Hollywood has its way of drumming up drama. Every protagonist needs an antagonist, and every hero, a villain. It’s storytelling at its finest. Regardless of its historical accuracy, The Founder gave a peek into the birth of McDonald’s, the poster child for Quick Service Restaurant (QSR) franchises worldwide. For those of us in the food and beverage industry, we peeled back the layers and share our takeaways (pun intended) from this world famous brand’s business story.

Some may question the fashion Ray Kroc wrestled McDonald’s from the founding brothers, Mac and Dick. Yet, ruthlessness isn’t exactly something new in the business world, even if we don’t personally advocate it. In the case of McDonald’s, Ray was simply the sharper businessman who got away with the better end of the deal when partnerships fall apart.

Ownership Mentality
Ray, evidently, developed something referred to as ‘ownership mentality’ when he possessed his first McDonald’s franchise. In Ray’s context, this is when one owns a franchise, and one begins to reason and act as the ‘owner’. One would start changing the system because of their needs, see other franchisees as competition, and even debate the reason he is paying royalties.

Franchising agent and franchisee Ray was adamant on improving the system and growing the market share. Franchisors Mac and Dick were mostly content with the status quo. The division in values and business direction ultimately culminated in the franchise partnership falling apart. It was in this fallout that Ray devised his plan for an aggressive takeover of the entire business.

The incredible paradox here is that while not ideal for franchisee partners to consider themselves actual owners of the company, it’s ideal for employees to develop an ownership mentality, which motivates them to act in the best interest of the business.

Innovation Beyond its Time
Out of the entire movie, the basketball court scene is my favourite, where founders Mac and Dick prototyped their innovative Speedee Service System by rehearsing the kitchen workflow with employees on a basketball court until the system is near perfect. Even then, Dick quipped that “I still think there’s a third version”. Founders of a business are often energised by tackling problems in their own creation.

If everyone is selling the same thing as you (burgers & fries), how do you beat the competition? You rise above the norm, innovate, tackle efficiency problems in production, and differentiate your product lineup. This is almost a textbook approach on business strategy (think Michael Porter’s Generic Strategies). The groundbreaking Speedee Service System sent McDonald’s ahead of its QSR competitors by leap and bounds in terms of productivity, efficiency, and revenue.

“If you’re good at something, never do it for free.” is probably the best adage to describe franchising. When you’ve got an idea or concept better than everyone else, you get people to pay you for using your brainchild.

Always Stay on the Frontlines
Another scene I particularly enjoyed was where the owners Mac and Dick personally fired up the grill and made a boy a burger. Not the burger boy. Not anyone else appointed. Founder are often obsessed about their creation and regularly walk the ground even when they attain success. Because in the food industry, veterans know it’s one thing to get to the top. To stay at the top, one needs consistent excellence.

Likewise for franchisee partners. The best partners are those who well understand the scope of work they need to work hard in. When Ray first signed off franchisees, he made some poor judgement of character in having partners who were only monetary driven, adjusting the concept as they saw fit without complying with standards and quality, eventually diluting the brand value. This experience made Ray all the sharper later on, leading him to choose better partners. These were hardworking middle-class, who were excited at the notion of owning their own business and were personally invested in the success of the franchise.

The business lesson here is simple: don’t just opt for partners who can afford your franchise. Instead, sieve out partners who are willing and have what it takes to go the distance with you shoulder to shoulder.

Overall, I like how the movie left many things open for interpretation without overextending sympathy for any of the characters. Michael Keaton is a magnetic actor who draws the audience in. If you’re into food and business like I am, this might be a good flick to check out.

And you know what, it might just ring true that “there’s no such thing as bad publicity”. ‘Cause now I’m craving for a Big Mac and some fries.


Movie Rating:
3.5 / 5 Burgers