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McDonald's Still Serving

Jim Cantalupo was CEO and Chairman of McDonald’s when he died unexpectedly on April 19th. Although nearly two weeks have passed since this death, I notice that McDonald’s continues to supply Big Macs, Egg McMuffins, and its other menu items to hordes of customers. No changes in McDonald’s operations are evident to the general public.

“Of course!” you reply. And I agree.

But compare our expectation – indeed, our knowledge – that McDonald’s will continue supplying fast food even upon the sudden death or departure of its head man with the presumption that infuses most news stories about the death or capture of drug kingpins. On such occasions, reporters and, especially, law-enforcement officials typically talk of how the demise of the drug kingpin is a significant blow to the supply of illegal narcotics.

If Mr. Cantalupo’s death won’t stem the supply of fast food – if the death of Coca-Cola’s brilliant CEO Robert Goizueta’s in 1997 didn’t stem the supply of soft drinks – if Martha Stewart’s recent troubles won’t stem the supply of home-decorating hints — why the common presumption that killing or capturing a drug kingpin will stem the supply of narcotics?

I don’t want to push this point too far. In fact I believe that managerial skill possessed by inspiring leaders is among the rarest of talents. (That’s why good CEOs are paid so handsomely.) Still, markets seem never to flinch at supplying consumer demands, even when particular (and particularly talented) managerial leaders leave the scene.