For years, Ray Kroc served up an image just as tasty and polished as the brand he championed.

Kroc used his considerable moxie to grow the McDonald’s Corporation into an unparalleled success. He envisioned, developed and sold a franchise system that became a runaway success.

Today, the golden arches of McDonald’s fast food restaurants are instantly recognizable the world over, with more than 36,000 restaurants in 100 countries around the globe. Big Macs and fries are staples, and McRibs and Shamrock shakes have become seasonal delights.

Kroc brought his dream to fruition by focusing relentlessly on emphasizing consistency in product and experience. He developed a detailed manual for running a McDonald’s restaurant that covered everything from food prep to cleaning. Franchisees and leaders learned the basics at Hamburger University, the company’s training program.

But beneath the bright yellow plastic veneer, there have always been rumblings about Kroc’s ambition and his sometimes ruthless pursuit of his goals. The movie The Founder brought those rumblings to the fore, highlighting Kroc’s troubled relationship and sour parting of ways with his original partners, Richard and Maurice McDonald.

Kroc’s moxie, warts and all, holds key lessons for leaders. Here’s a sampling:

Moxie isn’t necessarily defined by creative genius. It’s defined by the ability to recognize it. Ray Kroc didn’t invent the streamlined menu and service that’s at the core of McDonald’s success. Richard and Maurice McDonald did.

The McDonald brothers opened their first restaurant in San Bernardino, California in 1940. They kept the menu simple and inexpensive, and over time pioneered a new self-service model for customers. Their concept was wildly successful, and they caught the attention of Kroc, who was then a milkshake machine salesman.

Kroc was intrigued by the concept. He knew he could scale it and reproduce it across the country, delivering a consistent, good quality, value meal to hungry customers. He convinced the McDonald brothers to partner with him, and went on to established one of the most successful franchise businesses in history.

Moxie means trying, failing, trying again and failing again, and repeating that process no matter how long it takes.

Kroc was no fresh-faced youngster when he embarked on his franchise fast food restaurant venture. He was in his 50s, and had been trying for years to find that one idea that he could use to hit it big. He once said, “I was an overnight success all right, but 30 years is a long, long night.”

Even his efforts to get McDonald’s Corporation off the ground took several years of effort and lots of readjusting along the way. Kroc simply refused to give up.

Control of your story is out of your hands. History will judge you. It’s often said that the victor gets to write the history, and that was certainly true in Kroc’s case. For years, all mention of the early partnership with the McDonald brothers was left out of official histories of the company. The story focused solely on Kroc and his contributions.

But it’s pretty tough to completely sweep aside the chain’s namesake brothers. And when you remember them, you have to remember how the relationship between Kroc and the McDonalds went south, too.

Kroc had opened his first McDonald’s restaurant in Illinois, and was beginning to sell franchises when the brothers got cold feet. They were worried about the tax burden they and their heirs would carry. They offered to sell their stake in the venture for a price that Kroc considered exorbitantly high. The negotiations became so bitter that Kroc eventually opened up a McDonald’s location just a block from the original McDonald’s restaurant, and worked relentlessly to drive the McDonald brothers out of business.

Many have questioned Kroc’s ethics in his dealings with his original partners, and those questions have turned up on books, articles and now a major motion picture. The picture is less than flattering. Some see Kroc’s actions as evidence of his moxie, and some see it as blind ambition.

How do you see Kroc’s legacy?

 

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