Irvine Co.'s vice chairman, Michael D. McKee, was named Tuesday to the newly created post of chief operating officer for the giant real estate company, cementing his role as the No. 2 executive behind dominating owner Donald L. Bren.
An Episcopal priest-turned-lawyer, McKee has taken on ever-wider duties since joining the company in 1994.
Bren said he will step back from daily operations--he even planned a trip to Disneyland this week--but no one expects the 69-year-old chairman and sole shareholder to cede real control over the former Spanish land-grant ranch he bought several decades ago.
"He's got his aesthetic and his sense of purpose about what we do," McKee said about Bren. He described himself and other senior managers as "a lot of very skilled, very committed people who have a visionary chairman.
"We're all just delighted to help implement that vision."
In a statement, Bren said McKee "has been an increasingly important voice in every major issue affecting our company."
The promotion of the 55-year-old McKee caps a consolidation of power within the privately held Newport Beach company, Orange County's largest landowner.
Some longtime Bren aides, notably former government relations specialist Gary Hunt, have left under pressure in recent years, and others, such as commercial property expert Richard Sim, retired voluntarily.
McKee, who grew up in Southern California, was a minister at All Saints Church in Pasadena for four years and a Pasadena reserve police officer for eight years. He left the church to study law at UCLA and ended up at Latham & Watkins law firm in Los Angeles, where he first handled legal work for Bren.
Latham had helped Bren buy Irvine Co. in a partnership in the 1970s, and McKee helped Bren in the 1980s negotiate 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.
Times staff writer Jean O. Pasco contributed to this report.