Food & Drinks

McDonald’s Hires Hilton Exec As New Communication And Policy Head After Year Of C-Suite Unrest

The McDonald’s Corporation announced on Thursday that Katie Beirne Fallon would assume the position of the company’s chief global impact officer, a new role that will report directly to president and CEO Chris Kempczinski. The position marries several roles for the fast food giant, creating a unified face for the company’s governmental affairs, communications, philanthropy and ESG strategy.

“At a time of great global complexity, there is an increasing expectation on companies to play a leading role,” Kempczinksi notes in the company’s official statement. “Through this new structure, we will be able to build on the strong foundations these teams have built and drive further collaboration to have an even greater impact.”

Beirne Fallon, 44, who joins McDonald’s from a similar role at Hilton, left the public sector in 2016 after a high-powered Washington career with the Democratic party. A Marshall scholar, Beirne Fallon was a longtime staffer for New York Sen. Chuck Schumer, eventually serving as his legislative director before moving on to become staff director of the Senate Democratic Policy and Communication Center. From late 2013 to early 2016, she served as director of legislative affairs for the Obama administration, before moving on to Hilton.

“Katie is an accomplished leader who embodies the values we live by every day at McDonald’s. She will bring critical insights from her experience in both the public and private sectors that will help ensure we continue to lead the way in serving our customers and stakeholders, both in our restaurants and the communities in which we operate,” Kempczinski said in the statement. 

McDonald’s is well-positioned in the coronavirus economy. Its shares have returned to their pre-March highs and are up nearly 10% this year, thanks in part to a strong string of menu rollouts, like the limited time Travis Scott meal deal. That said, Beirne Fallon will face some challenges right off the bat — namely, a $1 billion discrimination lawsuit filed by dozens of Black ex-franchise owners, and a contentious reinvention of the company’s leadership team. 

The company’s leadership has largely stabilized under Kempczinski, who took the reins last November after former CEO Steve Easterbrook was fired for having a consensual relationship with a subordinate. Easterbrook’s departure has grown increasingly acrimonious in the months since: In January, Kempczinksi promised to clean up the company’s corporate party culture, and in August, new allegations emerged that Easterbrook had multiple other relationships and may’ve covered for coworkers who did the same. The company has filed a lawsuit against Easterbrook to claw back $42 million of his severance package. Easterbrook has responded, calling the charges “meritless” and “misleading.” Several other executives left around the time of Easterbrook’s departure, including McDonald’s chief marketing, people and communications officers.

Beirne Fallon’s appointment to the inner circle makes her the second outsider appointed to a key position in the company in the past year. In March, Boeing executive Heidi Capozzi joined the company as chief people officer. The CMO role was filled by Morgan Flatley, an internal hire. 

At Hilton, Beirne Fallon worked as the company’s top communicator and led the highly-produced “The Hilton Effect” public relations campaign for the company’s 100th anniversary. The campaign unrolled the hotel chain’s evolving sustainability goals and positive impact on global communities (notably, Hilton and several of its franchises are facing several racial discrimination lawsuits brought forth by Black Americans.). 

Beirne Fallon is one of several former Obama administration officials to have a found lucrative career after leaving the White House. Former Press Secretary Jay Carney has been Amazon’s chief of PR since 2015; campaign manager David Plouffe went on to Uber before taking a position at the Zuckerberg Chan Initiative; and technology officers Nicole Wong and Andrew McLaughlin had stints at Google.

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