Press "Enter" to skip to content

‘You Don’t Even Know What Business You’re In!’


Just saw a wonderful movie about Ray Kroc called The Founder. It’s an astute portrait of the differences between a one-off team, the McDonald brothers, and a visionary who cannot be stopped, Ray Kroc.

The one-off guys are perfectionists who are thwarted easily and instantly, and do not move forward, or even try. They hole up inside their one restaurant, instead, keeping the world at bay.

By contrast, the obnoxious visionary goes nuts, chasing every opportunity for his vision of a massive chain of fast-food restaurants … until the whole thing is about to come crashing down around him. He literally cannot make a dime with McDonald’s and the bank is trying to take his house and put him on the street at the age of 60–after three years of going after it, starting at the age of 57!

In his crisis, a young consultant teaches him that he’s not in the burger business at all. Which leaves Ray stunned. “But we’re selling burgers!” he yells. The consultant says, “You don’t even know what business you’re in, do you? You’re in the real estate business.”

Brilliant. Ray learns not to make money off the food, but by buying the land that the restaurants sit on; renting them to the franchisee along with the licensing fee. Now, he has assets and a rev-stream that allows him to borrow, build, and grow.

I looked it up when I got home. McDonald’s is one of the largest real-estate owners in the world. That’s its main revenue stream–and it all came from a cocky young consultant, not the old brothers who knew it all and couldn’t be told anything new. Nor from Ray, who all vision and yet clueless.

But Ray listened, right?

In fact, when you revisit the film with that question in mind, you discover that his character is driven by two main actions: one, the vision and quest; and, two, listening. And, still more to the point, heeding what he hears from people.

Other characters, like the brothers or the investors, all stand out by talking without listening. But Ray does more than hear them; he heeds what they say must be done. “Heed” has gone out of style lately, but the big skill that sets him apart in this movie-ecosystem is that he can hear and act on what he hears. That, alone, might be his more critical skill in everything that led him to create the empire we live with today.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *