Image: Mike Roberts
AFP - Getty Images file
Fast food giant McDonald's president Mike Roberts, 55, unexpectedly resigned and the company is offering no explantions.
updated 8/23/2006 9:42:22 PM ET 2006-08-24T01:42:22

McDonald’s Corp. on Wednesday announced the unexpected resignation of Mike Roberts, the fast-food chain’s No. 2 executive, as president and chief operating officer.

No reason was cited in the late afternoon announcement by CEO Jim Skinner. A company spokesman did not immediately return phone calls seeking comment.

The company said Ralph Alvarez, president of McDonald’s USA, will succeed Roberts. Alvarez will in turn be replaced by Don Thompson, currently executive vice president and chief operations officer of the U.S. business.

Roberts was widely seen as the likeliest candidate to someday succeed Skinner in the top post of the Oak Brook, Ill.-based company. After overseeing the revitalization of the U.S. business, he was promoted to the president’s job in November 2004 when Skinner was named to replace the cancer-stricken Charlie Bell as chief executive. Bell died eight weeks later.

McDonald’s has continued to increase sales solidly since then, although growth has recently tapered off slightly as the company came up against tougher comparisons with its impressive recent results.

“We all owe Mike a tremendous debt of gratitude,” Skinner said in a prepared statement. “Because of his leadership, our system is stronger and more aligned than ever.”

Roberts — a 29-year veteran of McDonald’s whose age was listed as 55 in February in the company’s annual report — said in comments released by the company that he was honored to have served McDonald’s and thanked owner-operators, suppliers and employees.

“As I think back over the years, I’m fortunate to have been part of so many defining moments — most recently our renaissance, which began in the U.S. in 2002 and is now occurring all around the world,” he said.

Moving ahead
The Chicago native began his career with the company as a regional purchasing manager in 1977 and moved up through a variety of positions in the United States, including president of McDonald’s West division and president of McDonald’s USA.

He survived unprecedented struggles in that business and remained in charge until new products and a new strategy spearheaded by then-CEO Jim Cantalupo helped turn its fortunes around. Bell then promoted Roberts to chief executive of the U.S. unit, the company’s biggest, in July 2004 “in recognition of the revitalization of the U.S. business.”

Richard Adams, a former McDonald’s executive and now a consultant for McDonald’s franchisees, said he suspects the ambitious Roberts had threatened to leave the company if he wasn’t given a bigger role and had the strategy backfire on him. He said he doubted McDonald’s would have pressured him to quit, with the business doing well.

“Unless there’s some extraordinary event it’s a real negative for them to lose their No. 2 man, if you just want to look at their image on Wall Street,” he said. “At this point in time when they’ve been enjoying success for the last 40 months, to just up and fire the top guy would really be a negative for the company.”

Waiting for the closing bell
The announcement was made more than two hours after the close of regular trading. In normal-hours activity, McDonald’s shares are up 5.5 percent this year and 21 percent since Skinner and Roberts took over the top two spots on Nov. 22, 2004.

Alvarez, 51, has spent the past 12 years with the company and most recently has led the continued momentum of the U.S. business, which has posted 40 straight months of positive same-store sales.

“I have tremendous confidence in Ralph’s ability and look forward to working closely with him as we continue to evolve the business through our unwavering focus on our Plan to Win,” Skinner said. “Ralph has an exemplary track record in both our domestic and international businesses. He is a tremendous leader and team player.”

Before taking his current position as president of McDonald’s North America, where he is responsible for 15,000 restaurants in the U.S. and Canada, Alvarez served as President of McDonald’s USA. He previously was chief operations officer of McDonald’s USA, president of the unit’s Central division and president of McDonald’s Mexico.

Copyright 2006 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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