The Farm Behind the Drive-Through

By Krisy Gashler

Michael Thompson
Photo: provided

When ordering a Sausage McMuffin at McDonald’s, most of us are thinking about wherever we need to rush after our quick breakfast. Michael Thompson ’77 is thinking about every step of the supply chain that grew the food, processed and distributed it, and made it accessible throughout the country and much of the world.

As president and CEO of Fair Oaks Farms, Thompson supplies sausage, bacon, and other meat and poultry products to grocery stores and restaurants, including McDonald’s and Walmart. Thompson took over ownership of Fair Oaks Farms in 2003, after spending 20 years managing supply chains and operations for McDonald’s.

“I had this unique background of understanding the whole process, farm to fork,” Thompson said. “I had North America and some global responsibilities in my role at McDonald’s, and being in that position, learning about suppliers, leaning about raw materials, those experiences helped me to understand the food business at the level I needed to be an entrepreneur.”

Since Thompson took over the Wisconsin-based Fair Oaks Farms, revenue has increased 200 percent and staff has tripled, from 100 to 300 people. The company has been recognized by the Department of Commerce, the American Meat Institute, the National Safety Council, and the state of Wisconsin. In 2010, Thompson was invited to participate in President Barack Obama’s White House Forum on Modernizing Government. 

One of the most rewarding aspects of Thompson’s work is being able to support his customers’ goals and objectives; for example, McDonald’s new thick-cut, hickory smoked bacon was developed at Fair Oaks Farms.

“I’m very proud of being a Cornell grad, and I believe the benefits of being a business management graduate have followed me throughout my life and my career,” Thompson said. “The leadership characteristics that you see every day on campus—that resonated with me and helped me to become the leader I am today.”