A towering figure in Chicago’s business elite, McKenna has been on McDonald’s board as a director for 25 years, and as chairman for the past twelve. He is also one of the most powerful people in Chicago: he has been called “the power behind the throne” by the hometown press. As Fortune reported in 2014, he has been on Chicago Magazine’s list of the 100 Most Powerful Chicagoans, and been described him as “a bigwig other bigwigs seek out for advice.” He has chaired Major League Baseball’s White Sox and Cubs, and is now on the board of the Chicago Bears.
McDonald’s CEO Steve Easterbrook took to Twitter to praise McKenna’s leadership:
Yet for all the laudatory comments, McKenna was faulted in some circles for note reacting quickly enough during a McDonald’s lengthy period of poor performance earlier this decade, a trend the restaurant chain is only now beginning to halt, thanks to moves like all-day breakfast and raises for workers. In 2014, in the midst of a two year long decline in U.S. comparable sales at McDonald’s, McKenna told Fortune’s Beth Kowitt the board was “very supportive” of then CEO Don Thompson. (Soon after, Thompson was out, replaced by Easterbrook.)
McKenna had first planned to leave McDonald’s board in 2003 when he reached McDonald’s mandatory retirement age for directors of 73, but he stayed on as McDonald’s went through a CEO transition. The age limit was removed later. McKenna has overlapped with the tenures of seven different McDonald’s CEOs.
McKenna will have the title of Chairman Emeritus after his retirement, and the board will elect a new independent chairman following the election of directors by shareholders at the annual meeting on May 26.