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Irvine Co. names new chief executive

Michael McKee's promotion cements his No.2 position at O.C.'s biggest property firm.

June 14, 2007|Roger Vincent | Times Staff Writer

Irvine Co., Orange County's largest and most powerful landowner, promoted longtime senior executive Michael D. McKee to chief executive Wednesday.

Privately held Irvine Co., controlled by billionaire developer Donald Bren, owns about one-fifth of Orange County's total land area and trophy office buildings throughout California.

An Episcopal priest turned lawyer, McKee has taken on ever-wider duties since joining the company in 1994. The promotion further cements his role as the No. 2 executive behind dominating owner Bren.

The Newport Beach company has not had a chief executive during the 30 years that Bren, 75, has controlled the company. He told employees in a memo that he would "continue to be an active chairman" deeply involved in long-term strategy decisions while McKee oversaw day-to-day operations.

A company spokesman declined to say that the promotion puts McKee directly in line to succeed Bren and discouraged such speculation.

McKee, 61, a resident of the gated oceanfront Emerald Bay community, had been the company's chief operating officer and vice chairman of the board of directors. He is a registered Republican and a contributor to GOP candidates locally and nationally.

Before joining the company, McKee was managing partner of the Orange County office of law firm Latham & Watkins, which specializes in corporate finance.

Latham had helped Bren buy Irvine Co. in a partnership in the 1970s, and McKee aided Bren in the 1980s in negotiating the purchase of a majority share. Bren has since bought out all other shareholders.

A specialist in real estate investment trusts and public offerings, McKee also advised the committee that organized the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics.

After representing the company on several occasions, including its sale of Community Cablevision to Times Mirror Co., McKee came to the Irvine Co. in 1994 as chief legal officer. He also held the position of chief financial officer.

Since 2001, Bren and McKee have overseen all of the company's operating divisions while McKee has also run its administrative, financial, legal and information technology functions.

"The Irvine Co. has been a very streamlined organization," said Mark Petracca, former chairman of the city of Irvine's Planning Commission. "They haven't had lots of extra fat on their staff."

Bren said McKee "is a wise, strategic and a leader who is well prepared to oversee the day-to-day executive operations of our company."

The company owns the Newport Center office complex and adjacent Fashion Island outdoor mall in Newport Beach, the Irvine Spectrum shopping and entertainment center, and the Market Place in Tustin.

The company developed the city of Irvine, one of the country's largest and best-known planned communities, with a population of more than 200,000 and still growing. It also has holdings in Los Angeles and San Diego counties as well as in the San Francisco Bay Area.

In the years ahead, the company will transition from being primarily a developer to being an investor and landlord, Petracca said, and McKee may be viewed the right steward to take the company in that direction.

"They don't always think creatively, but they always do plan," Petracca said.

But Bren has not shown any inclination to step aside, Petracca added. "It's hard to imagine that someone who micromanaged the continued development of the city that bears his company's name would pull back."

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roger.vincent@latimes.com

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