THE FORMER head of McDonald’s in the UK has become the first Briton to be appointed president and chief executive of the US fast food giant.
Steve Easterbrook will replace Don Thompson, who has headed the company for about two and a half years.
Mr Easterbrook, who was credited with boosting sales for the chain in Britain when he became UK chief executive in 2006, is currently the firm’s chief brand officer and a senior executive vice-president.
His appointment comes as the world’s biggest burger chain faces slumping sales in the US, faced with intense competition and changing consumer tastes.
Earlier this month it reported falling earnings and sales for its fourth quarter, and said it was going to take action this year to save money and bring back customers.
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This includes slowing down new restaurant openings in some markets. It is also making menu changes.
With Mr Easterbrook’s promotion, McDonald’s is continuing its tradition of promoting from within, said Darren Tristano, a restaurant industry analyst with Technomic.
That could be a drawback for a firm that is struggling to keep up with a rapidly changing industry.
“Sometimes, you need fresh perspective,” he said, adding that the competition has been “evolving faster than McDonald’s products have been”.
Despite the pressures McDonald’s faces, Mr Thompson’s departure was something of a surprise considering the numerous revitalisation efforts which the company recently announced, said Richard Adams, a consultant for McDonald’s franchisees.
And he noted that the CEO change leaves open the question of whether McDonald’s will shift course on those initiatives.
Mr Thompson will retire on 1 March after nearly 25 years with the Oak Brook, Illinois-based company.
Watford-born Mr Easterbrook was in charge of efforts related to marketing and menus for the firm in the UK between 2006 and 2011.
He has spent 20 years climbing his way up the ladder at McDonald’s, from financial manager to senior executive vice-president, before his final promotion to chief executive.
After studying natural sciences at Durham University, he went on to work for Price Waterhouse before joining McDonald’s in 1993 as a financial reporting manager in London.
He was later appointed senior vice-president and division president in northern Europe, in charge of 1,800 restaurants.
In 2010 he became president of McDonald’s Europe, covering 7,000 outlets in 39 countries.
He left the company in 2011 to become chief executive of UK-based chain Pizza Express and later Wagamamas, before returning to the burger chain in 2013. He is now based at the Illinois headquarters.
While he is the first Briton to lead the company, he is not the first senior executive from outside the US – former CEO Charlie Bell was from Australia.
Mr Easterbrook, who attended Watford Boys Grammar School, describes himself on his Twitter profile as a father and a fan of Watford FC.