Last weekend I had a choice to make. Go to La La Land with my wife and mother-in-law, or play the “man-up” card, save my father-in-law and go see “The Founder” starring Michael Keaton chronicling the story of McDonald’s founder Ray Kroc.
I chose the man-up route. Keaton did not disappoint.
First things first and the necessary disclosures – The Founder sits at the intersection of a lot of things I like. Business, the value of the right people in the right jobs, questions about business ethics/morals and of course, Michael Keaton. If you like movies that hit on all those things, you’ll love this movie. Let’s get you started with the trailer below and then we’ll evaluate the movie on its merits and I’ll tell you what I learned and was reminded of as a result (email subscribers click through if you don’t see the trailer video below):
First – here’s what The Founder is about – Ray Kroc is known as the founder of McDonald’s, but the movie finds him north of 50 years old and selling milkshake mixers out of his car. It’s not going well (as you saw from the trailer above), but then he learns he’s received an order for 6 of his unsellable mixers. He makes a call, learns the order is real and ends up driving from Illinois to California to figure out who in the hell needs 6 crappy multi-shake mixers when he rarely sells one.
He finds the true founders of the McDonald’s concept, Dick McDonald (Nick Offerman) and his low-key brother Maurice (John Carroll Lynch), working the system of fast-food efficiency we now take for granted in San Bernardino, California.
They run their one shop with speed and efficiency; taking over America is the last thing on their quality-obsessed minds. But long before Donald Trump made his thoughts known about the art of the deal, Kroc was in there empire-building. Trailing a long line of flop inventions, the man is smart enough to see a future in cheap burgers. He proposes to run their entire franchise operation – Let the bodies fall where they may.
The rest of the movie finds us exploring the duality of man. The McDonald brothers try to protect themselves, the original deal they struck with Kroc and their concept as they see it slipping away. Kroc? He’s on a new level, trying to expand the concept until he figures out the original deal he signed with the McDonalds doesn’t allow him to be profitable.
So he does what any sales grinder would do – he changes the definition of the franchise, buying up land in a company he fully owns and leasing it as a pre-requisite part of any McDonald’s franchise.
He pivoted before pivoting was cool.
Here’s some things you’ll be reminded of if you see The Founder:
1. Sometimes the guy with the idea isn’t the right guy to take a concept to market.
2. Guys with the will to get a concept to mass scale are absolutely required to step on people, hide dead bodies and generally be everything you tell your kids not to be.
3. Drive, ambition and the sheer will power to grind are something embedded in someone’s DNA. You either have it or you don’t.
4. It’s important to know who you are. Kroc sold his first couple of franchises to country club elites who didn’t take quality personally. He learned in short order he connected with the working class that wanted an opportunity to build wealth.
5. For the people that chase success at the highest levels, it’s all about the scoreboard. And the scoreboard is more important than spouses, friends or doing the “right thing” in any given situation.
6. Michael Keaton is amazing. I always forget he’s one of my favorites, and The Founder let’s him give you that extra 10% that makes Keaton the most fun. Like Billy Blazejowski in Night Shift, but different.
I’d recommend anyone interested in business see The Founder. You’ll find yourself thinking repeatedly, “Would I do that if it meant I could be the founder of McDonald’s?”
You answer will undoubtedly be “yes” and “no”. How much you say “yes” depends a lot on how you are wired.