Unexpected departure leaves Wall Street reassessing McDonald's succession plans

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The Independent Online

The executive ranks of McDonald's, the world's largest restaurant chain, have been flipped after its president and chief operating officer unexpectedly resigned after almost three decades at company.

The company said that Mike Roberts would be stepping down after 29 years with the hamburger chain. No explanation was given for his departure other than that it was his own decision.

His position, the No 2 in the company, will be filled by Ralph Alvarez, the head of McDonald's North American business, the company announced yesterday.

Mr Alvarez's promotion will take effect immediately, leaving analysts on Wall Street to note that it seemed he was now poised to become the company's next chief executive officer. It had been widely presumed that Mr Roberts, 55, would succeed 61-year-old Jim Skinner as chief executive when he steps down.

"We all owe Mike a tremendous debt of gratitude," Mr Skinner said in a statement. "Because of his leadership, our system is stronger and more aligned than ever." Mr Alvarez, 51, has run the company's North American restaurants since January last year, reporting to Mr Roberts while overseeing six consecutive quarters of sales growth at US stores. Mr Roberts had been credited with helping revive McDonald's sales worldwide three years ago by introducing new "Dollar Menus" and salads.

Janna Sampson, at Oakbrook Investments in Illinois, told Bloomberg News: "It is certainly possible the board has decided that Alvarez has the potential to assume the CEO role. I am surprised that Mike Roberts resigned." Mr Roberts, who announced his decision to stand down late on Wednesday night, said in an e-mail to staff that the decision to leave was "right for me, my family, my career, and the company at this time".

He has agreed that he will not work for any competitor, including Wendy's and Burger King, for at least two years. He is also prohibited from writing a book or articles or from making public disclosures about McDonald's for the next three years without permission from the chief executive.

In May, Andrew McKenna, McDonald's chairman, declined to answer a question about a possible successor to Mr Skinner. At a press conference held after the company's annual shareholder meeting, Mr McKenna said the board had worthy candidates to consider from those executives in attendance.

In the second quarter of this year McDonald's enjoyed its biggest profit increase in more than a year. Net income climbed 57 per cent to $834.1m and revenue grew 9.4 per cent to $5.57bn.