McDonald’s announced on Wednesday that Steve Easterbrook, its senior executive brand president and chief brand officer, is replacing Don Thompson as chief executive of the ailing fast food chain.
Easterbrook is McDonald’s first British CEO. (But not the first non-American CEO — that was Charlie Bell of Australia.) Easterbrook grew up in Watford, UK.
In one important way, Easterbrook brings McDonald’s something it really needs right now: Someone who knows McDonald’s inside out but who also has experience of fast-growing, trendy, fast-food brands that offer something more special and upmarket than McD’s traditional fare: Easterbrook was briefly the CEO of both Pizza Express and Wagamama, where he grew both brands.
Providing nothing goes terribly in the first year of his tenure at the top of the company, he will surely be considered for a place in one of the future Queen’s Honours lists.
Here’s everything we know about him:
Easterbrook, 47, attended Watford Boys Grammar School in North London. He continues to support Watford FC.
Even at a young age, he was a McDonald’s fan, telling The Guardian in 2008: “Me and my mate used to go across the park, jump on the Met line to get the tube into Harrow. There was a sports shop we always used to go into, and there was a McDonald’s. We used to go off with three or four quid in our pocket. That would cover our train fare, mooching around Harrow, and going to McDonald’s. It was the first time I had shakes and fries.”
He then studied natural sciences at Durham University, UK. After graduating he went on to work for professional services firm PricewaterhouseCoopers as an accountant.
In 1993 he joined McDonald’s as a financial reporting manager in London. He spent 18 months at “Hamburger University,” McDonald’s corporate training academy near Chicago.
He worked in various operational and finance roles before being promoted to vice-president for the UK’s southern region in 2001.
In 2006 became the boss of the McDonald’s UK, overseeing more than 1,200 outlets and an estimated £35 million marketing budget. During his time there he was credited with turning around the business in the region, by introducing a sharp focus on employee training, adding healthy options to the menu and implementing a major restaurant redesign.
We asked Richard Robinson, managing partner of UK management consultancy Oystercatchers, and former head of adult and family marketing at McDonald’s between 2004 and 2006, what he thought of his former boss:
“Steve’s an outstanding leader, man-manager and all round good guy. He’s passionate about both the McDonald’s customer and the McDonald’s Crew that serve them. He leads from the front counter: This may sound corny but Steve knows every inch of how the restaurant works, having come up through the ranks. Above all, he’s someone we can all trust to always do the right thing. ‘I’m lovin’ it.”
In 2010 Easterbrook was promoted to become president of McDonald’s Europe, responsible for 7,000 restaurants across 39 countries. He had originally been given the newly created role of global chief brand officer, but McDonald’s U-turned on the decision after just two months and instead moved Easterbrook back to London to look after its European business.
Industry observers guessed at the time that it was this backtracking that led Easterbrook to leave the company in 2011 to become chief executive of UK restaurant chain Pizza Express. There he was charged with growing its number of outlets from around 400 to 600.
However, his tenure at the pizza restaurant was short and he left to become the boss of noodle chain Wagamama 2012. At the time it operated 84 restaurants globally. It now has about 140.
Easterbrook returned to McDonald’s 2013, taking up the global chief brand officer role permanently at the company’s HQ in Illinois. Most recently on the marketing front, McDonald’s launched a major global advertising campaign, described as a “brand transformation.” Here’s the the TV ad:
Elsewhere, under Easterbrook’s watch, McDonald’s has been experimenting with more upmarket restaurants in Australia and it has made dramatic changes to its menu in the US as the company looks to arrest a long-term decline in sales.
Beyond his brief 2-year break, Easterbrook has been a McDonald’s man since 1993, and the chain is counting on his knowledge of the firm and his marketing skills that helped propel the brand forward in the UK and Europe to turn around a tough period for the company. He has a mammoth task ahead of him as the chart below, showing McDonald’s same store sales in the US under previous CEO Don Thompson’s tenure, demonstrates:
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