​McDonald's CEO Don Thompson is still lovin' it

Ask the company's top man how his job is going and he'll tell you he's lovin' it, despite recent drops in sales. So does he have the recipe for putting McDonald's back on track? Our Cover Story is reported by Lee Cowan:

It was a day like any other at a McDonald's near Oak Brook, Ill., recently -- until, that is, Ronald McDonald's boss got hungry. That's when McDonald's CEO Don Thompson - the man in charge of the biggest restaurant chain in the world - stepped inside.

If you think having the "Big Cheese" on site might make employees a little nervous, well, you're right, except that McDonald's CEO Don Thompson -- the man in charge of the biggest restaurant chain in the world -- is disarmingly down to Earth.

"So can you still do every one of those positions?" asked Cowan. "Can you still go cook fries, you can still cook a burger?"

"I can still cook fries,' he replied. "I can still cook burgers. I offer quite a bit. Most of the time, they'll tell me, 'Get out of the kitchen Don! Go back out there and do what you do!'"

In the kitchen, Thompson is as happy as a Happy Meal -- and he seems just as blissful back at headquarters. He actually whistles while he works.

His meetings often begin with man-hugs ("Hey, hey, hey, what's going on, buddy?"). We even found him humming to himself at his desk.

It's tempting to think he doesn't have a care in the world, but you'd be wrong.


"We have 35,000 restaurants," he said. "We're a big target. If you attack McDonald's, you'll get press. And so, you know, just about any and everyone will attack McDonald's for something."

Thompson took the reins at McDonald's two years ago, as its first African American CEO. His charge: to make the Golden Arches golden again.

A recent Consumer Reports survey of fast food restaurants ranked McDonald's as the worst-tasting burger in the industry.

Sales have been in a downward spiral, with competitors like Chipotle, Wendy's and Taco Bell eating McDonald's profit share for lunch (and breakfast).

Cowan asked, "Do you think expectations were any higher for you when you took this job?"

"The fact that I'm African-American probably calls it out more," Thompson said. "If the bar is a little bit higher in some regards, it's always been a little bit higher. It's not a new thing for me to be an African-American. It's new to be an African-American CEO."

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CEO Don Thompson with correspondent Cowan at McDonald's headquarters in Oak Brook, Ill.
CBS News

Thompson grew up in the shadow of Chicago's Cabrini-Green, the nation's most notorious public housing project.

Growing up, "I think there was one McDonald's in our neighborhood," he said, "and I do remember my grandmother, who raised me, walking by the McDonald's and I'd go, 'I'd like to have a McDonald's!' And I remember her distinct words: 'We're going home. I'll make you a McDonald's!'"

Eating out was a luxury.