* Don Thompson becomes McDonald’s COO
* CEO Skinner says co. focused on developing leadership
* Shares up 0.78 pct (Adds analyst comment, byline; previous dateline NEW YORK)
By Nicole Maestri
SAN FRANCISCO, Jan 11 (Reuters) - McDonald’s Corp (MCD.N) promoted Don Thompson, president of McDonald’s USA, to the role of chief operating officer, overseeing the hamburger chain’s 32,000 restaurants worldwide.
Thompson, 46, assumes his new duties immediately, the company said. He succeeds Ralph Alvarez, who retired on Dec. 31 due to health reasons, raising questions about how the fast-food chain was cultivating executives who might be in line for its top job.
McDonald’s Chief Executive Jim Skinner said the promotions “reflect the company’s deep bench of talented and experienced executives,” according to a statement.
“Together with our board of directors, we have made succession planning a competitive advantage for our company worldwide,” he said.
RBC Capital Markets analyst Larry Miller said McDonald’s COOs are seen as front-runners for replacing Skinner after he retires.
“It’s a clear elevation to what would be the No. 2 position” at McDonald’s, Miller said.
Alvarez was one of McDonald’s highest profile executives and was believed by many to be the top candidate to succeed Skinner. But Alvarez said in December when he announced his retirement that he needed to step down after years of surgery and chronic pain due to a knee problem.
Thompson joined McDonald’s in 1990 as an engineer in its Restaurant Systems Group. In 2005, he was promoted to chief operations officer for McDonald’s USA, and in 2006 he was named president of McDonald’s USA.
Along with Thompson’s promotion, McDonald’s named Jan Fields, chief operations officer for McDonald’s USA, to be McDonald’s USA president. The fast food chain operator also said Jim Johannesen, president of its U.S. Central Division, would succeed Fields as chief operations officer for McDonald’s USA.
Shares of McDonald’s rose 0.78 percent to close at $62.32 on the New York Stock Exchange. (Additional reporting by Michele Gershberg in New York; Editing Bernard Orr and Richard Chang)