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McDonald's hires back Steve Easterbrook

OAK BROOK, Ill. (AP) -- McDonald's Corp. said Friday that it has hired former company executive Steve Easterbrook back as its global chief brand officer.

Easterbrook worked for the company for 18 years before leaving to become CEO of PizzaExpress Ltd., a U.K. restaurant chain. He later became CEO of another restaurant chain, Wagamama Ltd. He served in many roles during his time at McDonald's, including CEO of its U.K. operations, chief brand officer and president of McDonald's Europe.

In his new role, Easterbrook will be responsible for the company's global marketing plans, menu development and consumer and business insights. Easterbrook, 45, succeeds Kevin Newell, who recently assumed the new role of chief brand and strategy officer for McDonald's USA.

McDonald's, which is the world's biggest hamburger chain, is trying to increase its sales domestically after a period of strong growth during the recession. The company is facing intense competition and a shifting consumer preference toward food and dining experiences, as shaped by fast-casual chains like Panera and Chipotle.

McDonald's CEO Don Thompson, who took the helm this summer, has said that he expects overall growth in the industry will continue to be flat to down for some time.

The company's shares rose $1.49 to $103.48 in afternoon trading, bucking a broader market dip. Its stock hit as high as $103.65 earlier in the day, a new 52-week trading high for the Oak Brook, Ill.-based company's stock.