Could be I’m just getting old, but my general barometer for a good movie these days is if I stay awake. “The Founder,” which came out this past spring certainly kept me awake. My favorite “Mr Mom,” Michael Keaton, stars as McDonald’s founder Ray Kroc. In a nut shell, the film chronicles McDonald’s rise from small burger joint in California to the franchise juggernaut it is today. The story is told primarily from the perspective of Kroc who stumbles upon the McDonald brothers and their San Bernardino restaurant in 1955. He witnesses their attention to detail and the incredible “Speedy System” the brothers have created for their kitchen. Kroc then sells them on the idea of franchising and the rest as they say, is history.
I remember reading a review of the film when it was released. It gave me the impression that Kroc was some sort of monster who stole the McDonald’s from the McDonald brothers. At the time, I thought, ‘I’ll pass on that one.’ But a few weeks ago I came across the film at Red Box. (Yes, we still use Red Box. What’s Netflix?)
To my surprise, I found “The Founder” to be really interesting and excellent story telling . And while Kroc is vilified for his ruthless drive, I found myself inspired by his grit and tenaciousness and ‘persistence.’ In spite of everyone, including the McDonald brothers, telling him, “Franchising can’t be done.” He did it. And even more interesting, he was not a young man at this point in his life, he was in his early 50’s, an age when most men are looking to slow down or have slowed down. How many people have their greatest success after 50?
After watching it twice, I tell my wife, “You got to see this movie. Ray Kroc is my new hero.” (I tend to live in hyperbole). So we sit down and watch and when it’s over, she tells me she thinks Ray Kroc is an awful man. ‘What!?!’ Got me thinking though.
The idea here at the 032 is to stay light and leave politics and other hot button issues to other people. But we live in an extremely divisive age. Like a lot of people, my values have been challenged by the politics playing out before us. Maybe when I was younger, before I was married and had kids, I would have been more offended by Kroc and his business practices. Maybe I would have felt worse for the McDonald brothers for having their life’s work swooped out from underneath them. But I don’t. If the McDonald brothers simply wanted to keep their one location and operate it the rest of their lives, they should have kicked Ray Kroc to the curb when he proposed franchising. Moreover, the McDonald brothers were smart guys, they should have looked out for themselves. They were grown men too.
We’re sitting here in this day and age where government continually argues about how it’s going to take care of everyone. Give everyone healthcare, give everyone social security, allow the refugees throughout the world to come here. It sounds good. But guess what? There ain’t enough to go around. Part of the United States ability to play Mother Theresa to the world is partly because of the successes of the Ray Kroc’s. Strong capitalism with economically stable upper and middle classes, and a shrunken lower class. That’s the only way socialistic policies work.
In reality, I relate more to the McDonald brothers. I like systems. I like working on a small scale. The idea of having one restaurant and running it very well is appealing. But that’s probably why I’ll always be small time. Nothing wrong with that. But it doesn’t drive tax dollars, and without some big-time movers and shakers out there, I can’t operate my boutique, mom and pop business. So I’m ok overlooking some ruthlessness. Because to give it away, you first have to have it. And this is how we got it.
I’m not blind, I can see where my wife and reviewers of the film thought Kroc was over the top. He could have, should have, honored his “hand shake” deal with the brothers. Believe people can be successful in business and still be honest. No question. But seeing this portrayal of a guy working his tail-off, selling milk-shake mixers out of the back of his car before finding his greatest success should be nothing more than inspiring and motivating to everyone. And that’s that.