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Top McDonald’s exec Charlie Strong is leaving the company after more than 50 years, signaling the end of an era at the fast-food giant

One of the last of McDonald’s “old guard” is leaving the company.

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  • Charlie Strong, McDonald’s US Chief Field Officer, is retiring after more than 50 years.
  • Insiders said Strong’s exit signals the end of an era at McDonald’s. 
  • Historically, McDonald’s c-suite is filled with long-time company veterans. But, that is changing.
  • Visit the Business section of Insider for more stories.

A McDonald’s top executive is retiring after more than 50 years, in a move insiders call the end of an era at the fast-food giant. 

Charlie Strong, McDonald’s US Chief Field Officer – one of the 10 top executives in the company’s US business – announced his retirement in late January, the company confirmed to Insider. 

Strong began his career at McDonald’s more than 50 years ago, starting work in a restaurant in western Massachusetts in November 1970 when he was still in college. The executive moved his way up the ranks over the course of five decades, becoming a Zone President for the company in 2014.

Three insiders who had worked with Strong and McDonald’s over the years said the executive’s exit signals the end of an era at the company. 

“Charlie reflects all the values of the old guard, and Charlie was respected by the owners,” said a source who works with McDonald’s franchisees. 

Strong is seen as a down-to-earth McDonald’s veteran within the system, according to the insiders. While there have been recent tensions between corporate and franchisees due to shifting costs, Strong has maintained a strong relationship with franchisees. 

Read more: 95% of McDonald’s franchisees vote to cut all ‘non-essential’ contact with corporate in protest over millions in new costs

“I’ve seen many changes over the years, but I’ve learned that the System is bigger than just one person,” Strong wrote in an internal memo in January announcing his retirement viewed by Insider. “We need to stay together and fight the competition, not each other.”

Strong helped build McDonald’s into a fast-food giant

Joe Erlinger, the head of the US business, wrote in a recent system-wide message that Strong’s impact on McDonald’s is near that of Ray Kroc, who built McDonald’s into a fast-food giant, and Fred Turner, who turned the chain into an international success. 

“Charlie’s System-first mindset, characteristic honesty and far-reaching wisdom will not be easily or quickly replaced. His is a legacy that will live on – in big and little ways – in our nearly 14,000 restaurants every day,” Erlinger said. “It’s not easy to put something of that magnitude into words so, for now, I’ll simply say: we’ll miss you, Charlie.”

McDonald’s CEO Chris Kempczinski posted an Instagram tribute to Strong in late January, calling his journey “the stuff of McFamily legend.” 

“His steadfast commitment, integrity and hard work over the past five decades made him a mentor and friend to so many of us across the System,” Kempczinski’s caption reads. 

A post shared by Chris Kempczinski (@chrisk_mcd)

Kempczinski is seen by many within McDonald’s as a relative newcomer. He joined the company in 2015, four years before being promoted to CEO. 

While historically McDonald’s c-suite has been filled with long-time members of the “McFamily,” Kempczinski has brought in some new blood. Heidi Capozzi started as global people officer in April, and Katie Beirne Fallon joined in the newly created position of chief global impact officer in November. 

“The transformation is almost complete,” one former franchisee said. “No true McDonald’s executives will be left in charge.” 

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