Lessons from The Founder (aka “that McDonald’s movie”)

Lessons from The Founder aka “that McDonald’s movie”

On the plane ride back from Taiwan, one of the movies I watched was The Founder (2016), the Ray Kroc and McDonald’s story. I highly recommend it.

Here are random lessons I took away from the movie:

1. Communicate with your partner.

Ray Kroc’s (played by Michael Keaton) ambition constantly put him at ends with his first wife, Ethel (played by Laura Dern). A lot of it has to do with the misogyny of the times, but I don’t want to focus on that.

I’m more interested in the fact that their rift stemmed from a lack of communication. Ray and Ethel didn’t share the same level of ambition — she wanted him to enjoy the “roof he put over their heads.” Ray wanted to build an empire.

The story seemed to suggest that both partners need to be on the same exact same page for a marriage to work. I disagree. I think it’s rare that both partners WILL have the same level of ambition, and it’s the balancing act that makes a marriage or partnership work.

However, I do think it’s important for both partners to have similar values, and constantly communicate openly. Both partners, but Ray especially, consistently failed at this.

He lies about his success as a Prince Castle milkshake maker salesman. He goes to their supper club under the guise of spending time with their friends, when in reality he’s looking to sell the McDonald’s franchise. When that doesn’t work out, he cancels their membership without consulting Ethel (“you’re going to make new friends,” he tells her.) Finally, he takes out a second mortgage to get the capital he needs to continue expanding and growing McDonald’s.

2. Your success belongs to your partner as much as it belongs to you.

Kroc’s blindness to the fact that Ethel’s support is critical to his success is one of the most unlikeable things about him.

In one scene, he returns from a trip to Minnesota, delighted that Rollie Smith (played by Patrick Wilson) approached HIM about opening a McDonald’s franchise. Kroc is so high on his own supply, he completely ignores Ethel’s work to recruit more franchise owners in his absence.

3. “You’re not in the hamburger business. You’re in the real estate business.”

In the past, I heard this quote attributed to Ray Kroc himself. In the movie, it’s attributed to Harry Sonneborn, played by B.J. Novak.

Either way, it perfectly sums up the idea that you can have an amazing product and still not make money. Product doesn’t determine positive cash flow — the business model does.

4. Career longevity is more admirable than being the next hottest thing.

We’re naturally drawn to the newest, hottest things in the market. This is especially true in the Hollywood machine.

But more admirable are those whose second (and third) acts are just as powerful as their first (if not more so.)

Look at Michael Keaton, who arguably received his greatest acclaim as Bruce Wayne/Batman in the Tim Burton Batman films (Batman and Batman Returns, 1989 and 1992, respectively). But he’s amazing in this movie, just as he was in Birdman (2014.)

Other actors who come to mind whose career longevity is something to be admired are, in no particular order, Bryan Cranston, Charlie Theron, Meryl Streep, Morgan Freeman, and Madonna.

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