Steve Easterbrook, who used to play cricket at Durham University alongside ex-England captain Nasser Hussain, has long been viewed as one of McDonald’s star players – obtaining a captaincy of his own yesterday at the world’s biggest fast food chain.
McDonald’s new Watford-born chief executive will take on the challenging task of reviving the group’s flagging sales which have come under pressure from fierce competition and a shift towards more healthy eating.
The restaurant group’s sales slid seven per cent in the fourth quarter to $6.57bn (£4.3bn), closing one of its toughest years in decades.
But turnarounds are a familiar challenge for Easterbrook. In 2006, when he took over as UK chief executive, the company’s estate had been under performing for a number of years and was being attacked on all sides over issues ranging from obesity, its marketing to children and staff wages.
His approach was to tackle these issues head on, appearing on Newsnight just four weeks after taking the helm of the UK business to engage in a lively debate with Eric Schlosser, the fast food industry’s fiercest critic and the author of the bestselling book Fast Food Nation.
Soon after, he set up a website www.makeupyourownmind.co.uk to address people’s concerns with fast food, answering questions like “are McDonald’s eggs real eggs?” Easterbrook even tried – and failed – to change the dictionary definition of McJob as “a low-paid job with few prospects.”
In 2008, McDonald’s UK posted its best underlying sales growth in nearly two decades and after 10 months in the job, he was promoted to president for Northern
Europe. Three years later he took charge of the operations for the whole of Europe, overseeing nearly 7,000 restaurants in 39 countries.
He brought his 18-year career with McDonald’s to an unexpected end in 2011 to become chief executive of Pizza Express, which was being groomed for a float at the time.
He left 11 months later to serve as chief executive of Wagamama in 2012 before being wooed back to the burger giant in 2013, as executive vice-president and global chief brand officer, based at the group’s headquarters in Oak Brook, Illinois.
Analysts yesterday welcomed his appointment and said that the company had been slow to react to changing consumer habits under his predecessor Don Thompson’s reign.
“There a lot of optimism for what he brings to table. That being said he has got a large task ahead of him in terms of turning around the business. More needs to be done to make McDonald’s a more nimble organisation and his number one priority is driving people back into the restaurants,” RJ Hottovy, an equity strategist at data company Morningstar, said.
Well-liked by his peers, those who have worked with Easterbrook described the cricket and football enthusiast as “humble” and low-key but also “prepared to make tough decisions”.
“He is a very formidable operator and did a phenomenal job at McDonald’s UK. You could see this in not just in the turnaround of the sales performance but also in the image of the business,” one former colleague said.
Another source close to Easterbrook said: “He is a clear thinker, decisive and is very focused on the things that matter....he believes there is enormous power in simplicity and focus....Basically he is a progressive leader who believes in acting first and talking about it when it is real.”