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Xavier Magazine | October 20, 2017

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Profile: Karen (Smith) Wells

KAREN (SMITH) WELLS
Bachelor of Science in Business Administration, 1989
Vice President of Strategy and Menu, McDonald’s
Chicago

Team Player | Karen Wells was a member of the Xavier women’s basketball team from 1986-1989, a position that, in hindsight, turned out to be a slam-dunk for her career. As vice president of strategy and menu at McDonald’s, she leads dozens of executives in charting the mammoth restaurant chain’s future and its menu offerings. “It was a great foundation for my corporate career,” says Wells. “At Xavier, the focus was more on academics than athletics, and it taught me how to balance priorities. My job is all about building coalitions, relationships, teams and the ability to influence. It helps that I’m competitive because I play to win.”

Career Catapulted | Wells joined McDonald’s in 1992 as a marketing supervisor, rose to regional marketing manager and in 1997 was selected for the McDonald’s executive training program. “That gave me the opportunity to get an accelerated look at the operational side of the business, where it typically takes quite a while to move through the ranks. Their bet on me was that I would become competent in the important skills of leadership, and it proved to be career-changing. I moved through the ranks pretty quickly, received the highest award in McDonald’s—the President’s Award—and my career catapulted.”

Rising Star | Wells served as director of operations for more than 450 restaurants in the Atlanta region and later became vice president and general manager for the Indianapolis region, where she oversaw a $1 billion-a-year business involving more than 600 restaurants in six states. Currently, she’s in charge of formulating plans for the next five to 10 years and supervises menu offerings for the more than 26 million U.S. customers McDonald’s serves each day. She recently was named a “Rising Star” by Fortune magazine.

May I Help You? | “Our foundation will continue to be fries, shakes, burgers and soft drinks, but we’re always looking for ways to stay in touch with our customers. For instance, there’s an increasing consumption of chicken and we’ve been focusing on making sure there’s a variety of choices—from fruit and walnut salads to strawberry and blueberry parfaits.”

Volunteer Service | Wells leads a busy life apart from McDonald’s. She is an executive board member of the Quad County Urban League, an advisory board member of the Power Girls of Atlanta and a board member of Word of God Christian Academy in Raleigh, N.C. Wells also spends one or two full days each month volunteering for various charitable organizations.

Four Roles | Even though Wells has zipped through the corporate fast-track, she says her job is only one of four roles she plays. “My first role is that of a wife. I’ve been married for 17 years. Without his support, I would not even be here. My second role is mother, and it is one of my favorite roles. My third role is as a sister. I come from a family of nine children, with three sets of twins. I have a twin. And fourth on the list is an executive and mentor. I think it’s my duty to mentor people to one day take my place.”

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