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 at the 14,000 restaurants she oversees, Fields added her weight gradually--"10 pounds at a time: 10, 10, 10 and all of a sudden, I looked and I said, 'Oh, my God, I've gained 90 pounds. How did I ever do that?"
Of course, McDonald's tops critics' hit list for compounding America's obesity epidemic, but Fields insists that her own culprit wasn't food but lack of exercise. "I didn't exercise," she confesses. "I worked all the time, went home and went to bed."
Fields, No. 25 on Fortune's Most Powerful Women list, has always been easy to underestimate: The seventh of eight children raised in tiny Vincennes, Indiana, she grew up skinny and dreamed of being a nun, then a lawyer. But she met a guy, married young, had a daughter, and was driving to an interview for a secretarial job at a construction company when, at 23, she stopped at McDonald's for a Coke and spotted a "Now Hiring" sign. It was, in fact, the first time Fields ever ate in a McDonald's. She and her husband, who had enlisted in the Air Force, were so poor that they couldn't afford to eat out.
Accepting a job on a whim and starting at $2.65 an hour, she went home that first night and cried -- "a disaster" until they moved her from cooking fries to serving customers at front counter. "Never quit over one thing or one person," she advises. Rising rapidly through the ranks, she was propelled by a remarkable discipline and a down-home, inspirational leadership style.
Along the way, Fields was working so hard that she never had time to get a college degree or take care of herself. Until she visited a nutritionist and committed to do something about her weight gain. "I started with going to the gym and getting on a treadmill," she says, noting that all you need is a walking path to begin a fitness routine. "I didn't hire a trainer."
She started drinking a lot more water. And no soda, not even the diet kind. Fields still eats at McDonald's every day--but different foods and smaller portions than she used to. Breakfast is McDonald's oatmeal or an Egg McMuffin or a fruit and yogurt parfait. Lunch, at the McDonald's next to her office in Oak Brook, Illinois, is usually a grilled chicken sandwich or a cheeseburger, with a few French fries and iced tea.
Dinner is not at McDonald's -- she does get away from work. Typically, she has pasta, or, she says, "I'm big on tomato mozzarella salad. That's my favorite all-time food."
The focus on healthy eating has been good for Fields -- and the company. New products like smoothies and oatmeal have helped expand McDonald's customer base and profits, and the stock recently reached an all-time high. Meanwhile, McDonald's announcement last week that its restaurants will serve fruit or a vegetable with Happy Meals and cut the portion size of French fries signifies "our first step toward creating serious change," Fields says.
Fields, who loves to mentor young people, contends that her story proves that people "can do anything that they can set their mind to." And what, as she turns 56 this month, is she setting her mind to next? The Bank of America (BAC) Chicago Marathon, on October 9. Though she never ran a mile until this past February, Fields is now training vigorously. On Sunday, she emailed me: "This past weekend, I did 13.1 miles," she wrote. "It was so hot (got to 90), it took me 3 hrs and 12 minutes. So I will not be qualifying for any Olympic trials any time soon...but I made it :)"
Last year Mark Zuckerberg set out to learn Chinese. Now he's determined to get in touch with his food. If the goats, lobsters and chickens of Silicon Valley aren't trembling, they should be.
When he's not too busy connecting people across the universe, Mark Zuckerberg is pursuing a new "personal challenge," as he calls it. "The only meat I'm eating is from animals I've killed myself," says the Facebook founder and CEO.
It's MOREPatricia Sellers - May 26, 2011 2:29 PM 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
"All of a sudden this ham... hit me full long in the face and 'bout knocked me cuckoo."
--Celebrity cook and Food Network star Paula Deen, who was hit in the face by a ham today while volunteering at an Atlanta food drive. Deen, who was helping to unload 25,000 pounds of meat donated to a local food bank, was the honored guest at a recent "Fortune Most Powerful Women Evening MOREJessica Shambora, Writer-Reporter - Nov 24, 2009 6:07 PM ET
by Patricia Sellers
Liz Smith, who was on track to succeed Andrea Jung as CEO of Avon Products (AVP), is moving to a new company and a new industry. Again.
The onetime star exec at Kraft (KFT), who made an unlikely leap from food to cosmetics in 2004, is the newly named chief executive of OSI, a chain of casual-dining eateries.
"What?!!" is a question that Smith admits she's been asked MOREPatricia Sellers - Nov 3, 2009 3:44 PM ET
"Ultimately if you can put a wall up, if you can paint, if you can work with other people and, most important, if you find out what you are good at, that's the key."
-- British chef Jamie Oliver, in the New York Times Magazine, challenging the myth that a traditional education is the only way to be successful. Today Oliver's hyperactivity is his trademark but as a child he was MOREJessica Shambora, Writer-Reporter - Oct 12, 2009 7:01 PM ET
Hey, Starbucks lovers--and critics too! Have you taken the Starbucks Via Taste Challenge? The drip vs. instant coffee faceoff began this morning in Starbucks (SBUX) stores across North America.
If you want to know the science (it involves micro-grinding) behind Starbucks' new instant, check out this story today by my Fortune tech-writer colleague Michael Copeland. He talked with Andrew Linnemann, Starbucks' director of green coffee quality and operations, whose mission MOREPatricia Sellers - Oct 2, 2009 1:23 PM ET
Tuesday's Guest Post by Starbucks barista Sun Min Kimes jolted Postcards readers like a pot of extra bold Joe. We got over 50 comments--the most comments, as well as the most traffic, of any Guest Post we've run except for "The Great Depression, as I remember" by Walt Stoiber.
She struck a chord. As one reader, Oliver in Chicago, said, "Move this person to the Executive suite ASAP!"
Thank you for the MOREPatricia Sellers - Aug 6, 2009 3:55 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
"I believe, this is my own marketing philosophy, that you degrade your brand value if you're saying, this is not worth but half. At some point people go, 'I guess it's not really worth what they charge.' "
-- Rick Hendrie, senior vice president for marketing at Uno Chicago Grill, in Wednesday's New York Times. Uno Chicago Grill, currently offering a $9.99 pizza meal deal, is embroiled in a discount showdown with MOREJessica Shambora, Writer-Reporter - Jun 24, 2009 6:15 PM ET
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