Ed Rensi rose from grill cook at a Columbus McDonald’s to president and CEO of McDonald’s USA in only 18 years. Along the way, he helped found the Ronald McDonald House.
“Through his professional, community, and personal contributions, Rensi has touched the lives of countless individuals while always looking for ways to effect positive change on a larger scale,” wrote nominator Cheryl Achterberg, dean of Ohio State’s College of Education and Human Ecology. “Ed Rensi has made the lives of those with whom he comes in contact better, either through his mentoring, leadership, guidance, or generosity.”
Rensi grew up in eastern Ohio, surrounded by steel mills, coal mines, and persistent poverty. His father, who had only a third-grade education, pushed him to go to college and get a steady job. He listened to his father and enrolled at Ohio State after high school in 1962, but soon found out he was not prepared for college. He got married, dropped out of school, and applied for the first job he saw, answering a “Help Wanted” sign in a McDonald’s restaurant across the street from campus.
Within a year, he had been promoted to manager; he then moved quickly up the corporate ladder. As he progressed inside the corporation, management encouraged him to enroll at Excelsior College and earn an associate degree. He finished at Excelsior in 1983 and re-enrolled shortly thereafter at Ohio State, where he received a bachelor’s degree in 1990. In between degrees, he was appointed president and CEO of McDonald’s USA.
During his 13 years as president of McDonald’s, the corporation doubled its annual sales in the United States to $16 billion, doubled the number of restaurants in this country to 12,000, and made McDonald’s the most recognized brand in the world.
While working in the Philadelphia region in the 1970s, Rensi was instrumental in developing the first Ronald McDonald House, a temporary residence for families of children with serious illnesses that has grown to include 165 houses in 12 countries. He is a member of the international advisory board for the Ronald McDonald House program and previously served as its chair.
Rensi has received numerous awards throughout his career, including the President’s Volunteer Award from Ronald Reagan in 1988 for his efforts with Ronald McDonald House Charities and Ronald McDonald Houses.
After retiring from McDonald’s, Rensi pursued his interest in auto racing, serving as chair and CEO of Rensi Motorsports and leading his own NASCAR team. In 2009, he called upon longtime friend and fellow McDonald’s legend Tom Dentice to develop restaurant chain in the Chicago area called Tom and Eddie’s.
“I am proud to recommend Ed for the Alumni Medalist Award,” wrote Dentice, also a nominator. “Ed continues to provide leadership, innovation, and motivation to the Tom and Eddie’s organization and the companies he serves on the board of directors. But more importantly, Ed continues his avocation, which is to help individuals and organizations through community service.”