5 Business Lessons From McDonald's Founder, Ray Kroc

It is almost impossible to go down a street in any major city in the world today without spotting the iconic yellow logo set against a solid red background that represents McDonald’s. 

Kroc was a young businessman from Oak Park, IL, just outside of Chicago, who after joining the McDonalds brothers (Dick and Mac) in 1954, changed the once single-unit restaurant in San Bernardino, CA into a worldwide fast-food conglomerate.  But his success was not without its share of failures and obstacles; Kroc often found himself butting heads with the McDonald brothers, from the minute he first joined them in their small business up to the time when they negotiations began for Kroc to purchase the company from them in 1961.  Nevertheless, Kroc persevered and made McDonalds a twentieth century phenomenon while simultaneously revolutionizing the food-service industry. 

Whether you are a regular customer at McDonalds or not, here are 5 business lessons you can learn from Ray Kroc. 

1. When opportunity strikes, do something about it!

One of Ray Kroc’s most famous quotes is, “The two most important requirements for major success are: first, being in the right place at the right time, and second, doing something about it.” 

Kroc first took notice of the McDonalds and their small burger operation when he was working as a salesman selling Multi-mixers and the brothers purchased eight for their successful San Bernardino, CA location.  Dick and Mac had already established the idea of working with a limited menu in order to provide faster, but still quality service, which Kroc recognized as brilliant and opportunistic. 

Dick and Mac, however, were not interested in turning the restaurant into a nationwide chain, so once Kroc had finalized his purchase of the McDonalds franchise from Dick and Mac for essentially one million dollars apiece, he began to expand upon his vision for the company.  Kroc came upon (perhaps with a small bit of luck) a business concept that he saw had the potential for mass success, and once he found it, he grabbed it by the horns and ran with it, which is, perhaps, the most valuable part of the lesson: when opportunity comes knocking, go and catch it!

2. In order to reach your goals, you must be relentless.   

Kroc was not one to sit around waiting for opportunity to strike and success to come immediately.  He understood that transforming McDonalds into what it would become today would take a great deal of patience and effort.  In this Kroc was a relentless businessman.  When the McDonalds initially refused to sell the Big M to him, Kroc opened a McDonalds right across the street, and striving to outbid his competitors, worked to improve the quality of his product and services, until finally they caved and the historic deal for $2.7 million was finalized.  He once said of the dog-eat-dog world of business, “If any of my competitors were drowning, I’d stick a hose in their mouth and turn on the water.”

This was the fundamental idea of American capitalism, and Kroc was definitely, in his own right, one of the leading examples of American capitalists.        

3. Shoot for perfection; set a high standard.  

Nothing in this world is perfect, but Ray Kroc did everything he could to ensure that his customers received quality service every time they came to a McDonalds restaurant, no matter where the restaurant was located.  As McDonalds continued to grow, and Kroc was able to open more locations across the country, he needed to develop a system that would ensure every single customer received the exact same quality food and service. 

To solve this problem Kroc expanded upon McDonalds’ assembly line set up.  He set up standards for how the food was made and also how it was cooked, what the serving sizes were, and how McDonalds packaging and icons would appear.  He also set up customer service standards for the company, instituting rules like customer refunds for incorrect orders or for having to wait longer than a set amount of time to receive service or product.  By striving for perfection in his product, Kroc not only improved the customer experience, but he helped to solidify McDonalds as a company that provides the exact same quality service at any location around the world. 

4. Teamwork is one of the keys to success.

Ray Kroc understood that teamwork is one of the most important elements to running a successful business, let alone a successful international conglomerate. 

“None of us is as good as all of us,” he once said, and in order for him to expand his small one-unit restaurant across the United States and then overseas, he needed the help of loyal and dedicated employees.  Kroc insisted McDonalds’ workers be treated respectfully in every location, setting up rules for fair treatment and respect for all employees, and also ensuring his workers had a comfortable and fair environment to work in.  His passion for team development moved him to allow franchise owners to develop their own marketing strategies and he began campaigns to make McDonalds a more community-friendly business by giving back to communities in which his franchises were located.  It was from this business model that Ronald McDonald and the Ronald McDonald Foundation would become an integral part of the McDonalds community. 

5. Don’t be afraid to take risks. 

“If you’re not a risk taker, you should get the hell out of business.” 

Harsh words, maybe, but in Ray Kroc’s mind not taking any risks deprives you of the opportunity of being successful.  Kroc took a small business model and began down a long expansion plan with absolutely no real idea of what the outcome would be.  The fast-food industry was still very young, if non-existent, at the time when he embarked on his journey, but through perseverance, and his willingness to take risks and gamble on himself and his product, he came out on top as one of the most successful entrepreneurs of the twentieth century.