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QSR Feature
The 10 Most Innovative People

Jim SkinnerIt takes a lot more than hard work and intelligence to wrestle innovation from a company that is more than 50 years old and the size of McDonald’s, but Jim Skinner has done that and more during his six-year tenure as CEO.

Skinner’s winning strategy, christened Plan to Win, focused all team members’ attention on improving service, food, and ambience and not necessarily on opening new stores.

“Every function that we have is best in class,” Skinner says. “That’s what it means to be an industry leader. I’ve only had two jobs, a lieutenant in the United States Navy and McDonald’s, both extraordinary organizations, both best in class.”

Since taking over the burger giant, which now has 32,000 restaurants worldwide, Skinner has restructured the company, redesigned the restaurants, and revolutionized the menu. Aside from the addition of premium coffee offerings, McDonald’s menu also features healthier choices such as Fruit & Walnut Salads and Chicken Wraps. Skinner also earns high marks for offering better value and improved marketing.

Aside from reducing energy output and working with suppliers to establish healthier environmental operations, Skinner puts a lot of muscle behind talent management and leadership development. High-potential employees are put through a leadership institute, and diversity is an important value at the company.

“There always was a true indication that McDonald’s takes care of its people,” Skinner says. “I knew that Fred [Turner], Mike [Quinlan], and the other guys who were running the company, when they got up in the morning, they were concerned about me. We don’t take that lightly, so all of our people practice it.”

Last year, Skinner received the CEO of the Year award from Chief Executive magazine. “He has been respectful of McDonald’s legacy while engineering an inspirational strategic leadership that reinvented the industry,” says J.P. Donlon, editor in chief of the magazine.

The chain, which operates in more than 100 countries, is about 80 percent owned and operated by franchisees and recently was anointed the “best run major international company in the world” by Mad Money’s Jim Cramer.

Since Skinner took over the helm of the company in 2004, the company’s stock price has more than doubled.

“I take it personally when someone says, ‘Well, they’re the industry leaders now, but will it last?’ We don’t hear that too much anymore,” Skinner says.

Antonio SwadPizza Patrón emerged on the restaurant scene in 1986 with an innovative bent in its first year of operation, and a big one at that.

Founder and CEO Antonio Swad decided from the get go that Pizza Patrón would become the pizza restaurant for the Hispanic community. So much so that all store employees are required to speak both Spanish and English.

“What we have done at Patrón is very different than what other restaurant companies have done,” Swad says. “It is not often that restaurants define their own business models by ethnicity. Companies define their customer base by income or unique flavor concepts. We basically took a product that was widely consumed and brought it to the Hispanic markets.”

Since then Swad has overseen myriad innovations at Pizza Patrón, and along the way founded and sold another highly successful restaurant concept, Wingstop.

“I think he’s a genius,” says Le Madeleine’s COO, Phil Costner. “Before any of us caught wind of the huge impact of the Hispanic consumer, Antonio was forever solidifying his place.”

In 2009, while much of the industry was enduring plummeting sales, Pizza Patrón enjoyed four quarters of comp store sales gains, with the largest being an 11 percent bump.

Some of the other innovations that Swad has overseen include the premiere of the Quick Service Pizza outlet, which was the concept’s first standalone location and features three distinct points of service for customers: a drive thru with a pick-up window, a walk-up order window, and a colorful lobby.

A new interior design approach for the pizza chain was also rolled out last year after more than a year of research and market testing. The complete top-to-bottom revamp of the store finish-out was designed to transform the atmosphere into a warmer, more inviting food showcase. In addition, an online marketing platform was launched, a completely redesigned Web site, a new Latin-themed concessions design, a record-breaking “recession relief” campaign, and several new product roll outs.

The brand also replaced its original tagline with “Latin Life, Enjoy” this year.

Moving ahead, Swad is not satisfied to rest on his laurels. He’s working on new innovations to move the company forward. “We are developing a line of frozen specialty pizzas that can be sold at grocery stores in the Hispanic communities,” Swad says. “The bigger the brand, the more successful we will be.”

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