In breaking news it appears that the CEO who presided over what Fairfax described as “Australia’s Biggest Corporate PR Disaster” has been replaced. The move wasn’t up, probably not even sideways, it looks to be a demotion and a massive fall from grace.
Catriona Noble is to be replaced by the current Australian Chief Financial Officer Andrew Gregory it was reported in the Australian Financial Review. Also mentioned in the article was the fact that under her reign she “sued Tecoma protesters” (hence why Fairfax viewed Tecoma as a disaster) There were quite a few factors that created her demise and we feel that Tecoma should take some of the credit for claiming this important scalp in the fight against McDonald’s war on democracy and communities.
Whilst this post may seem full of hubris, there are a lot of things to consider when analysing this news:
Since the Tecoma issue went global this time last year, Catriona’s reign became problematic. First was the refusal to meet with our community, after six months of repeated requests. All her office would state was “although a small minority of the community are against this project we know a vast majority support it” They were hollow words and she was caught out lying when an actual survey presented to parliament and her own organisation showed that 9 out of 10 were against it. She could of stood up and led at that point but instead she counted on an assumption that we would go away….but we didn’t.
Then there was the embarrassing situation when the franchisee slated to run Tecoma backed out after 3000 hills residents marched on Tecoma in protest. McDonald’s had to save face and move quickly that resulted in a smaller player in the franchise organisation (James Currie) accepting what was openly seen as the corporation’s “poison chalice”
The huge march forced McDonald’s into mediation with our community. At the mediation McDonald’s agreed to do only two things. 1. Show proof of the level of community support they have by providing their own survey and 2. Ask CEO Noble if she was prepared to meet with our local elected members (Councillors, state and federal MP’s) On both points McDonald’s never bothered to respond even though in a meditated agreement they said they would.
From that point things just went from bad to worse and when our community created a community blockade to prevent the demolition she called in private security at $55,000 a week and launched an expensive law suit in the Supreme Court which was ultimately dropped. These actions added hundreds of thousands of dollars to the Tecoma project and ultimately delayed the build by a minimum of six months. Still refusing to lead and hiding behind press releases that at best were corporate delusions and at worst just plain lies, she eventually agreed to do a media interview and it too was a disaster. When appearing on Melbourne’s ABC 774 (Rapheal Epstein) to explain why her US bosses were blaming Australia for its poor global performance she was asked “Why are you fighting Tecoma?” Her response will go down in history as an example of how not to mitigate a disaster when she replied “Oh we are not fighting them, we are just suing them” She then dug the hole even deeper by saying the community had a right to free speech but seemed confused when the presenter that the Supreme Court writs would effectively silence free speech.
After that point our Change.org jumped massively in numbers and it was decided to deliver it to Ms.Noble in person. A negotiated time was arranged and a Tecoma family went to Sydney to meet with her. Upon arrival McDonald’s locked the front door and sent the receptionist out to receive the petition. This was captured by ABC TV news and despite that proof, Ms Noble went again on ABC 774 (Jon Faine) and claimed she had actually met the petitioners. It was a poor look and the media started to smell blood.
In September of 2013 our delegation went to Chicago to hand the petition to McDonald’s board of management. Like Catriona’s petition example the Americans too handled the media attention poorly. It was widely mentioned that the US office was not happy that under Catriona’s watch a local issue was allowed to become global and bought unwanted media attention onto the global headquarters when they were fighting an attempt to pay liveable wages to their US employees. The Tecoma issue made national news in the USA and acted as a catalyst for the media to question McDonald’s ethics and accountability when dealing with communities and employees. Furthermore the enormous amount of negative PR our delegation created for McDonald’s had a big part in them seeing sense and withdrawing their Supreme Court action against Tecoma Activists.
Since the September trip McDonald’s have not been able to catch a break. The negative PR gained further momentum. Not only just Tecoma, but also their employment policies. Catriona was widely quoted as an advocate for the abolishment of penalty rates and they received huge fines in WA for making a young employee work 14 hour shifts. More recently (last month) at an analyst’s meeting in Chicago to present the corporation’s Q4 results the news wasn’t good with many analysts marking the McDonald’s stock as “sell” Global growth had slowed in most markets, at home they were under enormous pressure from competitors that were adapting faster to changing market condition than McDonald’s could, and buried away in a one line statement was the fact that the Australian operation was producing negative results.
Some say McDonald’s are now bleeding red ink in Australia and when that happens CEO’s get moved on. Her replacement has a financial background and the sort of manager you would use to turn around bottom line results. When bean-counters take over, growth will slow, staff will be reduced and costs reduced to get things back in the black.
Noble will take up a position that according to the “org chart” existed under her former position. McDonald’s will spin this differently but on the surface it looks like less direct reports, little or no responsibility for P&L and no direct report to Chicago. At best it’s a sideways move in reality it’s a move down the ladder.
It’s also worth considering this week’s Tecoma opening. McDonald’s went on a media blitz and offered free food vouchers to get a “rent a crowd” for the TV cameras. They also took the unusual step of allowing the local franchisee to front the media. They would of done this for a few valid PR reasons: 1 They couldn’t use Catriona for obvious reasons. 2.They would be mad to use Andrew Gregory, he’ll need to distance himself well away from the Tecoma disaster. If he’s smart he’ll come out and admit they got it wrong, and promise that going forward he will heed community opinion. (He would cop some initial flak, but ultimately it would look presidential) 3. Use the franchisee so as to have someone to blame when it goes pear shaped. The rush to get it opened by breaking building permit conditions allowed them another PR trick. It’s called taking out the trash. It’s a trick where by bad news is masked by another event. Knowing that opening day would be controversial and would generate heaps of media they could quietly let slip the news of Catriona’s departure to a single business paper (like the AFR) and hope that the MSM would be sick of anything McDonald’s related. This allows this bad news to disappear without a trace. Further to that theory, no press release was distributed nor was their website updated. It’s also worth noting that when the last Australian CEO left it was widely promoted by the corporation as a success and and that he was onto bigger things at the US head office .
It appears that Catriona won’t be receiving that sort of corporate adulation.
To those that have fought so long and hard this is yet another reason why we can’t give up. Our cause is true and just. McDonald’s made a huge mistake in Tecoma and unfortunately for Catriona Noble she was a casualty.