Founding Father: Lessons from Ray Kroc

A look at the life lessons from Ray Kroc - the founder of McDonald's. 

I enjoy reading books about entrepreneurs, learning how they created their businesses and navigated their careers. Ray Kroc's Grinding It Out: The Making of McDonald's was a great read in college, instilling the value of the grind. This past weekend, I watched The Founder the movie adaptation written by Robert D. Siegel and directed by John Lee Hancock. But before I proceed....


The movie starts with the audience cheering Kroc on as this hardworking salesperson grinds his way into a building a national chain. By the end of the movie everyone hates Ray Kroc. He double-crossed his business partners, neglected his wife, and seduced a franchise owner's wife. However he made important business decisions along the way that we can learn from.

Lesson #1: Hard Work

Ray Kroc may have preached persistence in the movie but his work ethic was the most admirable trait. His work matched his aspirations. He was not the type to fade into nothingness. Kroc prioritized work over everything: social status, luxury, even his wives. While a traveling salesman for many years, visiting thousands of kitchens selling paper cups and milkshake mixers, he gained intuition. He may not have been particularly smart, but what he lacked in intelligence he compensated with experience. That experience gave him the ability to dream. 

Lesson #2: Vision

Kroc was a mediocre salesperson and barely functioning human being. He didn't have have many redeeming qualities beyond his hard work, but he had vision. Kroc knew from the moment he laid eyes upon the first McDonald's establishment that it was an idea much larger than what Mac and Dick McDonald (McDonald brothers) envisioned. Perhaps that's why the McDonald brothers even gave Kroc the original franchising contract.

Throughout his journey, he encountered many problems. All of his problems shared one trait. They were problems arising from connecting the dots: the dot of where he was versus were he wanted to be. For example, when Kroc needed capital to continue his expansion across the United States, he tried to solve the issue by increasing franchising fees, but was bound by his contract with the McDonald brothers. Luckily he ran into Harry Sonneborn (played by B.J. Novak) and they were able to maneuver around Kroc's contract and gain the capital they needed to expand. 

Kroc never lacked vision, only lacked the knowledge of how to get there. As Tony Robbins says, knowing the what and why is more important than how. If you know what you want and why you want it, you can figure out the how to get there.

Lesson #3: Removing Limitations

I have mixed feelings about this last lesson. I agree with the lesson, but not the execution of how Kroc carried it out. 

Kroc had many people or situations that placed limitations on his ability to pursue his dream. The first was his wife Ethel Kroc (played by Laura Dern). Ethel wanted a different life, a life of luxury and relaxation. Ethel would have preferred that Kroc retired and spent the rest of his days playing golf instead of sweeping up trash in McDonald's parking lots. She supported him along the way, but in the end she reached the limits of her ambition and began to interfere with his. At that point, Kroc made a swift movement to get a divorce. 

The second example of removing limitations was his contract with the McDonald's brothers. He signed the original contract in haste because anything is better than nothing. During his rapid expansion, he felt handcuffed with the McDonald's brothers having no intention of compromising on any part of their agreement. He employed shrewd tactics, but once he retained the upper hand, he strong armed the McDonald brothers in selling. 

As I said, I am not a fan of his tactical plays, but the concept remains valid. If something is limiting you from achieving your dreams, remove it. That limitation can be a person, situation, or psychology. Kroc may have had limiting factors, but he forged ahead regardless.

Final Thoughts

I may need to crack open Kroc's book again, especially after watching the movie. We are all too quick to forget lessons of the past. While the landscape has changed, there are some natural rules that still apply. Working hard toward a goal and not allowing anything to block your path is an easy sentence to write, but a much harder way to live.  

If you work just for money, you'll never make it, but if you love what you're doing and you always put the customer first, success will be yours.

- Ray Kroc