Remembering a franchising pioneer

George Cohon, renowned businessman and founder of McDonald's Canada, passed away last month at age 86. He was a pioneer of the franchising system, bringing McDonald's not only to Canada but also to the Soviet Union in 1990. Today, we reflect on the life of this remarkable individual.


How George Cohon became a franchising pioneer

Originally of American descent, Cohon was a law school graduate who first learned of franchising while working at his father's law firm in Chicago. One of his firm's clients wanted to become a McDonald's franchisee, and he found his interest piqued. Shortly afterward, he acquired franchisee rights for Ontario and went on to establish a thriving enterprise.

Cohon was not only a McDonald's franchisee, but up until 1992, he was the chairman, president and CEO of McDonald's Canada. He was also a Canadian citizen after his naturalization in 1977.


Ambitious expansion plans

When Cohon first decided to expand his business into Russia, he discovered that the logistics of running a fast food franchise in the country were considerably more challenging than expected. Instead of becoming discouraged, he invested significant funds into a food processing plant, farm equipment, irrigation and transportation networks.

This enabled him to create a remarkable franchise network in Russia while modernizing Russia's food production system. McDonald's maintained a continuous presence in Russia up until 2022, when the franchise withdrew from the country in response to the country's invasion of Ukraine.


Charitable and social values

Cohon was not only a businessman; he was a man with deeply held charitable and social values. He founded the Ronald McDonald House Charities Canada, which has been instrumental in providing families of seriously ill children with local accommodations and funded travel to hospitals.

The Ronald McDonald House Charities Canada has already helped hundreds of thousands of families to be close to their children while they are receiving medical treatment away from their home provinces and will hopefully continue to do so for generations to come.

Cohon became a member of the Order of Canada in 1988 and was promoted to a companion of the Order of Canada in 2020.


A remarkable legacy

George Cohon leaves behind a franchise legacy, and his impact will be felt every time someone steps through the golden arches, buys a Happy Meal or donates to the Ronald McDonald House Charities Canada. We would like to pass on our deepest condolences to his family.