Three years ago, Steve Easterbrook ran out of patience. Before flying home to Chicago for the Christmas holidays, he stopped in Madrid to meet with Spanish executives from McDonald’s. In a conference room at the company’s local office off the A6 highway, the mood soured as managers lamented heavy losses on the evenings when FC Barcelona and Real Madrid C.F. competed. Diners were staying home and ordering from archrival Burger King for delivery—a service McDonald’s didn’t offer.
Conceding to Burger King in any circumstance is an indignity, but losing hundreds of thousands of customers to the enemy’s modernized tactics during one of Spain’s most important weekly fixtures was the final straw. It represented everything that was defective at the business Easterbrook had been running for 22 months—McDonald’s Corp. was just too analog. A week before he was named chief executive officer, the company announced it had suffered one of its worst years in decades as dejected U.S. customers abandoned the brand for Chipotle burritos and Chick-fil-A sandwiches. In the U.K. hundreds of artisanal burger competitors had appeared seemingly overnight on the food-delivery mobile app Deliveroo, which indulged the couch potato demographic with an unprecedented ease of access that felled the appeal of McDonald’s drive-thrus. The time had come to address a weakness that stretched far beyond the company’s Iberian territories.