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ORANGE COUNTY, CA-Development giant Irvine Co. has named a longtime lieutenant to owner Donald Bren to the newly created post of COO, apparently hoping to bring more stability to a company that recently has lost some of its key executives.

The new chief operating officer is Michael D. McKee, who worked for the legal firm that helped a Bren-led partnership buy Irvine Co. in the 1970s and then helped Bren to gain a majority stake in the ‘80s. McKee left the law firm for a full-time job at Irvine Co. in ’94 and most recently has been serving as its vice chairman.

Bren, Irvine Co.’s 69-year-old chairman, has been cutting back his role in the company’s day-to-day operations to spend more time with his family. Elevating his close friend McKee to the newly created position of COO is seen as a key step to ensure an orderly transfer of power when Bren decides to retire.

Some of Irvine Co.’s top officials have left the company recently. They include Richard “Dick” Sim, who voluntarily retired after years of heading the firm’s wildly successful retail operations, and Gary Hunt, Irvine Co.’s longtime lobbyist who reportedly left under pressure.

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