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Fred Turner, McDonald’s ‘Hamburger U.’ Founder, Dies at 80

Fred Turner, Founder of McDonald’s ‘Hamburger U,’ Dies at 80
Fred Turner, one of McDonald’s Corp.’s earliest employees and founder of its signature “Hamburger University,” has died. He was 80. Source: McDonald's Corp. via Bloomberg

Fred Turner, one of McDonald’s Corp.’s earliest employees, who created its distinctive Hamburger University and succeeded founder Ray Kroc as chief executive officer, has died. He was 80.

He died yesterday after entering hospice care in Deerfield, Illinois, his longtime hometown, according to his daughter, Paula Turner. The cause was complications from pneumonia. He was honorary chairman of the board of directors of what is today the world’s largest restaurant company.

Turner founded Hamburger University in the basement of a McDonald’s restaurant in Elk Grove Village, Illinois, in 1961, according to a company history. The first class, 15 students, graduated in February of that year. Since then, more than 80,000 restaurant managers, mid-managers and owner-operators have gone through the program, which hosts more than 5,000 students each year.

The Hamburger U. campus at the company’s headquarters in Oak Brook, Illinois, was named the Fred L. Turner Training Center in 2004. Additional training sites are in Sydney, Munich, London, Tokyo, Sao Paulo and Beijing. Graduates receive “Bachelor of Hamburgerology” degrees, according to the McDonald’s website.

During his tenure as CEO, Turner oversaw the introduction of the Egg McMuffin in 1975, Happy Meals in 1979 and Chicken McNuggets in 1983. He was an architect of the company’s emphasis on quality, service and cleanliness, known as QSC.

‘True Pioneer’

“Fred was a true pioneer and shaped the quick-service restaurant industry,” Andy McKenna, chairman of the board, said yesterday in a statement. “We will remember his leadership, passion and dedication to McDonald’s, our customers and our people.”

As of 2003, the year before he retired, Turner owned about 1.5 million shares of McDonald’s common stock and stock equivalents, then valued at $21.7 million, according to a company filing.

Frederick Leo Turner was born on Jan. 6, 1933, in Des Moines, Iowa. He attended Drake University in Des Moines from 1951 to 1953.

In 1956, he became one of the first employees hired by Kroc, founder of McDonald’s.

“He was little more than a kid, 23 years old,” Kroc wrote in his memoir, recalling his first meeting with Turner in February 1956. “He had a baby face and the most infectious grin I’d seen in years.”

Kroc’s Tutelage

Turner and Joe Post, partners with members of their families in a venture called the Post-Turner Corp., were seeking to buy and operate a McDonald’s franchise. Turner took Kroc up on his suggestion that he go to work, at $1 an hour, at an existing McDonald’s to learn the ropes. “I could see he was a born leader,” wrote Kroc, who died in 1984.

When the family members in Post-Turner couldn’t agree on where to locate their proposed new franchise, Turner struck out on his own and became manager of a newly opened McDonald’s on Cicero Avenue in Chicago. Within a year, Kroc had brought him in to company headquarters.

“He was proud of everything about McDonald’s, and rightly so -- he and Ray built it, with many other people,” Paula Turner said of her father in an interview today. “They had a partnership early on and a real love for each other and a real shared vision.”

Ronald McDonald

Turner became operations vice president in 1958, an executive vice president in 1967 and, in 1968, president and chief administrative officer.

He was named president and chief executive in 1974 and chairman and CEO in 1977. He was CEO until 1987 and chairman until 1990.

He was senior chairman until his retirement in 2004, when McDonald’s had had about 31,500 stores in more than 100 countries and revenue of $19.1 billion.

His philanthropic activities included serving as a co-founder and life trustee of Ronald McDonald House Charities, which supports families of critically ill children.

His wife, Patty, died in 2000. Survivors include their three daughters, Paula, Patty Sue Rhea and Teri Turner, and eight grandchildren.

Leslie Patton in Chicago at;

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