Behind the scenes of Mike Roberts' departure

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Mike Roberts' sudden exit as McDonald's Corp.'s No. 2 executive last month shocked executives in and around the company. But even more stunning-and a valuable cautionary tale-is the story of how Mr. Roberts appears to have done himself in.

The ambitious executive was widely considered the heir apparent for the top job, and approached Andrew McKenna, McDonald's nonexecutive chairman of the board, asking for clarity over the succession timeline for his ascension, said executives close to the situation. Mr. Roberts also appealed for consideration of his vision for the company's future strategy and direction.

After Mr. McKenna replied that he couldn't provide such answers, some well-placed franchisees and suppliers, described by an executive as members of "Mike's Mafia," approached Mr. McKenna to lobby on Mr. Roberts' behalf. Their bid failed and Mr. Roberts and his personal public relations executive, Mike Donahue, resigned.

When the news of his exit was made public, Mr. Roberts was said to be in Australia dedicating a training center for his predecessor, the late Charlie Bell.

Mr. Donahue declined to comment and Mr. Roberts couldn't be reached. Mr. McKenna referred calls to McDonald's public-relations department, which said in statement: "Mike made a personal decision to leave. McDonald's and our board moved quickly to ensure a smooth, seamless management transition."

In the days following, Mr. Skinner shifted reporting lines so that Mary Dillon, the exec VP-chief marketing officer who was hired chiefly by Mr. Roberts, would report to him instead of Ralph Alvarez, Mr. Roberts' successor. In doing so, Mr. Skinner is "sending a message to the system that-make no mistake-he's the guy," said another executive familiar with the company.
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