Insiders reveal how former McDonald’s CEO Steve Easterbrook went from the chain’s savior to its worst nightmare as sex-scandal accusations threaten to envelop the fast-food giant

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Denise Paleothodoros never expected Steve Easterbrook to drag her into a sex scandal.

Paleothodoros met the McDonald’s executive while working on the company’s account for the Chicago-based public-relations firm Golin at the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia. When things moved from professional to a friendly flirtation over several months, she says, they both reported the relationship to their higher-ups. She was taken off the McDonald’s account, and the pair began dating.

There were a few perks of dating a fast-food millionaire — the couple took three trips on the McDonald’s private jet — but Paleothodoros, who talked to Business Insider in a recent interview, said the relationship was mostly “very, very normal.” Both had children and had recently gone through divorces. The couple spent weeknights cooking together. Easterbrook always cleaned up, Paleothodoros said. They never drank at home if they had work the next day. On weekends, they would spend time with their families or check out new restaurants around Chicago. Her friends were “always impressed by how he was so humble,” Paleothodoros said.

“He was a true gentleman, very caring and loving, at times protective and also vulnerable,” she added.

But when Easterbrook was named McDonald’s CEO in 2015, and  his success in that role grew, Paleothodoros said he began to change.

Instead of quiet nights in, he began spending more time socializing with a group of men within the company’s massive network of employees, franchisees, and suppliers. A former McDonald’s employee told Business Insider that Easterbrook and his friends were known to frequent the so-called Viagra Triangle, a Chicago neighborhood filled with bars where older wealthy men go to pick up younger women. Paleothodoros said she was not included in their outings. She felt Easterbrook wanted to give the appearance he was single on these nights.

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The trust just eroded.

“The trust just eroded. It’s just kind of as simple as that,” Paleothodoros said of the couple’s April 2018 breakup. “The actions say it all.”

As his relationship eroded, Easterbrook was experiencing unprecedented professional success. When he became CEO, Easterbrook promised to transform McDonald’s from a “Super Size Me”-era villain to a “modern, progressive burger company” — his oft-repeated sound bite. With Easterbrook at the helm, McDonald’s rolled out all-day breakfast, acquired two tech companies, and moved headquarters. Shares doubled in value. In exchange, the CEO made more than $21 million in 2018.

Then, he was fired.

A McDonald’s investigation found that Easterbrook and an employee had an inappropriate — though not physical — relationship. The company terminated Easterbrook in November 2019, saying the relationship indicated a lack of judgment. Nine months later, McDonald’s sued Easterbrook to claw back his severance package, estimated to be worth up to $57 million, alleging in an August lawsuit that the ex-CEO covered up sexual relationships with three additional McDonald’s employees.

Business Insider spoke with more than half a dozen current and former McDonald’s corporate employees, franchisees, and other insiders to understand how Easterbrook went from McDonald’s golden boy to a …read more

Source:: Business Insider


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