The Thompsons

Don and Elizabeth Thompson - From MITE to Making an Impact Globally!

The Minority Engineering Program (MEP) salutes Donald and Elizabeth Thompson. Don Thompson was born in 1963 in Chicago, Illinois. When he was in high school, he was invited to attend a Summer Engineering Workshop (SEW) at Purdue University. Under the leadership of Marion Williamson Blalock, Director Emeritus of the Minority Engineering Program at Purdue, the Multiethnic Introduction to Engineering (MITE) program sought to attract students from historically underrepresented groups to Purdue University and excite them about the engineering opportunities available to them. 

Don attended MITE and enjoyed two weeks on campus that exposed him to classroom experiences, faculty, staff, students, laboratory research, and college life. Life in the residence halls of the beautiful and prestigious West Lafayette campus helped Don realize that Purdue could help shape an exciting future in engineering. Don met Elizabeth who was also attending the MITE summer program and they both decided to attend Purdue the following year. Little did they know at the time, that a friendship forged in a summer program would lead to two BS degrees in Electrical Engineering, a marriage, two beautiful children and careers that would take them to the top. 

Never thinking he would have a career in the restaurant industry, Don began his engineering profession in the defense industry as an Engineering Specialist with the Northrop Corporation in Rolling Meadows, Illinois, a suburb of Chicago. While at Northrop, Don received a call from a corporate recruiter with an opportunity that he initially thought was with another defense system corporation, McDonnell Douglas. Upon returning the call, Don realized that the opportunity was actually with McDonalds restaurant, and he laughed at the irony. Initially, it didn't seem like an opportunity that he would be interested in, until he learned about the highly-sophisticated robotics and state of the art technology that has made McDonalds a giant in the restaurant business. He was also impressed with their commitment to diversity, in general, and to his personal career, in particular. 

His first assignment was a Restaurant Systems Engineer. With promotions coming every year or two, he held 10 different positions over his first 15 years with the company. After becoming a Project Manager, he gradually moved from managing robots to managing people. His next assignment was Director of Quality and soon after he advanced to Director of Operations for McDonald's Denver area. From there, he moved to California as Regional Vice President, returned to Chicago as Senior Vice President and Restaurant Support Officer for the Midwest division and later became president of that division with more than 2280 restaurants and 595 independent franchises under his direction. He was the first African-American to hold that post.

When the unquestioned king of American fast food retailing and the largest chain of restaurants in Japan faced challenges in sales volume due to the concerns about beef safety in the wake of the mad cow disease scare, Thompson offered a solution through the introduction of tailor made menus to cater to local tastes. He oversaw menu management and introduced the 'Shrimp Burger" in Japan. Worldwide sales rose nearly 8% under his leadership.

He was named Executive Vice President and Chief Operating Officer for McDonald's USA in 2005 and was recently added to the Purdue University 'Old Masters' roster in honor of his many achievements. In 2008, he received an honorary doctorate degree from Excelsior College in Albany, New York. Mr. Thompson has been recognized by many organizations for his leadership in business, the community, and as a role model. Black Enterprise named Thompson Corporate Executive of the Year in 2007. In 2008, he received the Corporate Executive Award from the Trumpet foundation. Thompson also received the presidential inspiration award from Alpha Phi Alpha fraternity incorporated in 2009, and was recognized with the Executive Leadership Council’s Achievement Award in 2010. 

Don Thompson and his wife Elizabeth are avid supporters of the Minority Engineering Program. They valued their experiences at Purdue and saw MEP as the extended family that helped them matriculate through the College of Engineering. In the spirit of giving back, they are major alumni supporters of MEP summer programs. It is because of their commitment and the commitments of our corporate sponsors that we have been able to persist. MEP salutes the Thompsons, and all the other contributors that make our programs possible.

A proud family man, Mr. Thompson and his wife Liz have two children and reside in the Chicago area.

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