George Cohon, a practicing lawyer from Chicago, moved to Toronto in 1967 as the Licensee of McDonald’s Corporation for Eastern Canada. He expanded the McDonald’s business in this part of the country at a very rapid pace through the years 1968, ’69 and ’70. George was one of McDonald’s Corporation’s largest licensees in July 1971, at which time McDonald’s Corporation acquired his license agreement. George continued to lead the brand, however, as Chairman, President and Chief Executive Officer when McDonald’s Restaurants of Canada was formed in 1971, a position he held for 25 years
Mr. Cohon spearheaded the opening of McDonald’s in the former Soviet Union. Negotiations began in 1976, culminating in the opening in 1990 of the first Moscow McDonald’s restaurant.
McDonald’s Restaurants in Canada today includes over 1,375 restaurants, sales of over $2.55 billion per year and employs over 77,000 people. Today there are 152 McDonald’s restaurants in Russia, 18,000 employees in the Russian Company serving 600,000 customers each day. Moscow’s Pushkin Square site still ranks as the world’s busiest McDonald’s.
A part of what has made McDonald’s so successful in Canada is grass roots marketing. While the notion of grass roots marketing has only come onto the radars of companies in recent times, it has been a part of McDonald’s DNA in Canada from its earliest days. Whether it’s through on-site birthday parties (a highly successful community program), innovative use of local radio, and sponsorships of local kids’ teams, local community initiatives have driven the brand’s success.
Mr. Cohon is the founding patron of Ronald McDonald Houses in Canada and Russia. These help children in need, and Ronald McDonald, as a brand icon, is constantly advocating for children through self-esteem and active lifestyle programs. He also created McHappy Day in Canada, which has since evolved into World Children’s Day. His autobiography, To Russia with Fries, was published in 1997.
Mr. Cohon was appointed an Officer of the Order of Canada in 1992. He has received the Order of Ontario for his charitable endeavors. He was awarded Russia’s Order of Friendship (one of Russia’s highest public service award) from Russian President Boris Yeltsin. He has received the Israel Prime Minister’s Medal (Israel’s highest public service award).
Today, George maintains the role of “Founder” McDonald’s Restaurants of Canada and Russia.