Business

Steve Easterbrook's new McJob

Steve Easterbrook Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Steve Easterbrook tried to redefine the McJob. Now he's got to redefine the whole company

Steve Easterbrook comes to the helm of McDonald's as its first British-born boss - but also with a reputation for doing things differently.

The former Watford Grammar School boy is seen as the man who revitalised the group's UK business.

And McDonald's needs a turnaround specialist as it struggles with its image, assailed by meat scandals in Asia, low-wage protests, legal cases over racism and tough fast food competition and falling profits.

Easterbrook confronted the UK operation's somewhat battered reputation head-on back in 2006, even launching a petition to change the dictionary definition of the term McJob as a dead-end job.

The definition has not changed, even though a McDonald's survey claimed most people now feel it is unfair.

Fierce debate

He took on Eric Schlosser, author of the bestselling Fast Food Nation, in a fierce debate on the BBC's Newsnight, and then set up a website to answer questions ranging from working conditions to animal welfare, as well as more curious enquiries such as "is there any pork in your gherkins?"

At the time he told journalists: "We wanted to send a signal of a step change in the way that we were going to be seen as a business. We were a faceless business, we were seen as being difficult to get to, and introspective."

He took a canny approach to the criticism over the firm's environmental conduct, by campaigning for the Prince's Rainforest Project.

McDonald's was also one of the companies involved in the Amazon Soy Moratorium, banning soy grown on cleared forestland in the Brazilian Amazon.

Within 10 months of taking over the UK business he was made president of McDonald's Northern Europe.

Surprise change

Then in 2011, to everyone's surprise, he left the group and went for a brief spell as chief executive of Pizza Express and then to the Japanese-inspired restaurant chain Wagamama, before coming back to McDonald's as its chief brand and strategy officer in 2013.

He is married with three children and lives in Illinois in the US, and on his Twitter profile describes himself as a Brit, a father and a fan of Watford Football Club.

Apart from those 18 months away, he's a fully paid-up member of what is sometimes called the "McFamily".

He joined the UK finance department of McDonald's back in 1993, after reading natural sciences at Durham University and training as an accountant at PricewaterhouseCooper (PwC).

He has worked at the sharp end (running restaurants), done the education (18 months at the company's own Hamburger University near Chicago) and worked his way through senior management.

So he has credibility within the "McFamily".

But while he has an accountancy training, his talent lies in branding and marketing. That is why he's been chosen for the top job at a company whose image is under fire more than ever.

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