I was struck by what just happened to McDonald’s (now-ex) CEO Steve Easterbrook:
Steve Easterbrook has been fired as chief executive of McDonald’s, the fast-food chain announced on Sunday [November 3, 2019], after he engaged in a consensual relationship with an employee that violated company policy.
In a statement announcing the firing, McDonald’s said the company’s board had determined that Mr. Easterbrook had “demonstrated poor judgment.”
Mr. Easterbrook, who became the chief executive in March 2015, wrote an email to employees acknowledging the violation. “This was a mistake,” he wrote. “Given the values of the company, I agree with the board that it is time for me to move on.”
The board met on Friday and voted to fire Mr. Easterbrook after an investigation of his relationship with the employee, the company said.
The “error in judgment” is one that ought to be obvious to any senior executive who has risen through the ranks of corporate America. An intimate relationship with a subordinate employee — even one who doesn’t directly report to you — can have several untoward consequences:
The CEO might favor the subordinate over other employees, thus conferring advantages on the subordinate that work against the interests of other employees. Other employees would therefore have grounds for discrimination complaints, leading to costly litigation and harm to the company’s reputation.
Even if the CEO doesn’t favor the subordinate over other employees, the perception of such favoritism could have the same consequences: costly litigation and harm to the company’s reputation.
In either case, if the relationship ends on a sour note (or even if it doesn’t), the subordinate might claim that he or she was coerced into the relationship. The truth or falsity of the claim wouldn’t preclude costly litigation and harm to the company’s reputation.
Many employees would (rightly) view the relationship as indicative of improper management. One result would be a lowering of morale. Another result would be the loss of valued employees who don’t wish to work in a company where “sleeping up” might be acceptable and expected behavior.
In sum, the board of McDonald’s acted responsibly when it fired Easterbrook.
Some might believe that the board cowered cravenly to the Me Too movement. Me Too (like environmentalism and “warmism”) has become extreme (e.g., accusations are taken as proof, all advances seem to be unwelcome ones), but the underlying principle is correct: Persons in high places (women included) shouldn’t be allowed to coerce employees (even subtly) into sexual relationships. Moreover, persons in high places shouldn’t allow themselves to be enticed into such relationships (for the reasons given above).
By firing Easterbrook, the board of McDonald’s acted on principle and acted in the company’s best interest.
It wasn’t always thus, as I can attest.