McD’s Thompson to relinquish CEO’s post to CBO Easterbrook

After a beleaguered run that included some of the worst quarters in McDonald’s history, Don Thompson is surrendering the president and CEO’s posts at the fast-food giant to Steve Easterbrook, currently chief brand officer.

As part of the shuffle, CFO Pete Benson will be promoted to the newly created position of chief administrative officer, with responsibilities for the franchisor’s restaurant-support services. He will report to Easterbrook.

The retirement of Thompson and the ascension of Easterbrook and Benson will take place on March 1, the company’s board of directors announced today after the financial markets had closed. Easterbrook also currently holds the post of executive senior vice president, as does Benson.

“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 improve financial and operational performance,” McDonald’s chairman Andrew McKenna said of the new CEO.

The pending change marks the end of a tumultuous reign for Thompson, an electrical engineer who was hired by McDonald’s in 1990 to design new kitchen equipment and move the chain away from batch cooking. One of the most expensive retrofits in foodservice history, the Made for You initiative was intended to improve McDonald’s food by shortening the time between when an item was cooked and when it was served.

Ironically, the new set-up was adopted because many customers were asking that their sandwiches be made to order, a request that guaranteed their burgers would be cooked and assembled fresh, just for them. Part of Thompson’s potential legacy will be a move by the chain to customize orders as a standard procedure.

Thompson moved up through the ranks, becoming president of McDonald’s USA and the chain’s Canadian division in 2006 and COO of the whole chain a year later. He succeeded the retiring Jim Skinner as CEO in 2012, when the chain reigned as one of the industry’s top performers as well as its largest player in terms of sales.

McDonald’s has been on a downward slide since then, culminating in a several quarters of declining same-store sales and a 7 percent fall in sales for the fourth quarter of 2014.

Thompson had pushed the chain to localize its menu to make the concept more relevant to today’s consumers, and was streamlining the menu to speed service and simplify operations. His most ambitious undertaking was adopting a fast-casual-like service system, whereby customers could place highly customized orders via a kiosk and have the freshly made burger brought to their tables.

Those efforts had yet to show results.

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