NEW YORK • Mr Steve Easterbrook has been fired as chief executive of McDonald's, the fast-food chain has said, after he engaged in a consensual relationship with an employee that violated company policy.
In a statement announcing the firing last Sunday, McDonald's said the board of directors had determined that Mr Easterbrook "demonstrated poor judgment".
Mr Easterbrook, who became CEO in March 2015, wrote an e-mail to employees, acknowledging the violation. "This was a mistake. Given the values of the company, I agree with the board that it is time for me to move on."
The board met last Friday and voted to fire Mr Easterbrook after an investigation of his relationship with the employee, the company said. A McDonald's spokesman declined to reveal more details about the relationship or say when the board found out about it.
Mr Easterbrook, who is divorced and has three daughters, will be replaced by Mr Chris Kempczinski, who most recently served as president of McDonald's USA. A spokesman for Mr Easterbrook, Ms Desiree Moore, said he was "deeply grateful" for his time at McDonald's and "acknowledges his error in judgment".
Mr Easterbrook, 52, had been widely credited with turning around McDonald's after it posted one of its worst financial performances in years, in 2015.
A native of Watford, England, Mr Easterbrook previously ran the company's British business, and emphasised technological innovation, striking food-delivery deals with third-party apps Uber Eats and DoorDash and acquiring smaller firms that specialise in machine-learning and artificial intelligence.
Last year, Mr Easterbrook was paid more than US$15 million (S$20.4 million).
"There's no question he's been a very good CEO during his time there," said Mr Jonathan Maze, editor of trade publication Restaurant Business. "He really made that organisation a lot leaner; they make decisions a lot more quickly," Mr Maze said.
Mr Kempczinski will take over at a time when the broader fast-food industry faces significant headwinds, with Americans turning to healthier options and a tight labour market making hiring difficult.
McDonald's recently began offering new online and in-person training programmes to its employees in the US in an effort to combat workplace sexual harassment. But that step has not satisfied the company's critics.
Ms Tanya Harrell, a McDonald's worker in New Orleans, said workers had filed dozens of complaints demanding the company take action to address sexual harassment. McDonald's has ignored the demands, she said.