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The Power List
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Chris Kempczinski is CEO of McDonald's.

McDonald’s CEO Chris Kempczinski drives ambitious digital innovation at the world’s largest restaurant chain

Meet the technology innovators on Nation’s Restaurant News’ 2020 Power List.

Before he became the most powerful leader of McDonald’s after the high-profile firing of Steve Easterbrook in early November, Chris Kempczinski was working behind the scenes building industry leading digital initiatives at roughly 14,000 U.S. restaurants. As president of McDonald’s USA for more than two years, Kempczinski has pushed investments in digital technologies that would transform the restaurant experience for both consumers and employees.

During the May reopening of a remodeled flagship New York City store, Kempczinski said it is important for the brand to showcase the “ultimate McDonald’s experience” on the world’s biggest stage.

powerlist_banner_20202_3.jpgThe store is among more than 9,000 restaurants in the U.S. that sport the Experience of the Future design. The new look features self-ordering kiosks, third-party delivery pickup stations, digital menu boards, McCafé enhancements, curbside pickup parking, wireless charging stations and eco-friendly amenities.

“The modernization of our restaurants is all a part of our plan to change customer perceptions. We’re making this change on a scale that only we can and it’s going to inform the way customers feel when they see a McDonald’s,” Kempczinski said.

Ultimately, the new stores give McDonald’s the power “to regain and convert customers – our ultimate goal,” he added.

It’s also giving power back to franchisees, many of whom have complained about the costly remodels. In October, McDonald’s said remodeled stores are now starting to contribute to the brand’s “overall U.S. comp performance” while improving the customer experience. After being appointed CEO in early November, Kempczinski told the Wall Street Journal that operators are enjoying a record year for cash flow.

Throughout the year Chris K., as he is known internally, has pushed digital investments in both consumer-facing and back of the house technologies.

He’s been particularly aggressive with drive-thru improvements aimed at improving speed, average ticket and order accuracy. This year, the quick-service burger chain purchased two technology companies aimed at improving the drive-thru experience. Dynamic Yield Ltd., deployed at hundreds of restaurants with digital menu boards, uses artificial intelligence to automate the upselling of menu items based on time of day, trending items and weather. Apprente, acquired in the fall, will add another layer automation at the drive-thru with voice assistant technology.  

McDonald’s is automating in other ways. This year, the brand began testing advanced kitchen equipment designed to automate repetitive tasks such as cooking fries and dispensing beverages.  Potential employees can now use Alexa or Google Assistant to initiate a McDonald’s job application.

Kempczinski has only been CEO of the world’s biggest burger chain for a few months. But industry watchers say he’s been in the driver’s seat much longer as he pushed an ambitious innovation agenda. Ultimately, that makes him “the best positioned executive to lead McDonald's in future,” Morningstar analyst R.J. Hottovy wrote in Nov. 4 report.

Contact Nancy Luna at nanc[email protected] 

Follow her on Twitter: @fastfoodmaven

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