2002年，斯金纳重新接过美国国内业务的重任时，麦当劳正在苦苦挣扎。公司沉迷于盲目扩张，2001年，每天新开店铺的数量超过3家。结果导致食品和服务的质量下降，公司股票和利润也随之大幅下跌。长期掌管麦当劳的吉姆•坎塔卢普退休之后重新出山，并任命斯金纳为副主席。新管理层实施了一项回归基本原则的变革策略——制胜计划（Plan to Win），该策略的核心是增加现有店铺的销售额来带动增长，而不是通过增开新店来促进增长。
冷静、沉稳的斯金纳上台之后，并未推出新政来重组摇摇欲坠的公司，而是保持了公司策略的连贯性。他强调，领导者的变化并不意味着公司策略也一定要变化。耶鲁大学管理学院（Yale School of Management）的杰弗里•索南菲尔德说：“他明白，没有必要按自己的想法重塑公司形象，也没必要将公司打上自己的烙印。”
He proved to be insightful too, backing his executives publicly even if he didn't always agree with their tactics. Claire Babrowski, who worked for McDonald's for almost 30 years, remembers, as a manager in the North Carolina region, running into a difficult franchisee who wasn't operating his store the way the company liked. (To this day, 80% of McDonald's restaurants are operated by independent owners.) To top it off, he would never wear a tie -- standard practice at the time for franchisees. Skinner was her boss, and during a visit all parties met to hash out their issues. "For some reason I got off on the tie thing, which was so the least of it," Babrowski says. Skinner didn't stop her, instead turning to the franchisee to ask him how hard it would be to put on a tie. "Later at night Jim took me out to dinner, and he's like, 'Really? The tie?'"
In 1992, McDonald's promoted Skinner to work in its international business, bringing Big Macs and fries to 60 new markets, including parts of Europe, Africa, and the Middle East. By the time he came back to domestic operations he had worked in every region of the world.
Skinner returned to the U.S. business in 2002 to a McDonald's that was floundering. The company was hooked on expansion; in 2001 it was opening more than three restaurants a day. The quality of the food and service had deteriorated as a result, along with the stock price and profits. Long-time McDonald's man Jim Cantalupo came out of retirement to run the company and elevated Skinner to vice chairman. The new executive team implemented a back-to-basics turnaround strategy -- the Plan to Win -- with a focus on growth through increasing sales at existing stores rather than by opening new locations.
In April 2004, Cantalupo and his management crew traveled down to Orlando for the company's owner-operator convention. In the early morning hours the day Cantalupo was to give his remarks, a victory speech of sorts, he had a heart attack and died in the room next to Skinner's. That same day the board named the young, charismatic Charlie Bell as the company's new leader. But less than a month later Bell was diagnosed with colorectal cancer. While he and the company were at first optimistic about a recovery, he stepped aside in November. "The bizarre paradoxical thing was that in the midst of first losing Jim [Cantalupo] and then Charlie being ill, we were performing better than ever," says former McDonald's executive Mats Lederhausen. "It was surreal."
The board looked to the 60-year-old Skinner to become the company's new CEO at one of the most delicate moments in its history. "The fact that it was Jim, at least from my point of view, was a comfort," Babrowski says. To the outside world, Skinner was relatively unknown, which he attributes to always being a good No. 2. "Good No. 2s don't usurp their boss's authority," he says. "They don't go around trying to take credit."
Rather than shake up the already unsettled company by implementing a new approach, the no-drama Skinner came in on a platform of continuity, stressing that leadership change doesn't mean strategy change. "He understood that he didn't need to rebrand the company in his own image," says Jeffrey Sonnenfeld of the Yale School of Management. "He didn't need to imprint his persona."