|Former Managing Director of McDonald's Korea Joh Ju-yeon gives New Year speech at the company's headquarter in Seoul, on Jan. 9. / Courtesy of McDonald's Korea|
By Kim Jae-heun
What seems like an easy job for many wasn't easy for Joh Ju-yeon, the former managing director at McDonald's Korea.
Joh, also known as Melanie Joh, recently emailed all employees notifying them of her "sudden" resignation. The managing director's departure was viewed by many as a "surprise" given the New Year's message to employees she sent to employees in which she detailed her initiatives to make McDonald's a "client-focused" restaurant.
According to the company, the resignation of Joh was for a "personal reason" and it stressed Joh's departure has nothing to do with the company. A McDonald's spokesperson noted that the company is seeking for Joh's successor.
However, officials with direct knowledge of the issue told The Korea Times that Joh was forced to step down from the position as she was dissatisfied with the burger franchise operator's U.S. headquarters with controversies that tattered McDonald's reputation here.
"Since Joh took the chief position in 2016, she faced at least four controversies involving hygiene and food safety issues that defamed the fast food chain's image," one official source said. "Despite customers' growing dissatisfaction with the brand, Joh continued to raise burger prices while degrading the quality of ingredients to cut the unit cost."
Sales of McDonald's Korea, last year, improved from the previous year; however, the sales rises were mostly due to its bold decision to cut the retail cost of the burgers. Joh raised the burger prices by 200 won on average almost every year, saying the increases was because of the hike in labor costs.
In 2018, the managing director received criticism for increasing the prices of popular burger meals while substituting some low-price burger buns to even cheaper ones.
This year, Joh also raised some burger menu prices by an average of 1.36 percent. She raised the price for popular menu items and lowered the prices of burgers that were already the cheapest in the restaurant. This gave her a reason to say she did not increase all the burger prices in consideriation of the burden customers would face, the officials said asking not to be identified.
The "hamburger disease" incident gave Joh the hardest time in her career as chief.
In 2017, occurrence of hemolytic uremic syndrome (HUS), better known as "hamburger disease," led the prosecution to investigate McDonald's.
One reportedly ate burger meals at the fast food chain and subsequently suffered HUS.
A civic group "Political Mamas" sued McDonald's for an alleged breach of the Food Sanitation Act and a charge of professional negligence resulting in injury in July the same year. However, the Seoul Central District Prosecutor's Office did not indict the fast food chain due to a lack of evidence.
However, it led to the closure of 20 restaurants in 2018 after the public started to avoid McDonald's hamburgers.
Despite such incidents, McDonald's served an undercooked patty in a burger again in October last year. In the picture, a customer held rare-cooked chicken meat, which he didn't eat but could possibly have threatened his health.
McDonald's Korea said it will conduct inspections throughout some 410 restaurants in the country.