McDonald’s CEO steps down as the world’s biggest hamburger chain battles ‘hip’ chains

McDonald’s CEO Don Thompson is stepping down from the world’s biggest hamburger chain as it fights to hold onto customers and transform its image.

Thompson is one of a handful of black Fortune 500 CEOs and has worked at McDonalds for nearly 25 years.

The company said Thompson, 51, who has been CEO for two-and-a-half years, will be replaced by 47-year-old chief brand officer Steve Easterbrook on March 1.

Previously, Easterbrook served as president of McDonald’s Europe and led efforts related to marketing and menus.

Shares in the world’s biggest fast-food chain, which have been underperforming major markets and several peers, jumped 3.2 percent in extended trading following the news.

McDonald’s Corp., which has more than 35,000 locations around the world, has been struggling amid intensifying competition and changing attitudes to food.

Earlier this month, the company reported falling earnings and sales and said it was making major changes this year to bring back customers and save money.

It said it would slow down new restaurant openings in some markets. It’s also making menu changes.

Among the challenges British-born Easterbrook will inherit as the chief executive are: the image that fast-food is junk food; the growing number of convenience stores selling cheap, ready-to-eat food and the surging popularity of companies selling higher-quality food, such as Chipotle.

But the following September, McDonald’s reported a decline in same-store sales as it fought to hold on to customers with changing tastes and amid external pressures ranging political and economic turmoil in Europe to food safety scares in China.

‘I don’t think it was too much of a surprise. Maybe in the timing but not the action,’ Sanford Bernstein analyst Sara Senatore said. ‘This has been something that people have been talking about for a while.’

In his role as chief brand officer, Easterbrook led McDonald’s digital initiatives and efforts to boost menu innovation, according to a statement from the company. Industry watchers also said his track record includes turning around the company’s business in the United Kingdom.

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