McDonald’s CEO apologizes after texts about Chicago shooting deaths surface

Chris Kempczinski, McDonald’s, speaks during a press conference in New York, November 17, 2016.

Shannon Stapleton | Reuters

McDonald’s CEO Chris Kempczinski met with employees Monday at its headquarters and online to discuss a text message the executive sent to Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot about the shooting deaths of two children.

Last week, Kempczinski apologized several times for his comments after the text was made public.

In a message to U.S. employees Tuesday, obtained by CNBC, Kempczinski had said that he texted Lightfoot to thank the mayor for visiting the company’s headquarters in April. The visit occurred the day after 7-year-old Jaslyn Adams was shot while sitting in a McDonald’s drive-thru, and later died. This came soon after 13-year-old Adam Toledo was killed by a Chicago police officer in March. In the exchange, Kempczinski said “the parents failed those kids.” The texts were made public by activists and were widely reported on over the last week, causing backlash and prompting protests at McDonald’s headquarters.

“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,” Kempczinski said in Tuesday’s message.

On Friday, Kempczinski announced the plan to hold a conversation with employees on Monday, and added: “As I shared in my note earlier this week, my texts to the Mayor of Chicago were wrong — plain and simple. I am truly sorry and I know I have let you down. I also know this has conflicted with our values — values that you have all worked so hard to embody across the business.”

Kempczinski said he holds himself accountable for the work he must do, and hopes to regain the trust of the company and the communities it serves.

On Saturday, Kempczinski also recorded a video message to McDonald’s U.S. system, which included his reflections on the week. In it, he again apologized. “I’m sorry I let you down. And I let myself down,” he said.

He also said he has a “very narrow worldview” through his own background, and his comments revealed his ignorance. A person familiar with the distribution of the video said the message was sent to employees, franchisees and suppliers.

A source in franchisee leadership said some restaurant owners didn’t believe the apology and had broader concerns about how the situation could impact employee morale during a challenging time in the labor market. Franchisee owners and McDonald’s corporate staff have butted heads over the last year regarding operational issues.

McDonald’s declined to comment. However, a person familiar with Kempczinski’s plans said he held a number of small listening sessions, including with elected franchisee leadership, where he apologized.

In an open letter to Kempczinski last week, a coalition of activists from Color of Change, One Fair Wage and Showing Up for Racial Justice, among others, criticized the CEO’s message, saying in part, “Your text message was ignorant, racist and unacceptable coming from anyone, let alone the CEO of McDonald’s, a company that spends big money to market to communities of color and purports to stand with Black Lives.”

Kempczinski has been CEO for nearly two years, stepping into the role as the company fired former CEO Steve Easterbrook for violating its code of conduct. McDonald’s is facing several lawsuits from former executives and current and former franchisees alleging racial discrimination.