Two of my dear friends recently had a falling out. The reason? One of these friends, Mark, told his roommate, Steve, that he had a crush on a girl who lived in their apartment building. This girl had been a casual acquaintance for several months, and Mark felt that everything he’d learned about her was super impressive.
Flash forward to a week later, when Mark entered the apartment building just as Steve and this amazing girl were heading out the door on a date. Yes, Steve had listened to Mark’s great idea—and then beat him to the punch. Mark stormed up to his room and the roommates’ friendship dissolved shortly thereafter.
Variations of this story have played out since the beginning of time—and it’s quite possible that something similar has happened to you. Good ideas are hot commodities, so it’s not unusual for others to step in uninvited and borrow yours.
In the business world, many consider Ray Kroc to be as much of a snake as Steve was when he stole Mark’s idea and asked out their neighbor. Others take an “ends justify the means” approach to Kroc’s legacy, celebrating his successes and considering him an American business icon.
“While some criticized the nutritional content of McDonald’s food, its treatment of teenage workers, and Kroc’s reputation for ruthless business dealings, the model he engineered proved extremely profitable,” explains Biography. “Kroc’s strict guidelines regarding preparation, portion sizes, cooking methods, and packaging ensured that McDonald’s food would look and taste the same across franchises. These innovations contributed to the success of the McDonald’s brand on a global scale.”
Regardless of your personal feelings regarding Kroc, there are some important lessons that can be derived from his life and career. Let’s take a look at some of the highlights (and lowlights).
Ray didn’t graduate from high school—instead he gained real-world experience by starting a lemonade stand and selling coffee products door-to-door. He was always looking for ways to improve his skills.
If your business background isn’t super impressive, refuse to let it hold you back from success. There will always be chances to learn—and your tenacity, when applied correctly, can more than compensate for a diploma or degree. Commit to always being on the lookout for new opportunities.
“The 2 most important requirements for major success are: first, being in the right place at the right time, and second, doing something about it.” —Ray Kroc
Kroc had a knack for finding collaborators. During WWI, he signed up to be an ambulance driver with the Red Cross. During that time, he crossed paths with a quirky illustrator named Walt. They kept in contact over the years, and McDonald’s eventually opened in the various amusement parks run by Walt Disney.
More infamously, Kroc met Dick and Mac McDonald in 1964. Impressed by their restaurant, he immediately began dreaming of ways to leverage their partnership.
“When I saw them working that day in 1954, I felt like some latter-day Newton who’d just had an Idaho potato caromed off his skull. That night in my motel room, I did a lot of heavy thinking about what I’d seen during the day. Visions of McDonald’s restaurants dotting crossroads all over the country paraded through my brain.” —Ray Kroc
While nobody would ever question Kroc’s ability to meet up with collaborators, his treatment of them was sometimes disturbing. If you seek to make friends in the business world, you’ll find that they often evolve into valuable partners.
“But when it came to the McDonald brothers, he was downright vicious,” says one report. “He opened his first McDonald’s franchise in 1955 […] In 1961, he took a huge gamble—buying them out for $2.7 million. The deal happened, but there was one sticking point: Kroc thought it included their original location in San Bernardino, but they said it didn’t. The brothers kept their restaurant, but Kroc got the rights to their name. They were forced to rebrand as The Big M, but Kroc didn’t want to let them have it at all. What’s a businessman to do? He opened a McDonald’s on the next block and put them out of business.”
Kroc accomplished feats in the fast-food industry that probably would’ve seemed impossible to his colleagues. Not only does McDonald’s lead the world in sales, boasting “billions and billions served,” but they also have become the world’s largest toy distributor. The company gives out 1.5 billion toys annually as part of its iconic Happy Meals.
On the flip side, Kroc’s ruthless ways have made him somewhat of a villain in the public perception. If you want to see a dramatized version of his exploits, check out The Founder.
“If any of my competitors were drowning, I’d stick a hose in their mouth.” —Ray Kroc
Without a doubt, we can all take cues from Kroc’s vision and work ethic. And if we can balance those virtues with an equal dose of decency, we’ll find lasting success and protect our good names.