McDonald’s Corp. said it had fired Chief Executive Steve Easterbrook because of his consensual relationship with an employee, injecting upheaval into a company struggling to rejuvenate sales at its U.S. restaurants.
The burger giant said Sunday that its board voted Friday to terminate Mr. Easterbrook after investigating his relationship with the unnamed employee. Mr. Easterbrook resigned from McDonald’s board as well. He said in an email to McDonald’s employees on Sunday that he had violated company policy on personal conduct.
“This was a mistake,” Mr. Easterbrook said in the email. “Given the values of the company, I agree with the board that it is time for me to move on.”
The company wouldn’t provide more details on the relationship. McDonald’s said Mr. Easterbrook would be replaced immediately by USA President Chris Kempczinski, 51.
Mr. Easterbrook, 52 years old, has been chief executive since March 2015. During his tenure, the company’s shares nearly doubled in value but traffic to U.S. restaurants continues to stagnate. McDonald’s is reckoning with challenges reverberating throughout the food industry from meat producers to supermarkets as consumers switch to products that they see as more healthful and big companies sacrifice profit for technological upgrades and delivery.
McDonald’s has invested in updating its sandwiches and renovating its restaurants to keep up with those changes, but paid a price in profits. And U.S. franchisees have balked at mandated investments in digital-ordering kiosks and new menu items like fresh-beef burgers. Franchisees started an independent association last year to push back against some of Mr. Easterbrook’s changes.