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Here’s Why McDonald’s First Black CEO Stepped Down To Start VC Firm Supporting Black Businesses

Then-McDonald’s CEO Don Thompson stands at the counter in 2013 at the restaurant at the company’s Oak Brook corporate headquarters. (Chris Walker / Chicago Tribune)

 

Cleveland Avenue is a venture financing company founded by Don Thompson to assist Black-owned businesses on Chicago’s South and West sides. According to the Chicago Tribune, he called his venture firm Cleveland Avenue after the block where he was raised, which was close to Cabrini-Green, a once-crime-ridden public housing complex on Chicago’s Near North Side that has since been razed.

According to the Chicago Tribune, Cleveland Avenue has spent millions of dollars since its foundation in rapidly expanding food firms like Beyond Meat and Farmer’s Fridge. Aproximately $500 million has also been invested in Beyond Meat and other culinary firms including Red Bay Coffee and Bartesian.

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Cleveland is leading a $70 million program to support Black, Hispanic, and female entrepreneurs who are typically underfunded by venture capital firms, according to a report in the Chicago Tribune last year. His investment drive is intended to strengthen Black enterprises.

The 58-year-old also started sowing a new crop of minority-owned businesses on Chicago’s South and West sides in April of last year.

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According to him, the Cleveland Avenue model will support diversity and generate profitable investment returns in Chicago communities outside Silicon Valley, as he told the Chicago Tribune.

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“That model of collaboration can support our entrepreneurs and it can support all of them,” Thompson said. “So we’re going to prove it by supporting our Black and brown and women entrepreneurs. We’re in the game for everyone, not just a small group.”

In the company’s nearly 100-year existence, Thompson was appointed McDonald’s first Black Chief Executive (CEO) in 2012. He had previously spent more than 20 years working for the well-known fast-food corporation, rising through the ranks to become the first Black CEO of the business.

When he was just 11 years old, the businessman, who was nurtured by his grandmother, relocated to Indianapolis. In order to get away from the increasing violence home Cabrini-Green, Thompson moved in with his grandma. After spending six years working for the defense contractor Northrup Grumman, he joined McDonald’s in 1990 as an engineer inventing food distribution and cooking systems.

Thompson developed a steady yet fluid career, holding successively more important positions within McDonald’s until he was appointed CEO in 2012. His ascent to the top was primarily made possible by the backing of senior Black McDonald’s directors. They persuaded him to enroll in an operations development accelerator program, which required him to work in McDonald’s restaurants and get knowledge of how the business operated all throughout the United States, according to Unleash.

He assumed the position of president of McDonald’s U.S. and Canada in 2006 before becoming COO and then CEO of the company globally in 2012 and 2013.

Sales of the massive fast-food chain fell after his first four months in charge, but they began to rise after he had been in charge for a year. He experienced great success, which included an increase in stock price. Nevertheless, the Chicago Tribune reports that he “struggled with the economic slump and an investor base habituated to disappointment.”

“There are several things we’ve done quite well, despite the fact that it’s a difficult global economy, and probably one of the worst we’ve seen collectively around the globe at the same time,” Thompson told Chicago Tribune in June 2013. “We’re maintaining and even growing our market share, which is one of the things we strive to do, particularly in tighter times for consumers and discretionary spending.”

 

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