A more coordinated, networked McCain marks 50 years.

More than at any time since its 1991 start near Chicago, McCain Foods USA now is closely aligned with its Canadian parent company and sister operations throughout Europe, Asia and South America.

Don’t misunderstand. It’s not as though the U.S. unit wasn’t talking to the rest of the branches. Rather, since marking its 50th anniversary last year, parent McCain Foods Ltd. – now a C$6 billion company with 20,000 employees and 57 plants on six continents – has matured.

“McCain grew up in a very decentralized fashion,” notes U.S. Chief Executive Frank van Schaayk. “[Before], it was imperative that business leaders in various parts of the globe take personal initiative and each organization was charged with growing its business in a given market.

“Today, we’re a leader in branded products and the largest global processor of frozen French fries,” he says. “There’s still room for growth in terms of geography but it also makes more sense than ever to leverage our global scale.”

Van Schaayk notes that McCain’s customers – ranging from McDonald’s to retail giants such as Tesco and Carrefour – are global enterprises as well. So, he continues, rather than focus inward on local market issues and operations, it’s time that McCain become more “customer facing” and consider more broad-reaching solutions.

Case in point. Historically an Eastern potato grower, McCain Foods Ltd. last month announced plans to build a C$150 million frozen French fry and potato specialties plant in the U.S. Pacific Northwest. Operational start-up is scheduled for late summer 2009.

“Our presence in the Pacific Northwest positions us very well for U.S. domestic and international growth,” noted global President and Chief Executive Officer Dale Morrison. “The region is ideally suited for our business with optimal potato growing conditions, an established grower community and a low-cost distribution source point for overseas markets.”

Van Schaayk notes still more behind-the-scenes changes. Namely, that McCain has embraced a new internal process of “distributed network leadership.” While global business heads have met quarterly to discuss companywide initiatives, the revitalizing approach has emerging leaders convening more regularly to discuss best practices across channels (retail, foodservice) as well as functions (including supply chain, operations, innovation, human resources and safety).

“This approach takes the best ideas and quickly distributes them around the world,” van Schaayk says. “We call it a ‘fast-adapt’ process. Although we realize that every country has its differences, these are proven best practices and we give each other an encouraging nudge. . . . Today, we represent almost a third of McCain worldwide and we have an obligation to help generate and share ideas. We also need to embrace and adapt the best ideas from outside the United States, as well.”

For the first time, too, McCain Foods has begun more actively distributing its resources. Van Schaayk notes that several U.S. business leaders now are working for other McCain businesses either in global functional roles (such as global supply chain) or in other countries such as China and Japan.