McDonald’s Corp., the world’s largest restaurant company by sales, replaced the president of its U.S. division amid falling same-store sales.
Jan Fields, once considered a potential chief executive, is leaving after spending 35 of her 57 years at McDonald’s. Jeff Stratton, 57, now global chief restaurant officer, takes responsibility for the division’s 14,000 locations from Fields on Dec. 1, the Oak Brook, Illinois-based company said today in a statement.
Fields’s abrupt departure comes as McDonald’s struggles in its home market, which generates almost a third of global revenue. Last month sales at U.S. restaurants sank 2.2 percent, driving the first monthly worldwide sales drop in nine years. Fields has tried to attract more diners as rivals step up promotions and introduce new menu items. McDonald’s hasn’t had a big hit since McCafe smoothies and frappes debuted in 2010.
Fields’s departure may be linked to Don Thompson’s ascension as CEO in July, said John Gordon, the principal at restaurant adviser Pacific Management Consulting Group in San Diego. “For a company as inbred as McDonald’s, the changeover of CEOs is a big deal.”
Given Thompson’s engineering background, he may be more involved in the details, he said. Jim Skinner, the previous McDonald’s CEO, “may have been a little more hands off.”
As McDonald’s faltered, Burger King Worldwide Inc. stepped up its game by selling its own versions of McDonald’s favorites -- smoothies, salads, snack wraps and soft-serve ice cream. The Miami-based chain has even introduced gingerbread flavored shakes and sundaes for the holidays. Yum! Brands Inc.’s Taco Bell restaurant has recently started selling Doritos Locos tacos and more expensive items under its Cantina Bell line, which are expected to help 2013 same-stores sales, Chief Financial Officer Pat Grismer said in October.
“McDonald’s is in a little bit of a new product lull,” Gordon said. “Everybody is kind of nipping at their heels.”
Fields was promoted to president of the U.S. division from operations chief in January 2010. During her tenure she called for improved food and product safety, posted calorie counts on menu boards, revamped Happy Meals for kids and tested healthier items, such as egg-white breakfast sandwiches. McDonald’s also began running ads touting the provenance of its beef and potatoes.
“Our ultimate success will require a fundamental shift in how we approach brand trust and how we incorporate these efforts in to everything we do,” Fields wrote in an e-mail to store owners last year.
Fields earned $2.15 million last year at McDonald’s, which included a base salary of about $593,000. In 2010, she also made about $2.15 million.
Stratton’s career at McDonald’s spans more than 40 years. He started as a restaurant crew member in Detroit and became president of the company’s west division in 2001. As president of McDonald’s USA, he will report to Chief Operating Officer Tim Fenton.
U.S. revenue growth has for the past two years lagged that of its international segments. In 2011, domestic revenue increased 5.1 percent, compared with 14 percent in Europe and 19 percent in Asia Pacific, the Middle East and Africa, according to data compiled by Bloomberg.
“The obvious difference between now and 12 or 15 months ago is the U.S. business is a lot less dominant,” Sara Senatore, an analyst with Sanford C. Bernstein & Co. in New York, said today in a telephone interview. “The U.S. has to work in order for McDonald’s to work because it is still the single biggest contributor to the profit pool.”
McDonald’s fell 0.7 percent to $84.05 at the close in New York. The shares have slid 16 percent this year.