In researching this piece, I asked a number of people what came to mind when they heard the name Ray Kroc. I was surprised at how many people didn’t have a clue as to who he was. Others said they thought he created the McDonald’s fast-food chain, which, by the way, is incorrect. Why should anyone even be interested in this man who died in 1984 at the age of 82! Some would consider him ancient history.
On the contrary, calendar dates have nothing to do with what you can learn from this unique entrepreneur. He, indeed, has much to offer anyone striving for success.
Kroc did not create McDonald’s, convenience food, or the fast-food restaurant. In fact, like so many other great entrepreneurs, he wasn’t very creative at all. However, he possessed the very unique ability to recognize a successful concept, visualize the potential big picture, and take the necessary steps to implement a game plan to its fullest.
Let’s take a closer look at the man who has impacted millions of people all over the world:
- Ray was born in 1902 in Oak Park, Illinois. Ironically, decades later, he would return to this neighborhood to establish the famous McDonald’s Hamburger University, the worldwide management training center, in nearby Oak Brook.
- At the age of 15, this brash young man lied about his age to join the Red Cross as an ambulance driver, working with another future entrepreneur, Walt Disney. Upon completion of his training in Connecticut, he never left for Europe because the war ended. He then moved on to become a piano player before realizing there was little chance for a career tickling the ivories. In 1922, he became a salesman for the Lily Tulip Cup Co. by day as he continued to play piano at night for a local radio station.
- In the course of selling paper cups, he encountered Earl Prince, who had invented a five-spindle multimixer milkshake machine and was buying Lily cups by the truckload. Fascinated by the speed and efficiency of the machine, Kroc obtained exclusive marketing rights from Prince. Determined to succeed, he crisscrossed the country peddling the mixer for the next 17 years.
- Kroc discovered a remarkable restaurant in San Bernardino, California, owned by two brothers, Dick and Mac McDonald, who had ordered eight mixers and had them churning away all day. Most of his customers used only one multimixer. Kroc saw the restaurant in 1954 and was entranced by the effectiveness of the operation. He had never seen anything like it. They were fast, efficient, cheap and extremely popular as customers lined up consistently for 15-cent hamburgers, 19-cent cheeseburgers, 20-cent milkshakes, 10-cent sodas and 10-cent fries.
- While the brothers were content with their successful business, Kroc visualized the establishment of the golden arches all over the country. In another display of salesmanship, Ray Kroc convinced the brothers to make him their exclusive agent. In 1954, Ray Kroc opened his own McDonald’s drive-in in Des Plaines, Illinois. He officially established the McDonald’s Corporation. The rapid growth later proved to be much too ambitious for the brothers so Ray bought the brothers out in 1961 for $2.7 million — a fortune for the brothers but a mere pittance of what Kroc would amass decades later as the golden arches dotted the world’s surface! As he noted later about the purchase, “I was 52 years old. I had diabetes and incipient arthritis. I had lost my gall bladder and most of my thyroid gland in earlier campaigns, but I was convinced that the best was ahead of me.” Obviously, he was right. Ray Kroc was the first businessman to apply the principles of mass production on a large scale in a service industry.
- By 1963, more than 1 billion hamburgers had been sold, a statistic that was displayed on a neon sign in front of each restaurant. That same year, the 500th McDonald’s restaurant opened and the famous clown, Ronald McDonald, made his debut. He soon became known to children throughout the country, and kids were critical in determining where the family ate. According to John Mariani in his remarkable book America Eats Out, “Within six years of airing his first national TV ad in 1965, the Ronald McDonald clown character was familiar to 96% of American children, far more than knew the name of the President of the United States.”
- In 1974, Ray Kroc became a hero for reasons completely unrelated to business. He purchased the San Diego Padres baseball team and prevented them from moving to Washington, D.C.
- Today McDonald’s is serving 47 million people a day through the efforts of 1.5 million employees in 31,000 locations in 119 countries on 6 continents! Can you imagine that kind of growth from one single location similar to the one pictured here?
- Ray Kroc passed away from a heart ailment in January 1984, at the age of 82, just ten months before McDonald’s sold hamburger number 50 billion. Later that same year, The San Diego Padres went to the World Series.
- Kroc was included in the TIME 100 list of the world’s most influential builders and titans of industry. For more information, read Grinding It Out:The Making of McDonald’s.