‘What is the plan?’ McDonald’s CEO asks about city’s crime problem

The company is adding 100 jobs to its West Loop headquarters, but the city’s crime is making recruiting talent difficult, McDonald’s President and CEO Chris Kempczinski said Wednesday.

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McDonald’s President and CEO Chris Kempczinski speaks during a luncheon hosted by the Economic Club of Chicago at Fairmont Chicago Millennium Park, Wednesday, Sept. 14, 2022.

McDonald’s President and CEO Chris Kempczinski spoke to a crowd of about 500 people Wednesday who attended a luncheon hosted by the Economic Club of Chicago at Fairmont Chicago Millennium Park.

Pat Nabong/Sun-Times

McDonald’s President and CEO Chris Kempczinski said Wednesday he has faith in Chicago and announced he’s adding 100 jobs here — but when it comes to crime, he wants to know: “What is the plan?”

Kempczinski said city violence and crime have made it hard for him to recruit talent to Chicago, but he said the burger chain has faith in Chicago and will double down on its commitment to the city by moving its innovation center from Romeoville to its West Loop headquarters.

Kempczinski, citing crime and the departures of some big-name headquarters, including Boeing and Citadel, said the biggest question he gets while traveling the globe is: “What’s going on in Chicago?”

“There’s a general sense our city is in crisis,” Kempczinski told a crowd of about 500 people attending his speech at an Economic Club of Chicago luncheon at the Fairmont Hotel, 200 N. Columbus Drive.

“I love Chicago,” he said, noting his constant cheerleading of the city’s culture, diversity, food scene and low cost of living. “I even talk up the Bears.”

Kempczinski said the worst thing McDonald’s could do was pull out of troubled areas, like their location at State Street and Chicago Avenue, which saw a mass shooting play out on its front steps earlier this year.

McDonald’s restaurants see things the city as a whole sees: crime, homelessness, drug overdoses. But they also represent jobs, opportunity and structure, which would go away if they pulled up stakes.

He was short on offering up specific solutions to Chicago’s issues but repeatedly said the city lacks a clear plan to address its problems and a new framework of a public-private partnership is needed.

“How many people — with a show of hands here — would say they knew what the plan is? Exactly what are we doing? What are the metrics? How are we going to track progress? I mean, this is what you do in business, day in and day out. You have a plan, you have a set of vectors, you have milestones, you track progress. How are we doing on that?” Kempczinski asked.

“How many people here would be able to say they know what the plan is? They know what the targets are? They know the milestones? I don’t think there’s an awareness of that, and so if there’s not an awareness of that, how can we work together?” he asked.

“That, for me, is the biggest thing we need to get, is an understanding of every single person in this room. ... How are we going to measure progress? And how do I contribute to the overall success of the plan? We don’t have that today, and I think that’s a good place to start.”

Crime, he said, is “seeping into every corner of our city ... and can become pervasive in the psyche,” he said.

He also touched on what he said is a challenging tax climate for businesses in Illinois and Chicago, as well as the need for improved schools and transportation infrastructure.

Economic Club of Chicago Chairwoman Mary Dillon, president and CEO of Foot Locker, Inc., interviews McDonald’s president and CEO Chris Kempczinski during a luncheon hosted by the Economic Club of Chicago on Wednesday, Sept. 14, 2022, at Fairmont Chicago Millennium Park.

Economic Club of Chicago Chairwoman Mary Dillon, president and CEO of Foot Locker Inc., interviews McDonald’s President and CEO Chris Kempczinski during a luncheon hosted by the Economic Club of Chicago on Wednesday.

Pat Nabong/Sun-Times

Chicago needs “a mindset shift,” he said. “We’re playing defense when we need to be playing offense. Chicago is an incredible city, and we need to celebrate its virtues. We need to find ways to tell our story in a more compelling way. We need people to associate Chicago with growth, innovation and opportunity. We need to showcase all the proof points of that.”

One of the last times Kempczinski made headlines was in 2021 after the shooting deaths of 13-year-old Adam Toledo — killed by a Chicago police officer — and 7-year-old Jaslyn Adams, killed during a shooting at a McDonald’s drive-thru.

A text he sent Mayor Lori Lightfoot at the time later surfaced. In it, he appeared to blame the children’s parents.

He told Lightfoot: “The parents failed those kids which I know is something you can’t say. Even harder to fix.”

His remarks drew swift condemnation from people who criticized Kempczinski for making judgments from a place of privilege.

He later apologized.

Kempczinski took the reins at McDonald’s in 2019 after his predecessor, Steve Easterbrook, was ousted for having a romantic relationship with an employee that violated company policy.

Attendees of Wednesday’s event included Desiree Rogers, who served as White House social secretary under former President Barack Obama and is the co-owner of a cosmetics company.

Upcoming Economic Club events include an Oct. 10 discussion with film director Martin Scorsese that will be moderated by Ariel Investments President and Co-CEO Mellody Hobson, who is married to “Star Wars” creator George Lucas.

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