斯金纳对麦当劳的忠诚为他赢得了良好的声誉。他总是默默完成自己份内的工作，从不炫耀。丹尼斯•埃内坎在2010年之前一直担任麦当劳的欧洲业务总裁，他说，将来，麦当劳的首席执行官肯定会得到“Jim Skipsdinner”的绰号，因为他总是喜欢工作结束后，一个人在酒店安静就餐，而不是为了抛头露面去参加正式的宴会。埃内坎现任法国雅高集团（Accor）CEO，他表示：“即便没有必要，有些人也会自以为是，认为自己必须露面。但吉姆却截然不同。”曾在公司任职的几位高管描述，斯金纳对于故弄玄虚的官僚主义作风痛恨不已，还有人称他就像有一台“精确的废话检测仪”。（但这并不意味着他缺乏幽默感。实际上，他非常风趣。他说自己最喜欢的电视剧之一就是《好汉两个半》（Two and a Half Men），而且打算联系剧组，就如何在这部情景喜剧中加入艾什顿•库奇的戏份谈谈自己的想法。）
But Skinner's leadership has been utterly self-assured -- it is as though the walk-on had been quietly practicing for his big shot all along. Employees and analysts say he's guided by a zeal for satisfying customers, even if it comes at the expense of his own ideas and preferences. A few years ago the company did extensive testing on new coffee-cup lids and rolled out a version that consumers liked -- and that Skinner, who happens to drink a lot of coffee, really didn't. Rather than overrule the masses, Skinner came up with his own solution: He keeps a stash of the old lids on hand.
From the kitchen up
If Skinner seems as though he knows his way around a McDonald's kitchen, it is because he once worked in one, as did 40% of the company's executives. (Amazon (AMZN) CEO Jeff Bezos and Top Chef Richard Blais did too.) At age 16 he got a job at McDonald's in Davenport. "I was in a family where, if I wanted to have any spending money, I had to work," says Skinner, whose father was a bricklayer. It was 1962 and employees still peeled, blanched, and sliced potatoes for French fries.
After six months behind the counter, he left Iowa behind for the Navy, serving on the aircraft carriers Midway and Oriskany. (He briefly overlapped with Oriskany veteran John McCain.) The hallmarks that came with spending nearly a decade in a highly disciplined, execution-driven environment became classic Skinner. He met his future wife, Kathleen, during his last year in the service -- they're still married 42 years later -- and decided it was time to settle down. He landed at McDonald's as a restaurant manager trainee after a Navy buddy encouraged him to apply.
Skinner earned a reputation as a loyal McDonald's man, one who always did his homework but never felt the need to show it off. Denis Hennequin, who until 2010 served as the company's head of Europe, says the future McDonald's chief would eventually earn the nickname "Jim Skipsdinner" for his preference for having a quiet bite in the hotel once business was finished rather than attend an official meal for the sake of appearances. "Some people have an ego that makes them need to be seen even if it's not necessary," says Hennequin, now CEO of hotel operator Accor. "Jim is not like that." Several former executives described Skinner as having no tolerance for bureaucratic double talk, one noting that he has a "good crap detector." (None of this is to say he's humorless. In fact, he's rather funny. Ask him about one of his favorite shows, Two and a Half Men, and he'll offer his thoughts on how he would write Ashton Kutcher into the sitcom.)