Fred Turner, 80; key to rise of McDonald’s

NEW YORK — Fred L. Turner, who as chief executive helped transform McDonald’s into a global giant and introduced the world to the Chicken McNugget, the Egg McMuffin, and the Happy Meal, died Monday in Glenview, Ill. He was 80.

The cause was complications of pneumonia, his daughter, Paula, said.

Mr. Turner went to work at the McDonald’s Corp. in 1956 as one of its first employees. He had been flipping hamburgers at a local franchise, learning the ropes as part of a plan to open his own restaurant with business partners, when the chain’s pioneer, Ray A. Kroc, offered a job opening new franchises.


He was named vice president for operations in 1958, became president in 1968, and chief executive in 1974, a position he held until 1987.

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Mr. Turner was seen as the driving force behind many of the ideas and products that made McDonald’s one of the world’s most recognizable and successful brands.

‘'Ray Kroc founded it, but Fred Turner built it into what it is today,’’ said Dick Starmann, a former McDonald’s executive and longtime spokesman, who worked with Mr. Turner for nearly 30 years.

He is seen as the architect of the company’s ‘‘quality, service, and cleanliness’’ model, which helped establish its reputation in the United States and abroad as a welcoming, family-friendly destination.

In 1961 he created Hamburger University, the training program for managers, franchisees, and employees. During his time as chief executive, when the number of restaurants more than tripled, he expanded McDonald’s well beyond the early model of the walk-up hamburger stand. On his watch, the company increased indoor seating and introduced the drive-through; the Happy Meal for children, complete with a toy; and the Chicken McNugget.


One of Mr. Turner’s biggest successes was the introduction of a McDonald’s breakfast companywide.

Although some local franchises were already offering a breakfast menu, there was debate internally about how aggressively the company should promote it, Starmann recalled: ‘‘He made a big, bold decision: We’re going on national TV. He said, ‘The breakfast train is leaving the station; lead, follow or get out of the way.’ ’’

In 1975 the company placed the Egg McMuffin on the national menu, and breakfast sales took off.