Mr. Roberts' decision to resign sets off a cascade of succession moves at a fast-feeder that's been wracked by several management shake-ups in recent years following the unexpected deaths of former CEOs Jim Cantalupo and Charlie Bell in 2004 and 2005.
McDonald's has been mum on its succession plans, despite questions that have lingered following the deaths of Messrs. Cantalupo and Bell. Since then, the company has installed new management in nearly every major market around the world. In the new alignment, Don Thompson, now exec VP-chief operations officer of McDonald's USA, becomes president, McDonald's USA.
Mr. Roberts had been putting pressure on the board to clarify senior-management roles in the succession plan, according to several executives close to the marketer. But Vice Chairman-CEO Jim Skinner had become increasingly comfortable in his role. He even suggested to franchisees at its worldwide convention that he might stick around, according to one attendee.
McDonald's declined to comment on the matter.
The issue had come to enough of a boil that a recent board-meeting agenda was scrapped to instead concentrate on clarifying senior-management roles at McDonald's. Succession was hotly debated at another board meeting earlier this month, according to another executive. Board members contacted declined to comment.
Declining same-store sales
The shake-up comes at a time when the Golden Arches' same-store sales have decelerated to their lowest point in three years. July comparable sales grew at 1.9%, compared to 4.9% the same period a year ago.
Mr. Roberts joined McDonald's in 1977 as a regional purchasing manager. He rose through the ranks over time, becoming president of the West division before being named CEO of McDonald's USA.
Mr. Alvarez has held several high-ranking posts at McDonald's, including president-chief operating officer of McDonald's USA and president of McDonald's Mexico.