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Leadership

McDonald’s CEO Chris Kempczinski apologizes for his text to Chicago's mayor

“Those comments were wrong,” he said in a video to the system amid a furor over the message, which appeared to blame parents for shooting deaths of two kids. He said he hoped to speak with the victims' parents.
McDonald's Chris Kempczinski apology
Photo courtesy of McDonald's

McDonald’s CEO Chris Kempczinski on Saturday apologized for a text sent in April to Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot, saying his comments were “wrong” while promising to meet with the parents of children whose shooting deaths prompted the text.

“Those comments were wrong and I’m sorry,” Kempczinski said in the six-minute video, viewed by Restaurant Business. “I’m sorry I let you down. And I let myself down.”

In the text, Kempczinski referred to the shooting deaths of the 13-year-old Adam Toledo, by Chicago police, and 7-year-old Jaslyn Adams while she was in a McDonald’s drive-thru. He called the shootings “tragic.” He then said, “Both the parents failed those kids, which is something you can’t say. Even harder to fix.”

Activists discovered the text as part of a freedom of information act request and revealed it last week, igniting protests at company headquarters and widespread criticism, particularly in and around Chicago.

On Friday, Adams’ mother, Lanesha Walker, demanded an apology, according to the Chicago Sun-Times. “I am a grieving parent. I’ve been grieving for the longest, and from your place of power, you insult me. How dare you judge me.”

“She’s right,” Kempczinski said of Walker’s comments. “Part of what I feel so badly about is my comments have compounded the grief Adam Toledo’s family and Jaslyn Adams’ family have already experienced.”

He said he hoped to meet with the parents of both children and apologize in person.

The video was taken Saturday morning at Chicago headquarters and was sent to the system in the afternoon. Kempczinski, who took over the top job at the chain almost two years ago to the day, at times struggled to get through the apology, particularly when he brought up the reaction from his own daughter. “For me, probably no question was more poignant than when my daughter asked me, ‘Why did you say that?’” he said. “In that question, there’s a lot. Disappointment. Confusion. And certainly disagreement with the idea and the sentiment that was expressed.”

The uproar has come at a particularly sensitive time for McDonald’s, which is fending off several lawsuits from former executives, vendors, current and former franchisees, alleging racial discrimination in the way the company did business.

The text wasn’t lost on some of those filing the lawsuit. Domineca Neal, one of two former executives suing the company for discrimination, said the comments were “not a one-off mistake” and represented “the real Chris Kempczinski.”

The CEO, who took the top job after his predecessor was fired for having a relationship with an employee, had told company employees after the text was revealed that his comments “lacked the empathy and compassion I feel for these families.”

His video on Saturday went further. He said that his comments “reveal my narrow worldview that I have to work hard to correct.

“I need to find ways to better myself to expand my perspective so I can represent the entire system, even those parts of the system I maybe don’t have a lot of experience with.”

Kempczinski said that his actions “fell short” of the company’s values and said that he plans to “read every email, every text I receive from every one of you, and learn from your feedback."

And Kempczinski said he plans to reach out to community leaders to understand more and “continue to lead this great company in a way that’s inclusive.”

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