McDonald’s Fires CEO, and People Are Lovin’ It

Thom Weidlich 11.07.19


Over the weekend McDonald’s fired its CEO and was showered with kudos for it. It was a strong response to a crisis, and the company took an interesting approach to its communications. The incident is also more evidence that we’re in a fertile period of crisis-related executive exoduses.

On Sunday, Nov. 3, the fast-food giant issued a press release announcing that Steve Easterbrook, its CEO since March 2015, “has separated from the company following the board’s determination that he violated company policy and demonstrated poor judgment involving a recent consensual relationship with an employee.”

McDonald’s was lauded on the communications front because the release was so frank about the reason for the firing. Operationally, it was applauded for taking strong action and not making excuses for why it would keep Easterbrook on despite his skirting its rules.

More CEOs are being pushed out of their jobs for ethical lapses.

— Jessica DiNapoli, Reuters

That’s especially noteworthy because he’s credited with improving the company’s performance, including pushing it forward in technology use.

Granted, McDonald’s took the standard approach of leading with the news of Easterbrook’s replacement, Chris Kempczinski, who had been president of its US operation — but, hey, the company is only human.

The release didn’t say anything about Easterbrook’s situation other than that mentioned above (not even a “thank you for your service”), and the canned quotes about and from Kempczinski were particularly ho-hum. (Easterbrook reportedly penned an email to employees in which he admitted his mistake.)

Separate Release

What was strange was that, the same day, McDonald’s put out a separate release about Kempczinski’s replacement as US head. Most companies would cover that in the same statement. Was McDonald’s trying to pull a fast one by pushing down the negative news? Both releases are also shorter than this particular species of communication typically is.

A lot of the press coverage emphasized that, especially in the wake of the #MeToo movement targeting sexual misbehavior, companies can’t afford to wink at anything that comes close to impropriety. Even with consensual situations, there are fears of favoritism or retaliation should the relationship sour.

Jessica DiNapoli of Reuters had a story with the headline “US Boards End Era of Impunity for ‘Skirt-Chasers,’ McDonald’s Firing Shows.” “More CEOs are being pushed out of their jobs for ethical lapses ranging from sexual indiscretions to fraud than in the past,” she wrote, citing a PricewaterhouseCoopers study.

Related:Three’s a Trend: CEOs of Major Brands Exit

Indeed, in September, we pointed out that there seems to be a trend of CEOs leaving companies, including Juul, WeWork, and eBay, for crisis-related reasons. Other leaders have left since then and for equally difficult causes, including at Under Armour and Marathon Petroleum.

On Monday, McDonald’s Chief People Officer David Fairhurst also left the company. It’s unclear whether the move was connected to Easterbrook’s departure.

Photo Credit: McDonald’s

This is an abridged version of an article that appeared today on the CrisisResponsePro paid subscription portal. (CrisisResponsePro subscribers can access the full version by clicking here. ID and password are required.) To take advantage of all of the content, data, and collaborative resources CrisisResponsePro has to offer, contact us at