McDonald's Chief Executive Don Thompson Departs

Chief Brand Officer Easterbrook Takes Helm As Chain Seeks Turnaround

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Don Thompson
Don Thompson

McDonald's top executive Don Thompson is out at McDonald's.

Mr. Thompson will leave his post effective March 1 and will be replaced by McDonald's veteran Steve Easterbrook, currently chief brand officer.

The move comes as McDonald's makes sweeping changes to turn around its ailing business.

Mr. Thompson's departure is the latest in a series of senior executive changes in the 18 months at the fast feeder. Deborah Wahl, U.S. CMO, replaced Neil Golden early in 2014. Mike Andres was named U.S. president last year after Jeff Stratton departed the chain. The company also recruited Atif Rafiq to be McDonald's chief digital officer, a newly created role to guide the company's digital strategy. Marlena Peleo-Lazar, chief creative officer, left last year and has not been replaced.

Mr. Thompson's departure follows a round of layoffs earlier this month at the company's headquarters that resulted in the loss of 63 jobs, part of an effort to cut costs by $100 million. Some executives familiar with the matter said that the chain has been conducting layoffs in departments including marketing, but the company did not respond to a request for comment.

"Steve is a strong and experienced executive who successfully led our U.K. and European business units and the board is confident that he can effectively lead the company to improved financial and operational performance," said Andrew McKenna, McDonald's non-executive chairman.

Steve Easterbrook
Steve Easterbrook

Mr. Thompson is a longtime Golden Arches exec who joined the company in 1990 and rose through the ranks. In 2006 he was named president of the company's U.S. operations and in 2010 was tapped as president of the corporation. That made him No. 2 to then-top exec Jim Skinner. Mr. Skinner stepped down in 2012 and Mr. Thompson added the CEO title to his duties.

Just last week Mr. Thompson during the company's earnings call said that 2015 would be a year of "regaining momentum." For 2014, global same-store sales decreased 1.0% and in the fourth quarter and U.S. same-store sales fell 1.7%. McDonald's hasn't had a positive sales quarter in the U.S. since third quarter 2013, when it posted a 0.7% bump

The move comes as McDonald's is in the midst of a marketing refresh in the U.S. that includes a spot in Sunday's Super Bowl.

Mr. Easterbrook is currently senior exec VP-chief brand officer. In that role, he has been leading McDonald's efforts to elevate its marketing, advance menu innovation, and create an infrastructure for its digital initiatives, according to a statement.

Mr. Easterbrook was actually returning to that role. He rejoined McDonald's in April 2013 after stints as CEO at Japanese noodle restaurant chain Wagamama and as CEO of U.K. chain Pizza Express. When he left McDonald's in September 2011, he was president of McDonald's Europe, a post he was elevated to after only three months as global chief brand officer.

Mr. Thompson said in a statement: "It's tough to say goodbye to the McFamily, but there is a time and season for everything. I am truly confident as I pass the reins over to Steve, that he will continue to move our business and brand forward."

Other executive changes announced Wednesday include, Pete Bensen, senior exec VP-chief financial officer shifted to the newly created role of chief administrative officer. Kevin Ozan, who currently serves as senior VP-corporate controller, moves to exec VP-CFO.

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