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‘He knew how to succeed’ – Chicago Tribune

When John Madigan first met Andrew McKenna in the late 1960s as the two rose through the corporate world, Madigan felt a connection, an instant admiration, a pull toward his new friend’s magnetic intelligence and charm.

With a bond that grew over more than 50 years of friendship and business dealings, Madigan will forever cherish his time with a man so many described as smart, driven and kind.

“I looked up to him,” Madigan said Wednesday. “He was a great friend. And he was a mentor to me. I went to him for advice almost before anybody else. We just meshed. And that was mainly due to the respect I had for his his advice, his encouragement and his great judgment.”

McKenna, an accomplished Chicago businessman, philanthropist and sports aficionado, died Tuesday at age 93.

McKenna was a graduate of Leo High School, Notre Dame and DePaul College of Law. He served as chairman of both the White Sox (1975-81) and Cubs (1981-84). He also was a longtime member of the Bears board of directors and a minority owner of the team.

Andrew McKenna, chairman of McDonald's Corporation, speaks to the media during a <a class=news conference at the conclusion of the company’s annual meeting May 20, 2004, in Oak Brook.” src=”https://www.chicagotribune.com/resizer/x6AwwJQpDOac93C5CnK3rNJJq54=/1440×0/filters:format(jpg):quality(70)/cloudfront-us-east-1.images.arcpublishing.com/tronc/T3E5NITECREA3I5ETUHR3RVHEI.jpg” width=”1440″ height=”0″ loading=”lazy”/>

McKenna, who lived in Winnetka, served on the board of directors at McDonald’s for more than two decades, was the corporation’s chairman from 2004-16 and its chairman emeritus since 2016. He also was an influential board member at Aon and later became the lead director at the Ryan Specialty Group.

A well-respected businessman, McKenna was active in civic and philanthropic efforts across the city for decades and served as a trustee for the Museum of Science and Industry. He also was on the Tribune Co. board of directors from 1982-2002.

Madigan, a former Chicago Tribune publisher and Tribune Co. executive, believes McKenna deserved the title of “Mr. Chicago” with a life’s worth of fingerprints on the city’s business and sports scenes plus no shortage of passionate pursuits that made a lasting impact.

“No one could rival who this man was to Chicago,” Madigan said. “He was better than anyone. … He knew how to succeed. But he worked very hard at it. He was up very early and stayed out late accomplishing things.”

In a message sent through McDonald’s Global System late Tuesday, CEO Chris Kempczinski praised McKenna as a unifying and ambitious leader.

“I know I speak for everyone on the McDonald’s board and senior leadership team when I say that he will be deeply missed, and we are all tremendously grateful for the legacy he leaves behind,” Kempczinski said. “It is a legacy of leadership and humility.

“Known behind the scenes as ‘St. Andrew of the Board Room’ for his ability to forge consensus on the most difficult issues, his unwavering dedication to McDonald’s showed all the hallmarks of great leadership. He did what all values-driven leaders hope to do: He left McDonald’s in a better position than when he arrived.”

Madigan vividly recalls toasting with McKenna after the Cubs won the National League East on Sept. 24, 1984, in Pittsburgh, capturing a division crown during an exhilarating 96-win season that ended one victory short of the World Series.

That run came during McKenna’s fourth season with the team. As chairman he had been instrumental in the hiring of executive vice president and general manager Dallas Green in 1981 and later in the hiring of manager Jim Frey in 1984.

It was Madigan who recommended McKenna as a potential Cubs leader to Tribune Co. CEO Stanton Cook after the purchase of the team from Bill Wrigley in 1981.

“I’ve got a guy who knows more about baseball than anyone I’ve ever met,” Madigan told Cook.

Entrusting the city’s beloved North Side ballclub to a native South Sider created its fair share of civic quips and witty headlines: A devoted White Sox fan was suddenly running the Cubs.

But McKenna delivered results with his trademark wisdom and efficient guidance.

“We were so close (to winning it all),” Madigan said. “So, so close.”

After suffering through multiple bouts of rheumatic fever during childhood, what McKenna lacked in athletic prowess he more than made up for with his passion for sports, in particular Chicago sports and specifically baseball.

Leo President Dan McGrath, a friend of McKenna for decades, noted how a baseball encyclopedia was always within reach inside McKenna’s office to settle any historical or statistical disputes.

“He would get that baseball encyclopedia,” McGrath said, “and he would pore over it like a biblical scholar examining the Dead Sea Scrolls. He was fascinated with baseball and with baseball stats.”

McKenna was also proud of the role he played in keeping the White Sox in Chicago in 1975, when there were legitimate worries the team might move to Seattle amid MLB turmoil. But McKenna remained adamant the Sox not depart and traveled to Maryland to persuade Bill Veeck to repurchase the struggling franchise from then-owner John Allyn.

For those close to McKenna and those inside baseball circles, that conquest spoke to his undying passion for Chicago and his belief in the city as a place of grand opportunity.

The Cubs organization said it was “deeply saddened” to learn of McKenna’s death.

“Andy’s success with the Cubs included helping to steer the team to the NL East Division title in 1984, the club’s first playoff berth since 1945, bringing joy to generations of Cubs fans,” the team said in a statement. “Beyond his many contributions and achievements in Chicago sports, Andy, a lifelong Chicagoan, also dedicated his life to service and leadership in Chicago’s civic and philanthropic community, giving his time to several boards and causes, as well as the countless people he mentored over the years. He will be missed, but his impact in this city will continue to be felt by many.”

Bears Chairman George McCaskey issued a statement late Tuesday.

“This afternoon we lost a friend of more than 40 years to our family and the Bears,” McCaskey said. “Few people have had a larger impact on our great city. Andy spent his life dedicated to institutions across sports, media, museums, academia, health care and more sharing his insights and leadership.

“His guidance helped us make sound business decisions, most recently with our selection of Kevin Warren as our next president and CEO. We are grateful for his many contributions to the Bears and his wisdom will be missed.”

McKenna was well-respected for his reach across so much of Chicago’s business, sports and civic landscape but more deeply admired for his steadying leadership touch, described by those who knew him best as organized, efficient, knowledgeable and decisive.

“Andy had so many interests,” Madigan said. “He was so well-read. He was so well-informed. He was so constantly tuned in to what was going on in the world, and he was so well-equipped to be a significant player in sports and business and education and the Catholic Church and whatever else he was interested in.”

Perhaps what set McKenna apart most was his listening skills.

“He never did the talking first,” Madigan said. “He listened to others attentively. And then he had a knack for coming forward with advice, solutions, compromises, whatever was necessary.”

Added McGrath: “Andy was an incredibly clear thinker and had a well-ordered mind. Whenever you asked him a question, it was almost as if he had already thought it over.”

In 2016, Leo honored McKenna with a lifetime achievement award. He was a 1947 graduate of the Catholic school. And when the opportunity arose to be honored, while McKenna expressed initial reluctance, he eventually took the steering wheel and used his vision and connections to spearhead a benefit that, according to McGrath, raised nearly $2 million for the school’s scholarship fund.

That money was used largely to lessen tuition burdens for students from modest backgrounds while also helping diversify the school’s curriculum.

The inaugural benefit went so well, McKenna suggested it become an annual event. It has.

McGrath, a former Tribune sports editor, said it’s not overstating things to contend the first McKenna-led fundraiser was instrumental in helping Leo stay open.

“We’ve always joked that God does not want Leo to close,” McGrath said. “And thankfully, neither did Andy McKenna.”

McGrath also noted how invaluable McKenna was as a sounding board for him on issues both big and small.

“Rarely a week went by where I didn’t talk to him,” McGrath said. “I never made a significant decision at Leo without running it past him. And whether I fully agreed with his input or not, I always felt grateful that we had had the conversation. He consistently made me look at things I might not have otherwise considered and he had a real sense of how things ought to be.”

True to form, McKenna remained active and sharp into his 90s before battling illness in his final days.

Kempczinski noted McKenna’s steadfast dedication to his family and his marriage of 66 years to his wife, Joan, who died in 2019.

Wrote Kempczinski: “Andy once said, ‘At the end of life, I think the measure of success is not how much you’ve got, but how much you’ve given. Not how much you’ve earned, but how much you’ve returned. Not how much you’ve won, but how much you’ve done.’”

To that end, McKenna was undeniably a titan across many realms.

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