Jill McDonald offers leadership advice as she leaves McDonald's to be CEO at Halfords
Jill McDonald offers leadership advice as she leaves McDonald's to be CEO at Halfords
A view from Jill McDonald

Jill McDonald: 'I don't see any reason more CMOs can't become CEO'

Jill McDonald, outgoing north west division president and UK chief executive of McDonald's, takes up the role of chief executive of Halfords on 11 May. She joined McDonald's UK in 2006 as CMO from British Airways, where she was head of global marketing.

Honesty over false kindness

I can’t bear hypocrisy. I believe in fairness. As a leader you have to keep your ship in balance and also give no false kindness. Leadership is hugely complex; you have to be honest with people. You should be honest when someone is doing brilliantly and also when things aren’t going so well, to give them a chance to help themselves.

Give them the ‘why’?

You have to stand your ground, have clear conversations and always do what’s right for your customer. Be clear on what the direction is and where you need to go. Be clear about why you need to get there. As the chief executive it is your job to take the rough with the smooth and lead from the front when it gets tough. People, whether employees or franchisees, need to have confidence in you as a leader.

Provide a future

McDonald’s has always had a young workforce – the majority are under 25. So delivering what young people want is hardwired into the organisation. They want flexibility, a sense of family and togetherness. They want to be part of a team and have a future. The latter is becoming more and more important – young people want a successful future and take the time to invest in that. For this reason we invest in qualifications that can also be used in other jobs. People often use us as the first step on their career ladder and I’d encourage my sons to get a job at McDonald’s because it gives young people important skills: from getting out of bed to be part of a team and making eye contact.

Do what you enjoy

You’re a long time at work, so, whatever you do, you have to enjoy it. In the early part of my career I took a few lateral moves. At British Airways, I went from a good management position to a lower-grade position overseas. Some questioned it as a downward shift, but I knew the international experience would be helpful. Following a well-trodden path is not always the way to go – remember to put your hand up to take on projects.

Connect with people

When I joined McDonald’s, the first thing I did was to visit the restaurants. You have to understand the reality of the experience for employees and customers. You have to start at ground level. McDonald’s is all about the people and, as a leader, you have to connect with them early on.

A lasting legacy

The culture at McDonald’s appeals to me. You don’t have to have an MBA to sit around the boardroom. In my time at the organisation I believe I have helped develop people and I am leaving a strong leadership team in place when I go.

Boardroom marketing: don’t BS

To be a successful marketer in the boardroom you have to get their language, and your intent must align with what the boardroom holds dear. Marketing isn’t a science, but the more grounded you can be in your recommendations the better. Always be honest about it; don’t BS anyone. You can sniff it a mile off.
I don’t see any reason why more CMOs can’t become the CEO. All the members of the boardroom need to become customer-centric, even the finance guy. But to make the move you need to understand the experience you require – and be honest with yourself. Go out there and fill in gaps in your knowledge – make sure you get the right mentoring and training.

Embrace feeling uncomfortable

I had been in marketing for so long that I was comfortable in my expertise. Moving into general management, I was not the person who understood financial accounts. But you have to learn to be comfortable with being uncomfortable. You can recruit people who can be the experts on specific subjects and you have to trust the people around you to deliver their part of the jigsaw.

Authentic self

You need to be authentic as a CEO or you’ll be seen through – and it’s exhausting. It is naïve to think you don’t have to give thought to your personal brand: ensure it can stand scrutiny. You need to be very clear about the values of the organisation and your own values. Make sure there’s a virtuous circle.