It takes one heckuva salesman to persuade the world's most notorious food snobs to wait in line for Big Macs. Fortunately, McDonald's Corp. has Denis Hennequin. With a flair for unconventional thinking, Hennequin, 45, built McDonald's French operation into one of the chain's best-performing. Under his leadership from 1996 through last year, McDonald's France posted robust same-outlet sales growth while doubling the number of restaurants, to over 1,000.
Now Hennequin has another tough job. Promoted in January to head McDonald's European operations, he's being asked to reverse years of disappointing results, particularly in Britain and Germany. Europe-wide, McDonald's sales declined about 1% last year and grew only 3.5% in the first quarter of 2004, compared with a 14.2% rise in the U.S.
It's a tall order, but Hennequin's tactics worked wonders in France, thanks to his innovative approach to the business. Turning the notion of fast food on its head, he declared that McDonald's would be a "destination restaurant" where customers would order meals with extras such as salad, dessert, and coffee and linger at their tables rather than wolfing down burgers. He introduced features such as headphones for listening to music.
Hennequin also tinkered with the standard McDonald's menu, adding such items as a hot ham-and-cheese Croque McDo sandwich and French pastries. One result is that the average French McDonald's patron spends about twice as much as the typical U.S. customer.
Hennequin is moving to adapt many of these innovations across Europe. He has established a test kitchen at McDonald's European headquarters near Paris, where a team headed by a French chef is whipping up recipes including salads with warm chicken, which went on sale this spring. While the salads are similar to those introduced in the U.S. last year, Hennequin's team is adding regional touches, such as feta cheese in Greece.
Like many top McDonald's managers, the French-born Hennequin is a company lifer. He applied for an assistant restaurant manager's job at a Paris-area McDonald's in 1984, after finishing a law degree and realizing he didn't want to practice. He held a series of mid-level manage-ment jobs before taking over as French CEO in 1996. Now if Hennequin can flip all of Europe's burger business, he'll surely continue his climb up the Golden Arches.