Ray Kroc: His Life and “Grinding it Out” January 06 2021
Even if you do not recognize the name “Ray Kroc,” you will recognize the
franchise that he expanded to every corner of the globe -- McDonald’s. Ray Kroc is widely considered one of the greatest American businessmen in modern times. He practically launched the fast-food industry and changed the food-service franchise model forever.
Over nine million pounds of McDonald’s French fries are served every day at close to 39,000 restaurants around the world. However, most people know almost nothing about the man who helped make McDonald’s a household name.
Before you swing by McDonald’s for your next Big Mac, learn a little more about the life of the founder and how to get a Ray Kroc autograph.
Ray Kroc Caught the Entrepreneurial Bug Early
Raymond Albert Kroc was born on October 5th, 1902 in Oak Park, Illinois. He is a first-generation American, as his parents immigrated from Czechoslovakia. From an early age, Ray Kroc was interested in making money. He opened a lemonade stand, worked at a soda fountain, and even lied about his age to join the Red Cross as an ambulance driver.
Toward the end of World War I, at the age of 15, Kroc falsified his application to start training. He soon traveled to Connecticut where he trained alongside another underage trainee, Walt Disney. However, Kroc and Disney never got to travel the battlefront. The war ended before they were to ship out to France.
After the war, Ray Kroc moved around and worked a lot of different jobs. He worked as a real estate agent and musical director. He also occasionally played piano with lounge bands. During his time in Florida, Kroc made a few mistakes. He worked as a pianist at a bar that sold illegal liquor. He also had a bad real estate deal. Stable employment had alluded Kroc until he started working as a salesman for the Lily-Tulip Cup Company.
Ray Kroc had a knack for selling paper cups and eventually became the Midwestern sales manager for the company. During his travels around the country selling paper cups, Kroc met an ice cream shop owner named Earl Prince.
Prince had recently invented a machine that could make five batches of milkshakes simultaneously, allowing the ice cream shop employees to serve customers more quickly. Kroc realized the potential demand for the mixers. He soon quit the Lily-Tulip Cup Company and became a salesman for the Prince Castle Multi-Mixer.
As with the paper cups, Kroc excelled at selling mixers. He targeted soda fountains and restaurants. However, a lot of his sales came from referrals. A pair of brothers in San Bernardino, California had been using one of the multi-mixers at their restaurant. Other restaurant owners in the area saw the mixer and were impressed, helping to drive up Kroc’s sales numbers.
A Visit to San Bernardino Changed Everything
Kroc wanted to visit the store that was helping him sell more multi-mixers. When he arrived in San Bernardino and visited the restaurant, he knew instantly that he could transform it into something much bigger.
The restaurant was owned by Richard and Maurice McDonald. They had purchased eight of the multi-mixers and had a thriving business. This was in 1954. By this time, Ray Kroc was in his early 40s. After spending most of his life bouncing from one gig to the next, Kroc was ready to devote himself completely to a new endeavor. He believed that he could expand what the McDonald brothers had achieved.
Part of the popularity of the McDonald’s restaurant in San Bernardino was the speed of service. The McDonald’s brothers had adopted an assembly line approach, allowing them to make hamburgers more quickly. They could also sell hamburgers much more cheaply.
The McDonald’s brothers charged just $0.15 per hamburger, which was about half the price charged by other restaurants in the area. Ray Kroc signed a contract with the McDonald’s brothers, becoming the franchising agent for McDonald’s Systems, Inc. The company was founded in 1955.
The same year, Kroc opened his first McDonald’s franchise location in Des Plaines, Illinois. By 1959, Kroc had opened 100 McDonald’s restaurants. A variety of copycat fast-food chains also cropped up by the late 1950s.
Burger King, Arby’s, Hardee’s, and KFC were all following the business practices that Ray Kroc developed. Despite the competition, the McDonald’s brothers were reluctant to add too many restaurants. Frustrated with the lack of ambition from the McDonald’s brothers, Kroc decided to buy the franchise. He managed to raise $2.7 million to purchase McDonald’s in 1961.
Kroc now had the freedom to run McDonald’s the way he wanted. In 1965, McDonald’s stock began trading publicly. By the end of the decade, the chain included over 1000 restaurants.
What Led to McDonald’s Success?
Without a doubt, Ray Kroc is the reason why McDonald’s is the largest fast-food franchise. He is credited with a variety of innovative developments that changed the way restaurants operate. First, he only sold single-store franchises, which was part of his desire to maintain consistency across all of McDonald’s restaurants. At the time, franchisors often sold territorial franchises, allowing franchisees to operate multiple locations in a single territory.
Kroc wanted uniformity above all else. The quality of service and food had to be the same at each franchise location. By only allowing franchisees to open a single location at a time, he could retain more control over the development of the chain.
Every McDonald’s restaurant had the same layouts, color schemes, menus, and employee uniforms. Franchise owners were also carefully screened. Those who were selected to open McDonald’s franchisees were sent to Hamburger University in Elk Grove, Illinois.
Kroc also streamlined the food preparation methods, which were already among the fastest in the industry. Portion sizes, packaging, and cooking methods were all carefully chosen. Every restaurant had to follow the same practices, which boosted brand awareness. Customers could walk into a McDonald’s in any part of the world and know exactly what to expect. The standardized operations allowed McDonald’s to save money and expand.
Ray Kroc also focused on maintaining a family-friendly environment. During Kroc’s reign at McDonald’s, franchise locations were not allowed in downtown areas. Employees were also required to be clean, well groomed, and friendly to all guests. The family-friendly image was boosted by advertising campaigns, including the introduction of Ronald McDonald in 1963.
Want to Learn More About Ray Kroc?
So, how did Ray Kroc manage to build one of the greatest fast-food franchises in the world? He outlines it all in his autobiography, Grinding It Out. Most “autobiographies” of famous people are written by ghostwriters. The subject of the biography hires someone to write their life story. With Grinding It Out, you get to explore the life of Ray Kroc in his own words.
The book is an insightful look at Ray Kroc’s life. You can read his full story from his early years in Oak Park to the height of his McDonald’s empire. As mentioned, Ray Kroc developed a lot of new approaches to the fast-food industry. He only sold single-store franchises, which was part of his desire to maintain consistency across all McDonald’s restaurants. He also reduced waste and ensured that McDonald’s retained a family-friendly image.
The book was written in 1977, the same year that Ray Kroc gave up his leadership role at the company to become the Senior Chairman of the Board. He kept that position for the rest of his life. Ray Kroc died on January 14th, 1984 at the age of 81, just under 30 years after he met the McDonald’s brothers. In three decades, Kroc built the largest fast-food franchise. At the time of his death, there were over 7500 McDonald’s restaurants in close to three dozen countries. His net worth was estimated at $8 billion.
Ray Kroc’s legacy lives on. McDonald’s remains the world’s largest restaurant chain, serving over 69 million customers each day. The company is also the world’s second-largest private employer, trailing only Walmart, with over 1.7 million employees.
This has been a short overview of the life and times of Ray A. Kroc. If you want the full story, check out Grinding It Out. The book offers a wealth of details related to how he built his fast-food empire. Most people find that the book is surprisingly humorous. Ray Kroc was a successful salesman, which requires the gift of storytelling. The book is a quick read, as Kroc has a way of keeping entertained as you turn each page.
The honesty found in Grinding It Out is likely what led filmmakers to use it as their basis for a biographical movie about the founder of McDonald’s. In 2016, Michael Keaton played the role of Kroc in the film The Founder.
Now, you can read the inspiration for the movie and the real story behind McDonald’s. Grinding It Out is enlightening and paints a clearer picture of who Ray Kroc was. You can even get a Ray Kroc autograph.