McDonald's Corp. (MCD) declined to confirm or deny a report Thursday that the succession plan it adopted last May puts vice chairman Jim Skinner in line to be interim CEO if Charlie Bell (search) is sidelined by his battle with cancer.

The fast-food company's board of directors adopted the succession plan after Bell, named chief executive April 19 after Jim Cantalupo (search) died of a heart attack, was diagnosed with colorectal cancer. But the details remain undisclosed.

Bell remains in the top job but has missed significant time because of the illness and this week skipped a gathering of worldwide McDonald's managers in his native Sydney, Australia.

The Chicago Tribune, citing unidentified senior McDonald's sources, reported that the plan calls for Skinner to be interim CEO with McDonald's USA chief executive Mike Roberts aiding him as global operations chief. Both have been widely seen as likely candidates to step in as needed to succeed Bell, who turned 44 on Sunday.

Responding to the report, McDonald's spokesman Jack Daly said the company does not respond to "speculation and gossip" about its business.

"Only our experienced and responsible board of directors knows the details of McDonald's succession plan," said Daly, senior vice president for corporate relations at the Oak Brook-based company. "They are prepared to act if and when it is necessary."

The Tribune quoted Bell as saying on Tuesday that it's premature to talk about succession.

"We've got any number of people that can step up into the CEO role if it is required," he said.

Standard & Poor's analyst Dennis Milton downplayed the succession talk.

"I don't really think it's a big deal," he said. "They've got plenty of depth. And Charlie Bell has had health problems but I don't sense that he's going anywhere any time soon."

Skinner has been with McDonald's since joining the company in 1971 as a restaurant manager trainee and is a former head of its European business. In July, as part of a management shake-up designed to support Bell, he was given oversight of McDonald's operations in Asia, the Middle East, Africa and Latin America.

McDonald's shares rose 30 cents to $30.32 on the New York Stock Exchange, a few pennies off Monday's highest closing price in 2 1/2 years.