McDonald's Corp. (MCD), the world's largest restaurant company, announced the resignation Tuesday of Russ Smyth as chief of European operations and promoted the longtime head of its business in France to succeed him.

McDonald's said Smyth left the company for personal reasons after 21 years.

He will be replaced as president of McDonald's Europe on July 1 by Denis Hennequin, 46, who is being promoted from executive vice president and previously led McDonald's France for eight years.

The announcement was made by Mike Roberts, McDonald's president and chief operating officer, who said the company regrets Smyth is moving on but respects his decision.

When late CEO Charlie Bell (search) fell ill with cancer last year, Smyth was rumored to be in line for the company's No. 2 job on the strength of improving operating results from restaurants in France, Germany and Britain. Roberts got that post in November under new CEO Jim Skinner (search), and two of those believed also to be top candidates — Smyth and Claire Babrowski, McDonald's former chief restaurant operations officer — have since resigned.

Europe is McDonald's second-largest market after the United States with more than 6,200 restaurants and 250,000 employees in 51 countries. It had $6.7 billion in revenues last year, accounting for 35 percent of the company's worldwide sales.

The top job there also can be a launching pad to the CEO's office in Oak Brook. Bell, who died in January, ascended to head of the company less than three years after being named president of McDonald's Europe.

Roberts said Hennequin's innovative ideas at McDonald's Europe for the past year and a half have contributed to the sales traction the company is beginning to see in the region. A 21-year veteran of McDonald's, he began his career with the company as an assistant restaurant manager in Paris after graduating from law school.

Roberts also announced that Glen Steeves, 47, will be promoted from senior vice president to chief operating officer for McDonald's Europe, reporting to Hennequin. Both will be based in London.

McDonald's shares fell 53 cents, or 1.7 percent, to $29.88 on the New York Stock Exchange (search). The stock has doubled since early 2003 but is down about 13 percent since reaching a four-year high of $34.56 March 7.