Founder Lessons

Tuesday, April 25, AD 2017


I have a crowded day today.  The centerpiece is six bankruptcy first meetings of creditors that will extend from noon to two-thirty PM.  As is usually the case when I am in a hearing over the lunch hour, I will grab some fast food in my travels and eat in my car.  About 50% of the time the food comes from a McDonald’s, as will be the case today.  (No, having done this for thirty-five years I neither lose control of the car nor suffer from indigestion, although sometimes my ties end up the worse for wear.)

On Sunday my bride and I watched the Blu-ray of Founder (2017) the biopic starring Michael Keaton in the role of McDonald’s founder Ray Kroc.  The film is a dark comedy and Michael Keaton’s manic comedic drive is a good fit for the film.  The film tells a somewhat fictionalized tale of how Ray Kroc took the idea of the McDonald brothers for fast service of hamburgers, fries and pop and turned it into a globe-spanning corporation.

The film depicts Kroc as both hero and villain.  Without his endless energy and resourcefulness the McDonald’s concept of fast food would have remained in San Bernardino and a handful of southwest locations.  However, Kroc is also shown cheating the brothers and divorcing his wife of 39 years to pursue a younger woman.  The latter charge is correct.  It is even worse than the film depicts.  When the younger woman did not divorce her husband, Kroc married wife number two and dumped her and married the younger woman, Joan Kroc, in 1969 when she finally did divorce her first husband and became wife number three.  That tells you all you need to know about Ray Kroc as a human being.  However, the wheel always comes round.  Joan Kroc was a liberal airhead who gave away Kroc’s hard earned fortune after his death to such worthless causes as a million bucks to the Democrat party and 235 million to NPR.  Ray Kroc, who was a political conservative, was doubtless grinding his teeth in the world to come.  Hopefully he wasn’t outraged by the billion and a half she left on her death to the Salvation Army, a worthy cause.  The allegation that Kroc cheated the McDonald brothers by denying them royalties is an urban myth.  Kroc had to scramble to raise the 2.7 million they wanted as a buyout in 1961, the equivalent today, after taxes, of eight million apiece.  When Kroc suggested that they accept installment payments, the brothers said they might as well then continue getting their royalties of 0.5% per annum of the franchise profits.  It was understood that no royalties would be paid to the brothers after the sale.  Kroc was a rough business man, but an outright cheat, no.

The film is entertaining, but if that was all it was I doubt if I would have written a post about it.  The first half of the film teaches some lessons that all of us should learn.  Ray Kroc at 52 was, at best, a moderately successful salesman.  Professionally, the most he could seemingly hope for was keeping himself afloat and making enough money to not experience poverty in old age.  Then he saw the McDonald brothers’ operation and had a revelation that their system of fast food could sweep the globe.  He then set out to make this vision a reality, and the first half of the film shows the resourceful ways that he overcame all the obstacles in his path, along with recruiting talent from unlikely sources, to make McDonald’s into a business that today feeds one percent of the globe daily.  That part of the film should be studied with care, especially by Catholics.  We have the grandest vision of all, that of Christ, but how many of us take that vision and effectively bring it to others?  Our greatest saints:  Saint Paul, Saint Francis, Saint Ignatius Loyola, Saint Mother Teresa, all have been filled with that same drive, energy and resourcefulness that Kroc brought to pedaling burgers.  Too many of us lack these qualities, or at least we do not display them.  Not all of us, of course, can be in this category of successful evangelists, but more of us should try to do so.  If more Catholics displayed a tenth of the passion that Kroc devoted to his fast food crusade, and put that passion at the service of Christ, the world would be so much a better place.

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