As we now know, these remarks became public a few weeks ago after a Freedom of Information Act request filed by an activist brought to light an exchange of text that Kempczinski had with the mayor of Chicago. Lori Lightfoot on April 19.
Now, seeing his private messages revealed to the world is a nightmare scenario that no one, CEO or not, would want to experience. That said, when you text a public official whose communications are subject to disclosure laws, it’s probably wise to assume that nothing that is expressed is entirely private – a lesson Kempczinski has learned. at his expense.
What put him in hot water were these lines, sent to the mayor following his visit to McDonald’s headquarters earlier today: “ps the tragic shootings of the past week, both in our restaurant yesterday and with Adam Toldeo [sic]. With both the parents failed with these kids, what I know is something you can’t say. Even more difficult to repair.
He was sadly referring to the shooting the day before of Jaslyn Adams, 7, who was killed by a gunman as she sat in a car with her father at a drive-thru at a West Side McDonald’s. The other child mentioned, 13-year-old Adam Toledo, was shot and killed by a Chicago police officer on March 29. and Kempczinski, running as he does a diligently image-conscious global brand that caters particularly to families with young children, seemed to understand he had a cleaning job to do.
“I didn’t put myself in the shoes of Adam’s family or Jaslyn and so many others who are facing a very different reality,” he said in a letter to employees on Nov. 9. “Not taking the time to think about it from their point of view was wrong.”
Still, outrage over Kempczinski’s comments brought protesters to McDonald’s doorways as well as a union-funded TV commercial blitz to demand the CEO’s ouster. It also brought media mogul Byron Allen back to the forefront: he is currently suing McDonald’s, alleging, in a $ 10 billion lawsuit, “a model of racial stereotypes” in his refusal to make deals with its media properties. Now he’s also calling on the McDonald’s board to fire Kempczinski and correct what he calls McDonald’s “horrible and racist culture”.
It was against this ugly backdrop that Kempczinski visited a church on the south side on November 16 and met with 100 pastors and community leaders from across the state. A Bloomberg report on the meeting noted that Kempczinski, who previously released a mea culpa for his statements, apologized again and spoke about the role McDonald’s plays in communities, especially blacks and brunettes. He also praised black Chicago franchisees who worked with local government departments and discussed the company’s decision to move from the suburbs to Chicago and McDonald’s obligation to support the change.
At least one person who was in the room, former McDonald’s franchisee and former mayoral candidate Willie Wilson later said that Kempczinski also did what was probably the most important thing to do in such a situation. . He listened.
And that’s the silver lining on this particular cloud. Kempczinski admitted that his comments reflected too narrow a view of the world. He will be judged in the future by how he applies these latest lessons to his leadership at McDonald’s, a more than $ 21 billion global colossus with power, by the decisions he makes about everything from suppliers to executive hires, to measurably tilt the economic scales of this country towards racial equity. And Kempczinski’s time in the South Side underscores another important point that every Chicago business leader can and should learn from: crisis or not, it’s never a bad time to contact people who aren’t normally in your orbit to find out what they’re thinking, understand their needs, and think about ways your business can help you meet them.
But it will be important to go the extra mile and go beyond just listening. Building stronger bridges with the black and brown communities that make up a large portion of McDonald’s customer base will also involve employing more people from those communities in leadership positions, diversifying the supply chain to help create a sustainable wealth in these communities, to involve black and brown food industry entrepreneurs seeking to get a head start in business and using McDonald’s formidable public megaphone to advocate for fairness not only in its advertising campaigns, but also in its lobbying efforts.
If this setback helps McDonald’s become a more inclusive and responsive corporate citizen, then maybe all of this will be good.