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Robert Gibbs to leave McDonald’s

The chain’s chief communications officer is reportedly leaving the company amid continued restructuring.
Photograph courtesy of McDonald's Corp.

Robert Gibbs, the former White House press secretary who came to McDonald’s in 2015 as part of an overhaul of the company’s executive team, is leaving the company this month, CEO Steve Easterbrook told employees late last week.

Gibbs’ responsibilities as McDonald’s chief communications officer will be divided among two existing executives, Michael Gonda, vice president of global communications, and David Tovar, vice president of U.S. communications.

“With a rich and fruitful tenure at McDonald’s, and with a team of highly talented communicators in place, Robert has decided this is the right time to pursue new challenges and opportunities,” Easterbrook said in a memo sent Friday and shared with Restaurant Business.

Gibbs leaves later this month.

PR Week and the Holmes Report were first to report Gibbs’ departure.

The moves comes amid significant changes in the company’s communications department.

It follows the March departure of Jano Cabrera, who was hired in 2015 to be McDonald’s senior vice president of corporate relations.

Gibbs’ exit also comes amid other changes in the C-suite of the Chicago-based burger giant, including the departures of some executives who arrived shortly after Easterbrook was named CEO in 2015.

Silvia Lagnado, McDonald’s global chief marketing officer, is also leaving the company. Like Gibbs, Lagnado was a company outsider, hired from Bacardi to give what had been an insular company a fresh perspective.

Gibbs’ hiring raised eyebrows because of his background: He had been the White House press secretary under former President Barack Obama.

McDonald’s at the time was fending off an effort by the administration to label franchise brands “joint employers” of the workers at franchisee-owned restaurants.

His hiring also came as the company faced growing pressure from labor activists to raise wages, notably the Fight for $15 movement.

Gibbs was viewed as a strong voice inside the company, which has sought to improve its image among consumers.

It has worked to improve the sustainability of its product sources, for instance, and did things such as end the use of foam cups. It also made the notable decision earlier this year to stop lobbying against minimum wage increases.

Easterbrook in his memo credited Gibbs for globalizing the company’s corporate relations function “to focus on bringing fun and excitement to our customers … while simultaneously safeguarding our reputation against the myriad issues a major organization like ours will encounter.”

UPDATE: This story has been updated with additional information and to clarify when Gibbs is expected to leave the company.

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