McDonald’s CEO Tries to Flip His Tarnishing of the Golden Arches

Thom Weidlich 11.18.21


On Tuesday this week, McDonald’s CEO Chris Kempczinski met with more than 100 pastors and community leaders in Chicago in his continuing effort to undo the damage from a text he wrote that many view as racist. It was a smart move, as the crisis refuses to go away.

In text messages with Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot in April that became public last month, Kempczinski (pictured) seemed to blame parents for the shooting deaths of two children: Adam Toledo, 13, by a police officer, and Jaslyn Adams, 7, at a McDonald’s drive-thru. The CEO wrote to the mayor: “With both, the parents failed those kids which I know is something you can’t say. Even harder to fix.”

Kempczinski’s blaming of struggling parents for street violence brought outrage. On Nov. 3, about 30 people protested outside McDonald’s headquarters in the Windy City. People are calling for Kempczinski to resign or be fired. The situation has hurt the company’s reputation. The Golden Arches suddenly aren’t so golden.

FOIA Request

Obviously, Kempczinski’s comments weren’t, shall we say, well thought out. It didn’t matter that it was a private conversation, which was disclosed in late October via a Freedom of Information Act request. There’s a saying: Don’t utter it or write it unless you want to see it on the front page of The New York Times. Also, in this case, don’t think it (although, of course, there are those who defend what the CEO said).

The day before the protest, Kempczinski tried to explain himself to employees. “When I wrote this, I was thinking through my lens as a parent and reacted viscerally,” he wrote in a memo, according to the Chicago Tribune.

“But I have not walked in the shoes of Adam’s or Jaslyn’s family and so many others who are facing a very different reality,” he said. “Not taking the time to think about this from their viewpoint was wrong, and lacked the empathy and compassion I feel for these families. This is a lesson that I will carry with me.”

‘Repair Image’

That is a strong, seemingly honest statement. Kempczinski also reportedly planned to meet with employees and the Toledo family. Putting in the extra effort to convene with community leaders this week was smart, which isn’t to say making such an effort won’t attract skepticism from cynical scribblers. Crain’s Chicago Business headline (on a Bloomberg story): “McDonald’s CEO Meets With Community Leaders on South Side to Repair Image.”

The meeting took place in a church and the conversation reportedly centered on the role of McDonald’s in the community. The whole saga is an example of how companies are more frequently confronting social issues. Let’s face it, too many CEOs live in bubbles. That Kempczinski reached out to aggrieved people and on their turf shows empathy.

At least one attendee appreciated it. “He pledged to work with community leaders and be involved,” Bloomberg quoted Willie Wilson, who has run for Chicago mayor and is a former McDonald’s restaurant owner. “We felt that he was genuine in what he had to say.”

Photo Credit: McDonald’s

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