McDonald's Korea Managing Director Joh Ju-yeon

Fast-food chain CEO’s abrupt decision piques curiosity

On January 9, McDonald’s Korea Managing Director Joh Ju-yeon, also known as Melanie Joh, promised to get better the Seoul-based company in her New Year message.

In less than two weeks, the chief executive tendered her resignation by sending a message to employees on January 20. She took the helm of the fast-food chain’s Korean unit in 2016.

McDonald’s Korea officials told the media that she quits due to personal reasons, but the unexpected decision leads to various speculation as it came at a sensitive time.

State prosecutors started to investigate the so-called “burger patty scandal” late last year after a ruling-party lawmaker took issue during a parliamentary inspection.

The lawmaker raised a suspicion that McDonald’s might have forced its employees to make false remarks during the previous probes a few years ago.

And the story started in 2017 when the mother of a four-year-old girl claimed that she contacted a kidney disease after eating a McDonald’s Korea hamburger with an under-cooked patty.

Four others also said that they were victims of hemolytic uremic syndrome, nicknamed the hamburger disease, related to McDonald’s products.

Back then, the prosecution did not file charges against McDonald’s Korea. But the story did not finish there.

In January 2019, nine groups of activists requested fresh probes into the case. Late last year, a media reported pictures including McDonald’s hamburger’s under-cooked patty to cause a stir.

McDonald’s Korea denied the allegations of the lawmaker. Regarding the photos, it raised the possibility that some of them were fabricated, but opted to check all of its outlets.

But the prosecution began the re-investigation. McDonald’s Korea tried to respond by establishing an emergency team. CEO Joh was supposed to head it.

The publisher studied Korean history in Seoul and management of business administration in the United Kingdom. He has 20-year experiences in the media business. Kim can be reached at voc200@gmail.com or 82-2-6956-6698.