FORTUNE -- For a woman who began her career cooking French fries for $2.65 an hour and never completed college, Jan Fields had an extraordinary run.
But her tenure as McDonald's (MCD) U.S. president ended yesterday, following the company's first monthly sales decline since 2003. Strategic missteps, including a shift to higher-priced menu items that crimped customer traffic, were blamed on Fields, and she was out.
When I called her at her suburban Chicago home on Thursday, Fields declined to share details but made it clear that she'll transition just fine. After 35 years at McDonald's, she has zero interest in taking another fulltime corporate job--she is 57, has accumulated millions of dollars in stock, and reached No. 25 on the Fortune Most Powerful Women list.
Fields grew up in Vincennes, Indiana, the seventh of eight children educated in a four-room schoolhouse. Today, she is a director of Monsanto (MON) and is interested in taking another public-company board position. She also wants to throw her weight behind two causes: women's empowerment and health and nutrition.
Curb your skepticism. While the notion of a McDonald's exec advocating nutrition seems ironic, Fields led the restaurant giant's push toward healthier fruit drinks, smaller French fry portions, and disclosure of nutritional information.
Her personal makeover sets Fields up well for retirement. Three years ago, she changed her diet, took up running, and lost 90 pounds. Even as she completed the Chicago Marathon and ran half-marathons monthly, she kept on eating McDonald's French fries every day--and has no intention of ending her daily habit in retirement.
Her latest stretch goal? The 2013 Chicago Triathlon. "I'm slower than smoke," Fields says about her running pace. "I'm the one picking up the cones at the end of the race." She's even less of a swimmer than a natural runner, she admits. But to prep for her first triathlon, she is taking swimming lessons and simultaneously going to physical therapy three times a week to repair her torn hamstring.
Meanwhile, Field's husband, Doug, who is long-retired, has been commandeering the construction of their new retirement home in Naples, Florida. As fate would have it, he is finishing the project this week. While she oversaw 14,000 restaurants across the U.S., Fields had no time to visit their new home. Soon she'll head to the Sunshine State.
No wonder Fields is taking the end of her career in stride. She says, "Everyone has a date stamped on their ass and they're the only one who can't see it."
A look back at the way the restaurant chain handled the deaths of two CEOs and found the right man for the job.
I wrote this article in 2005, a few months after Jim Skinner became CEO of McDonald's (MCD). The piece didn't run in the magazine because of space constraints, but this tale, presented here as it was written six years ago, remains as relevant as ever. The story appears MOREPatricia Sellers - Aug 23, 2011 5:00 AM ET
The McDonald's (MCD) boss behind the healthy upgrade to its U.S. menu is practicing what she preaches: She recently lost 90 pounds.
Jan Fields, who started at McDonald's 33 years ago cooking fries and is now the fast food chain's U.S. president, was soon to turn 55 when, she says, "I woke up one day and said, "Oh my God, how did I gain this much weight?"
Like millions of her customers MOREPatricia Sellers - Aug 2, 2011 3:38 PM ET
Fortune and Yahoo (YHOO) are teaming up to present weekly content -- stories and videos -- about Most Powerful Women. This is the first in a series of Postcards that will appear on Yahoo and Fortune.com.
It's the start of Most Powerful Women season at Fortune Magazine.
This is the time we begin hunting in earnest for the most successful women in business around the world. Fortune launched Most Powerful Women (MPW) in MOREPatricia Sellers - Jun 29, 2011 9:30 AM ET
by Patricia Sellers
Too often, the boss can't relate to the workers on the front line.
Not so at McDonald's (MCD).
McDonald's U.S. president Jan Fields, who today announced plans to hire 50,000 new workers in a single day, started behind the counter, cooking fries.
Her humble beginnings make her the most remarkable success on Fortune's Most Powerful Women list.
Before she started her career, cooking fries for $2.65 an hour, Fields grew up in MOREPatricia Sellers - Apr 4, 2011 1:08 PM ET
Lots of Most Powerful Women—the stars of Fortune's annual list--are moving up and making news. You know about Kraft Foods (KFT) CEO Irene Rosenfeld snagging Cadbury (CBY), the British candy giant, last week after a messy, multi-month battle. With her heftiest shareholder, Berkshire Hathaway (BRKB) CEO Warren Buffett, skeptical about the deal, Rosenfeld has plenty to prove. But assuming it goes through, the acquisition will make Kraft larger than MOREPatricia Sellers - Jan 25, 2010 3:52 PM ET
Starbucks (SBUX) is one of our favorite topics on Postcards. We're in the stores everyday. We vigilantly watch CEO Howard Schultz's efforts to slash costs, revive the brand, treat employees respectfully, satisfy investors, and fight incursions by very aggressive McDonald's (MCD) and Dunkin' Donuts. Today's Wall Street Journal has an interesting story about Starbucks' latest efficiency efforts--which could compromise the brand "romance," which Schultz has long said distinguishes Starbucks, and MOREPatricia Sellers - Aug 4, 2009 1:11 PM ET
by Patricia Sellers
Procter & Gamble (PG) lost its president today: Susan Arnold, a 29-year veteran who drove the company's high-margin beauty business to $20 billion in sales and went on to oversee all of P&G's brands, stepped down one day after her 55th birthday.
"My dad retired at 62," Arnold said, phoning this afternoon on her way to a Walt Disney (DIS) board meeting. "Then he got really sick. You know MOREPatricia Sellers - Mar 9, 2009 2:57 PM ET
by Jessica Shambora
For Fortune's Most Admired Companies issue, released this week, I interviewed the CEOs of two top performers: Bill Weldon at Johnson & Johnson (No. 5 on the list) and Jim Skinner at McDonald's (No. 16). Fortune ranks companies based on survey results from more than 4,000 executives, directors and securities analysts.
My interviews with these chiefs covered a range of topics, from cosmetic surgery to the Dollar Menu. But MOREJessica Shambora, Writer-Reporter - Mar 5, 2009 3:02 PM ET
My Fortune colleague Geoff Colvin writes in our March 2 issue that a few companies--DuPont (DD) and Colgate-Palmolive (CL) and McDonald's (MCD), to name three--are working overtime to preserve their brand equity in this downturn. Instead of discounting, they are, in some cases, actually raising prices.
Another company loathe to cut prices: Starbucks (SBUX). As I've noted on Postcards, CEO Howard Schultz told me last year that the smartest decision he MOREPatricia Sellers - Mar 3, 2009 2:31 PM ET
|McDonald's gives Charles Ramsey free food for a year|
|Where your donation dollars go|
|Doomsday investors betting on market crash|
|Investors consider life after Fed stimulus|
|The 'chicken poop' credit and other bad tax breaks|