This business pioneer never put an age limit on entrepreneurship

CBPENCILSKETCH LIGHT BULB webFifty-nine years ago an American fast-food pioneer opened the first McDonald’s franchise which launched a company that would eventually become the world’s largest food chain. Ray Kroc opened the first franchised McDonald’s on 15 April 1955 in Days Plains, Illinois, in the United States.

The first McDonald’s restaurant was started in 1948 by brothers Maureece and Richard Macdonald in San Bernardino, California. Salesman Ray Kroc, who sold appliances to this small hamburger restaurant, was intrigued why they needed eight malt and shake mixers. When he visited the brothers in 1954 to see how a small fast-food restaurant could sell so many milkshakes, he discovered an efficient format that allowed the brothers to produce huge quantities of food at low prices.

When Ray Kroc flew back to Chicago in 1954 he had a freshly signed contract with the McDonald’s brothers in his briefcase. At that time he recounts how he was a “battle-scarred veteran of the business wars, but I was still eager to go into action.” He was 52 years old, had diabetes, incipient arthritis, lost his gallbladder and most of his thyroid gland. But he was convinced that “the best was ahead of me”.

He says: “I was still green and growing, and I was flying along at an altitude slightly higher than the plane”.

You can read the incredible personal story of the man who started the McDonald’s franchises in “Grinding it Out” by Ray Kroc (with Robert Anderson).

It wasn’t an easy road from there because the initial franchise owners were often running the individual outlets to make money for themselves rather than aligning with the aspirations to build the franchise company run by Ray Kroc. Kroc also spent many years on getting the franchise right including food preparation, service and equipment suited for small spaces and easy to operate.

The big idea behind McDonald’s and perhaps why it has lasted already for almost 60 years is that Kroc treated fast food in the same way as a manufacturing industry with consistent standards of quality, service and cleanliness.

Even today McDonald’s is known for its testing, testing and testing. The franchise will test products before they release them into their franchise stores. They need to know that the product will be wanted and liked by consumers before they commence any large rollout. Even this year, for example, McDonald’s has began testing personalised orders with a “build-your-own burger” concept at a location in California. McDonald’s never stands still and this is an example of how it is responding to the growing trend towards customisation in the fast-food industry.

The chain is also preparing to introduce new prep tables in the kitchens of its more than 14,000 US restaurants. The tables will accommodate many more toppings and dressings than McDonald’s presently offers, which may suggest that the company has plans to expand its ingredients lineup.

One thing among many others that we can learn from Kroc was that he was willing to take risks. Kroc once said, “If you’re not going to be a risk taker, you should get the hell out of the business.” He also had a very clear vision or big dream of building McDonald’s restaurants into a national operation.

Although it was very difficult, Krok strived for perfection and paid enormous attention to detail in every aspect of the fast-food restaurant franchise.

For Kroc happiness was not a tangible thing but “a byproduct of achievement.” However he did add: “Achievement must be made against the possibility of failure, against the risk of defeat. It is no achievement to walk a tightrope laid flat on the floor. Where there is no risk, there can be no pride in achievement and, consequently, no happiness.”

The story of McDonald’s is an inspiration for entrepreneurs. I’ve even heard a Gerbera grower in the Mpumalanga province tell me how she has modelled her whole operation on the McDonald’s franchise system. What Kroc built has lasted almost 60 years and from that itself we can all learn something.

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