.

Larry, can you set a bit more context just for us to dive into McDonalds here, what was actually going wrong at the time?

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Brand Turnarounds: McDonald's 2003-2005(April 16, 2020)

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