The story: By the late-1990s fast-food chain McDonald’s had enjoyed 40 years of exceptional performance. In 1997, for example, the company had registered 10 years of 20 per cent per annum growth.
The challenge: That year, Jack Greenberg became the company’s fourth chief executive. His main concern was how to lead the business in less favourable market conditions. McDonald’s was facing concerns about fatty foods and about beef; competition was squeezing margins; and growth from
international markets was slowing.
The strategy: Mr Greenberg did what the textbooks suggest. First, he focused on improving the core business, announcing it as his top priority. Then, he also set a second priority: to find a new platform for growth. With this audacious goal in mind, he supported five acquisitions of related restaurant businesses – including Chipotle, a Mexican food restaurant, and 50 per cent of Pret A Manger, the UK sandwich chain – and he set up the Partner Brands Division, to be responsible for these new businesses. Mr Greenberg also opened the door to a number of other, more organic initiatives led by his head of strategy, Mats Lederhausen.
What happened: Mr Greenberg found it difficult to dedicate enough attention to both priorities. The core business continued to deteriorate and in 2001 McDonald’s announced its first quarterly loss and the resignation of Mr Greenberg.
Jim Cantalupo, a retired McDonald’s executive, was asked to return as CEO. His first announcement was that McDonald’s had been trying to do too many things. He shut down many of the organic initiatives and housed all the new businesses into a structure called McDonald’s Ventures.
Mr Cantalupo instructed Mr Lederhausen to identify those businesses that could become significant for McDonald’s without distracting management from its core business and to sell or close the rest. The result was that over the course of the next few years, almost all of them were either sold or closed.
The lessons: First, this story is common. A company forecasts reduced growth in its core business, looks for new sources of revenue, launches initiatives, and makes acquisitions – only to find a few years later, that it is back where it started, having sold or closed its new ventures.
Second, the textbook advice – set a growth ambition, try a portfolio of related ventures and invest heavily in the few successes at the same time as attending to the core – does not always work, in spite of its continuing popularity.
So, what is the alternative? When the core business starts to mature, leaders should be patient rather than energetic. The main risk is that attention is distracted from the core. Therefore, avoid launching a portfolio of initiatives; don’t set targets for growth outside the core; and don’t set up a new business division or venturing unit.
Do scan opportunities, but with a tough screening process and the expectation that none will be suitable. Expect to use spare cash to buy back shares, until a really good opportunity comes along.
Above all, look for people rather than projects – successful new growth outside the core nearly always comes from individuals or teams who happen to have a rare combination of both grassroots knowledge of a particular area and an understanding of how your company’s strengths can be used to succeed.
What happened next: The company’s leaders have stuck to and revived the core. In fact, as is often the case with a strong core, the hamburger business is growing again, partly because of the fast growth of emerging markets such as China.
McDonald’s is still looking for other opportunities – but in a patient way.
Which is more important to a company’s success？tradition or reform？
Learning to learn:
1. initiative 新计划，新措施 2. acquisition 收购
1 Which one is not one of Jack Greenberg’s concerns in 1997 when he became McDonald’s fourth executive?
A Profit was on a drop because of fierce competition
B Fatty foods and beef became less popular among people
C How to improve core business.
D Foreign markets offered less revenue
2 what is the author’s suggestion for a company whose core business starts to mature?
A do what the textbook suggests
B start a portfolio of new initiatives
C look for opportunities in a patient way and build up its strength by hiring
D seek growth through acquisitions