“I am taking over the job at a successful company,” Jérôme Tafani says. “You have to think hard before changing a strategy that is winning.” Few finance chiefs starting new jobs this year can expect to be so relaxed. But as Tafani settles in to the CFO post for McDonald’s  Europe, he finds the American fast-food giant’s offerings “more relevant than ever,” a rare bright spot among the gloom at most consumer-facing companies. Same-store sales in Europe grew at annual rate of 3.4% in the first two months of 2009, despite the currency devaluations in eastern Europe.

Jerome Tafani, CFO of McDonald's Europe“You have to think hard before changing a strategy that is winning.”

Accounting for around 40% of McDonald’s global sales and profits, the 6,600 restaurants across Europe have been a key source of growth and innovation, no more so than at McDonald’s France, which Tafani joined 13 years ago. Despite the common perception that France is the most hostile environment for such a symbolically American company, the business is one of the group’s most profitable. From the big renovation campaign—refitting restaurants with trendy decor—to self-ordering kiosks, McDonald’s in France has often been a test bed for initiatives later rolled out around the world. (McDonald’s European head office is also based in Paris.)

Tafani will allocate more than $1 billion in capital spending across 40 countries this year. Though the firm’s current strategy dates to before the financial crisis, the investments will go ahead nonetheless. It will also extend opening hours at many of its restaurants, pushing costs up further. “We don’t want to decrease quality or cut staff and slow down service,” Tafani insists. Though few companies struggling through the recession are in McDonald’s “position of strength,” as Tafani puts it, the firm’s commitment to its strategy may offer inspiration for CFOs, whether newcomers or veterans.

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