Against expectations a recent viewing of The Founder offered a fascinating and entertaining insight into the early years of McDonald’s and the life of Ray Kroc. Starring Michael Keaton as the eponymous ‘founder’, the film lifts the lid on the manipulation, manoeuvring and machination that shaped the corporate behemoth loved and reviled across the world. It’s well worth a watch.
Keaton’s portrayal of the complex Kroc in the biopic is riveting. Kroc’s qualities – and he certainly had them in abundance – among them charisma, vision and industriousness, go hand-in-hand with cold-blooded ruthlessness. Difficult questions about the potentially high price individuals and businesses may have to unexpectedly pay for the success they crave are raised.
Accepting inevitable artistic license, the portrayal of Kroc’s incredible business acumen and super-sized chutzpah provides much more to ponder however. The film weaves through a series of timeless challenges and opportunities that face businesses, from marketing, customer service, innovation, strategies for growth and franchising to everything else between. The portrayal of Kroc’s initial baleful attempts to implement an effective franchise structure are particularly enlightening. At another point Kroc’s face lights up in recognition as he’s advised, “You’re not in the hamburger business, you’re in the real estate business.” It’s one of many such revealing moments.
McDonald’s property portfolio in the UK includes over 1,200 restaurants, with Drive Thru’s a key focus of growth. The company aims to open another 300 more over the next 10 years – a particularly interesting fact in light of the way The Founder shows how Kroc’s frustrating experiences of Drive Thru’s seem to have influenced the approach of McDonald’s to this day. As with so much of The Founder, it invites a new perspective and shows how the travails of a unique character, thousands of miles away and many decades ago, continue to have a huge impact across the world and throughout the UK to this day.
Few people have influenced the modern world as much as Kroc and The Founder gives his story and the story of one of the world’s largest property companies the attention it deserves.
And the real secret of McDonald’s appeal according to Kroc in the film? It’s all in the name apparently.