“Succession planning is vital,” says Andrew McKenna, the chairman of McDonalds Inc. (NYSE: MCD), in his keynote address at the 2012 Midwest ACG Capital Connection.

McKenna, who joined the board of the world’s largest foodservice company in 1991 and became chairman in 2004, knows well the need for succession planning.

In 2004, McDonald’s lost not just one but two CEOs. First, CEO James Cantalupo suffered a fatal heart attack and then, just three weeks after Charlie Bell accepted the job, he was diagnosed with cancer and died a few months later in early 2005. He was succeeded by Jim Skinner, who steered the company to its best financial performance ever and who retired earlier in 2012. Don Thompson, a 22-year veteran of the Oakbrook, Ill. company, took the helm in July. All four of the executives had worked at McDonald’s for many years, working their way up the corporate ladder.

Today, McDonald’s pays close attention to succession planning. The topic is addressed at every board meeting, reports McKenna, and is the primary focus of at least one board meeting every year.  

Other topics addressed by McKenna in the keynote include the company’s growth strategy. As a franchisor, McDonald’s relies on “quality people, quality service and quality food,” says McKenna.

He also confirmed the company’s commitment to diversity, pointing out that CEO Thompson is African American, and the president of McDonald’s USA, Jan Fields, is female.

McDonald’s reported on Oct. 19 that its third-quarter net income fell nearly four percent as the stronger dollar hurt international results and the chain faced tough competition in the U.S.

The 2012 Midwest ACG Capital Connection is hosted by the Association for Corporate Growth’s Chicago chapter, which vies with New York for claiming the distinction of the association’s largest chapter. Roughly 1,100 middle-market dealmakers attend the annual event, held at Chicago’s McCormick Place on Oct. 23

For more on ACG Chicago and the annual event, read the chapter profile "Sweet Home, Chicago."

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