Don Thompson: Former CEO of McDonald's Corporation.


Donald Thompson (born March 30, 1963) is an American engineer and business executive who was the president and chief executive of McDonald’s Corporation from 2012 until 2015. He was named executive vice president and chief operations officer of the McDonald’s USA fast-food restaurant chain early in the year 2005. 

His announcement as head of McDonald’s made him, the first African-American chief executive of the world’s biggest fast-food chain. He is currently the CEO of Cleveland Avenue, an investment group and accelerator that focuses on building new food, beverage, and restaurant concepts, which he founded in 2015.

Early Childhood

Don grew up in a two-flat in the shadow of Cabrini-Green, the now mostly demolished public housing project on Chicago’s Near North Side. Born in 1963 to unwed parents who could not care for him, he was taken in by his grandmother when he was two weeks old (she later legally adopted him).

As a child growing up near the Cabrini-Green public-housing project in Chicago, Thompson did well in school. While he was in elementary school, his grandmother, who raised him, moved him to Indianapolis and away from a growing gang presence. Thompson’s aptitude in math and science attracted the attention of Purdue’s Minority Engineering Program, which recruited him to study engineering at Purdue.


Don attended Purdue University in Indiana and graduated with a bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering. He also holds an honorary doctorate from Excelsior College.


An electrical engineer by training, Don joined McDonald’s in 1990 from American multinational aerospace and defence technology company- Northrop Grumman Corp. He started out designing robotic equipment for food transportation and control circuits for cooking. Upon joining McDonald’s, Don enrolled in the company’s Black Career Development program, classes that McDonald’s has held since the 1970s both to educate all employees about cultural differences and to help minorities navigate its corporate culture. 

Thompson rose through the ranks in McDonald’s from roles in engineering, operations and management. In 2006, he was named president of McDonald’s USA and McDonald’s Restaurants of Canada. In 2010, he was appointed chief operating officer, and on July 1, 2012, he was named President and Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of McDonald’s Corp, succeeding outgoing CEO, the retiring Jim Skinner.

In his 23 years at McDonald’s, Thompson helped drive business results and global strategic innovation across the organization.

Cleveland Avenue

In 2015, Don left McDonald’s to form Cleveland Avenue, LLC, bringing together his vast restaurant expertise and engineering experience with his passion for innovation, digital trends and startup concepts.

Cleveland Avenue was the street where the founders grew up in Chicago, part of the Cabrini-Green community. Don and Liz Thompson learned the power of educating individuals and strengthening communities to build momentum for positive change. They love food and care deeply about creating stable businesses and strong communities.

Personal Life

Thompson and his wife, Elizabeth, both studied engineering at Purdue. They have two children, Xavier and Maya.

Board Membership

  • Beyond Meat, Ronald McDonald House Charities, Catalyst, and Northwestern Memorial Hospital.
  • Purdue University’s Board of Trustees


Don Thompson’s profile is part of our Black Excellence Series.

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