CHICAGO – Stephen Easterbrook is out as chief executive of McDonald’s Corp. over a consensual relationship with an employee that violated the quick-service chain’s policies. The board of directors named Chris Kempczinski, who most recently served as president of McDonald’s USA, to replace Easterbrook effective immediately.

“Kempczinski succeeds Steve Easterbrook, who 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,” the company said in a statement.

Kempczinski also was elected to the McDonald’s board of directors.

“I'm thrilled to be leading this incredible company,” he said in a statement. “Working alongside our talented team, our board, our franchisees and suppliers, I am committed to upholding our rich heritage of serving our customers and driving value for our shareholders and other stakeholders. As one of the world's leading brands, McDonald’s makes a difference in the lives of people every day. We have a responsibility not only to serve great food, but to make it responsibly and to enrich the communities in which we operate. I am energized by this challenge and look forward to guiding McDonald’s continued success.”

The company expects to file documents related to the matter with the Securities and Exchange Commission by Nov. 5. The company said the leadership transition is “unrelated to the company’s operational or financial performance.”

Easterbrook was promoted to CEO of McDonald’s in March of 2015. Before his promotion, Easterbrook was senior executive vice president and chief brand officer. He also served in leadership roles in the company’s global business including president of McDonald’s Europe.

Easterbrook was tapped to lead McDonald’s to regain relevance among consumers and reverse consecutive quarters of declining same-store sales by modernizing the fast-food chain, which had fallen behind competitors such as Taco Bell and Chipotle.

“The immediate priority for our business is restoring growth under a new organizational structure and ownership mix designed to provide greater focus on the customer, improve our operating fundamentals and drive a recommitment to running great restaurants,” Easterbrook said in 2015. “As we turn around our business, we will look to create more excitement around the brand and ensure that we build on our rich heritage of positively impacting the communities we serve.”

Significant changes started during Easterbrook’s tenure as CEO include the shift to fresh, never-frozen ground beef for Quarter Pounder sandwiches and more focus on delivery and the “Experience of the Future” which entailed revamping its restaurants with modern interior designs and technology upgrades like electronic menu boards, and digital ordering kiosks.

Chris Kempczinski, new president and CEO of McDonald’s Corp. Source: McDonald’s Corp.
Along with changes in the structure of the McDonald’s business, the company relocated its headquarters to downtown Chicago from its long-time home in Oak Brook, Illinois.

But restoring growth also meant growing pains for McDonald’s. The company experienced pushback from franchisees over menu items and restaurant upgrades. The chain also was the target of Fight for $15 protests, which sought to force McDonald’s to adopt a minimum wage of $15 for its workers.

Most recently, McDonald’s restaurants have faced charges of workplace harassment and the company has been criticized for its handling of sexual harassment complaints.

It’s now left to Kempczinski to continue the momentum of McDonald’s turnaround. Hernandez expressed that Kempczinski is up to the task.

“Chris takes the reins of this great company at a time of strong, sustained performance, and the board has every confidence that he is the best leader to set the vision and drive the plans for the company's continued success,” Enrique Hernandez Jr., chairman of McDonald’s board of directors, said in a statement. “He has the right mix of skills and experience to lead us forward having run our US business, where franchisees are delivering strong financial and operational results, and overseen global strategy, business development and innovation.”

“In particular, Chris was instrumental in the development of the company's strategic plan, which has enabled global growth and leadership, and has overseen the most comprehensive transformation of the US business in McDonald’s history,” Hernandez said.

As president of McDonald’s USA, Kempczinski was responsible for the business operations of approximately 14,000 McDonald’s restaurants in the US.

He joined McDonald’s in 2015 to oversee global strategy, business development and innovation.