founder
I have been reviewing books for a number of years now; however, movies have always been my passion and on occasion I have used movies in staff meetings for the accessibility of the message, and for more personal management lessons. I decided that it was time to share some of these. Please note that this review does contain spoilers for the movie and is more of a reference for interesting scenes and themes.

The Founder is the true story of The McDonald Brothers, who created the first McDonald’s Burger Restaurant, and Ray Croc who saw the potential in what the McDonald Brothers had created and turned it into the franchise and behemoth that we know today. Starring Michael Keaton, as Ray Croc, The Founder is certainly a cautionary tail about choosing your business partners, but it is also a story about realizing potential, and understanding your business and your customers.

The movie starts by following Ray Croc as an ice cream mixer sales man to bad drive in restaurants. While it is obvious that he is an archetypal slimy sales man, the patter he uses is surprisingly modern and essentially comes down to “build it and they will come.”
When he comes across the McDonald Brothers’ restaurant, it is different from any that the traveling salesman has come across in the past: Bulk sales of three items, no plates or utensils, and the food is received in 30 seconds rather than 30 minutes.

While the story of how the brothers reached this point is interesting on many levels, the 20-minute mark is of particular note. The McDonald Brothers take their staff to a tennis court, lay out their new kitchen design in chalk, and have the staff act out the “speedy system” that will allow them to make burgers like nobody else. What is most interesting about this sequence is the McDonald Brothers attention to detail and choreography of how their staff moves. They recognize that they are creating a system and that it has to be right or it will not work at all – even if that mean them redesigning the kitchen multiple times.

At the 50-minute mark the discussion of franchising, and the potential for a drop in standards, is examined in detail. This in turn leads to the realization that franchise owners should be sales people who are wholly vested in the venture, and looking for an opportunity, rather than just investors looking to make money anyway they can. Again, this plays into a central theme of the movie – chose who you go into business with wisely.

One hour and 18 minutes marks the real revelation of the McDonald’s story. That the McDonald’s franchise is not in the burger business at all, but actually in the real-estate business. Rent provides steady revenue and it is capital that fuels expansion.
Things start to go seriously wrong for the McDonald Brothers at the one hour and 29-minute mark with the breaking of their contract with Ray Croc and how Ray Croc sees business. A significant take away from the movie is that the McDonald Brothers and the Ray Croc have fundamentally different views on business, what a business should be to the community, and how a business person behaves.

It is certainly a cautionary tale.

While it would be a mistake to paint Ray Croc as a mustache twirling villain, his ethical standards are dubious at best. Re-watching the movie, with the benefit of knowing what happens, it is interesting to note all the places where the McDonald Brothers treat Ray Croc less as a partner and more as an employee. They frustrate his attempts to monetize the franchise, and are unbending in their standards even if that creates a significant impediment to the creation of a viable business. One can certainly see the position that Ray Croc finds himself in, and while his solution is mean and dishonest, it is not one of his making. Unlike most business stories where the good guy visionary’s do battle against the dark hearted managers, “The Founder” is more a tale of restrictive managers with a good idea and a visionary with dubious morals.

A thoughtful viewing of “The Founder” should provide pause for anyone going into a partnership, and it should also serve as a cautionary tale of the value of communication in a business, the miracle of systems, and the power of vision.

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