Where Did You Get Your Business Degree, McDonald’s? – Part I

That McBusiness Degree may be worth more than you think.

Sometimes I wish that when I was a teenager hanging out at McDonald’s, I had spent less time chasing girls – which was 90% of the motivation for hanging out there – and more time looking at the business model. If you’re any kind of student of success or business, you’ve probably at least heard an anecdote or two about Ray Kroc, if you haven’t actually read his whole story. The arc of his career, starting with his franchising deal with the McDonald brothers in the 1950′s, all the way through to the remarkable global brand that is McDonald’s today, contains just about every business secret and dramatic plot element you’d need to teach a class on entrepeneurship and success. I’m not going to re-hash the more familiar stories here, because there are two elements in particular that hadn’t really struck me until I recently revisited the Ray Kroc story by accident. Just the other day, I picked up a well-worn copy of Forbes Greatest Business Stories of All Time at a flea market for fifty cents, and in reading the chapter about Kroc, the first thing that jumped out at me was what I’m going to talk about below, and the other was related to something I talked about the other day – the hackneyed phrase Sell To The Masses, Eat With The Classes. I’ll touch on McDonald’s as an example of selling to the masses next time, but today I’m going to talk about what I only recently realized may be one of the most useful things to know about Ray Kroc’s success. And that is the fact that in today’s world, Kroc may easily have ended up being nothing more than a successful consultant, rather than the legendary business moghul that he became.

The Work You’re Doing Today May Be Your MBA Program

If you don’t feel like picking up a copy of that Forbes Greatest Business Stories book that I mentioned above, there’s a lengthy excerpt here that includes a part of the story that suddenly resonated in a powerful way for me upon re-reading it. And that part of the story was the part immediately BEFORE where the McDonald’s tale really begins. It mirrors something that I’m sure is true for thousands of us pursuing various careers, but that few fail to capitalize on. In that excerpt, the author points out that Kroc had spent “thirty years selling paper products and milk-shake machines to restaurants all over the nation”. And that “In his journeys, Kroc saw an astonishing variety of operations – coffee shops, mom-and-pop dinettes, diners, burger stands, and ice-cream chains like Tastee-Freez – and became something of an expert on the low end of the American restaurant scene”. Were you paying attention just now? Ostensibly, Kroc was a “paper products and milk-shake machine salesman”. But his job in fact allowed him to observe – in a way that no business researcher possibly could – the inner workings of hundreds, if not thousands of different foodservice businesses. To the uninspired sales rep whose only aim is meeting and/or exceeding his numbers – the common framework of even the most successful sales professionals – this career of Kroc’s may have had an abysmally dull end, as the aging sales guy lost his edge, and ended up living on some meager retirement he may or may not have been smart enough to assemble. But Kroc kept his eyes open and his brain switched on, and recognized the goldmine of the real-world foodservice research lab that was right in front of him every day. I personally began applying a similar concept just a couple of years ago, which has led me to doing consulting, authoring a couple of books, and preparing to position myself as an “expert”. I am quite confident I have found my truer path, and am already beginning to feel the early success of my efforts in this new direction. My story has a similar arc, in that for over a decade, I worked with dozens of small and medium businesses on a rather intimate level, mostly helping them refine their digital media or marketing strategies. I didn’t come away from that decade with millions in net worth or a huge revenue stream, but I came away with something I now know is even MORE valuable, which is the knowledge of a hundred ways to fail or be mediocre, and the mindset that makes that path a near certainty for an entrepreneur. We’ll see if I end up building a multi-billion dollar empire like Kroc, but one thing I’m CERTAIN that I – and perhaps you – DO have in common with Kroc, is that by working hard on one thing, but keeping my eyes open to others – I have basically put myself through business school, and gotten paid to do it! Is there a learning opportunity in YOUR life that you’re overlooking? You don’t have to be a traveling salesman to learn from the work experience around you, you just have to remember to pay attention in business class!

Next time: Why you probably don’t want to actually be like Ray Kroc.

About Ian

Ian is a media consultant, writer, musician, and budding public speaker with an eye on being the next Ellen. Ian's interest in helping others find success and happiness stems from his experience with events planning and media consulting with organizations like Interfluence.com and the Kenya/US NGO Amara Conservation from 2000-2008, which taught him how little we all know about what we're really doing. From 2008 until April of 2011, Ian wrote for and maintained the site DissociatedPress.com. Ian learned long ago that the journey to success may take occasional detours, and often eschews the road map in favor of taking in life's scenery. His first business venture was a small telecom company in the late 1980's, but subsequent ventures included pursuing a pop music career, screenwriting, and the foodservice and retail employment that often follows such pursuits. After struggling with addiction for years, Ian is happily embracing recovery and the clarity it brings.