The Leadership of Ray Kroc and his drive to Catering Sales!

I decided to write this blog in advance of the upcoming Restaurant Leadership Conference in Scottsdale from March 25-28, 2012.

In preparation for the conference, I have been reading everything that I can about Ray Kroc these days. As I dig deeper and deeper into his story, I become more fascinated with his meticulous attention to detail. Like all entrepreneurs, he struggled to make his venture work. He went through the growing pains, set the culture and set a clear direction for his people. He fought hard.

As an entrepreneur and working on my 9th business, I can identify with his relentless desire to succeed. He was a fantastic businessman and very passionate about getting it right.

I found this really cool video, made by a few creative high school students, Zac Smith, Michael Warren, Jason Kiracofe and Daniel Alweis. I have embedded the video here for all of you to peruse. Good job on the school project boys. I think it tells a lot about who he was and what he was about.

I wonder if Ray were here today, what he might tell us about the current state of our multi-unit restaurant industry? I wonder if he would be happy with the outcome of what McDonald’s stands for today. Would he be proud? I wonder what he would say about McDonald’s building a catering revenue channel for his brand? I had a dream this week that Ray read my book. He loved it. Thanks Ray. I appreciate the support.

From what I have read, and as I have come to know him through other people’s words, his own book, Grinding it Out, and the number of videos and articles that are available on his leadership and management style, I would venture to say that Ray would have mixed emotions today based on where his brand stands. Sure, he might be proud of the stock price. Or would he? I think he would be horrified at all the negative tweets and comments. Knowing Ray, he would do something amazing to set it all on the right track. Just as great leaders like Howard Schultz or Ron Shaich have done with both Starbucks and Panera. Oh, and if Ray saw the traction that Panera is getting on their catering operations, he would want a piece of that market for sure. Because that’s what he was about. Being in front.

In the beginning, for Ray, and for all our leaders, it was all about looking after his customers. He wanted growth, but not at the expense of diluting his brand and experience. Of course, in the 1950’s and 1960’s, the world was a different place. I am certain that had Ray known that his McDonald’s would eventually become the fast food giant that it became, he only would have wanted it to do so if it was in the best interest of his customers.

He had a vision for the business, for the systems, for the experience and for his internal culture. He could not see the negative impact ahead on the dietary issues of fast food on our children and our communities. I have no doubt, that had he seen that, he might have managed it differently. I am certain, that if he were with us today, he would be working very hard to fix it.

Today, as McDonald’s continues to be the largest hamburger chain in the world, it still amazes me that even though the culture of Ray Kroc may just be a ghost in the wall, the organization continues to try to adopt to the ever changing needs our consumers. In my opinion, McDonald’s has done a superb job at trying to keep up with the trends, trying to morph their menus towards the more current fast casual type model.

Of course, to move a system this large to a new model, is not only difficult, but it requires a tremendous amount of investment and gumption. McDonald’s may not be the healthiest choice in the market place yet, but I predict that in the next 10 years, they will move into the top position of the fast casual market. They will do it, because they have the real estate, the brand and their consumers are going to only shop there if they continue to adapt to the ever changing dietary needs. Especially in North America.

So, this brings me to my next question? Will McDonald’s offer catering services that are scaleable across the brand? What will the program look like? I believe that they already have, but they have not hired the right leadership to take them the rest of the way. I found this little nugget in the United Kingdom that really convinced me.

Is McDonald’s Fast Casual?

Well, it all starts with the Deli doesn’t it? Well, at least that’s how it started for me!

Then as I dug further, I found this:

So, you tell me! What kind of leadership will it take for our multi-unit restaurant community to finally decide to take catering as a serious business? Especially in the QSR segment. If you have a powerful brand, and you tell your customers that you offer alternative services, they will buy from you. We already know that. So, the next question I have is “can they execute?”.

I believe that if any of our community leaders decide to pursue catering as a serious business, then they would in fact see a lift in their sales that our industry has not seen since the day’s of franchising and drive-thru. But, it doesn’t matter what I believe. Or does it? Because like Ray Kroc, I too am an entrepreneur. And so, I will live or die by my conviction and my leadership. And so, as I put this article to rest, I call out to all of you in a restaurant leadership position to really take a hard look at the facts. Catering is here to stay. If we don’t do it, the grocery segment will (as they already are).

Ray would want us to compete and compete hard.

I believe that catering offers our multi-unit restaurant community a true opportunity to grow. So much so, that I put it on Video, wrote a book and am betting my entire future on this transformative idea. This video is 3 years old. So, it’s now 15 years.

Tell me. What do you think? I hope you can share your thoughts with me. This is a great debate!

Building To Grow – Invent Genius Turnkey Systems

MonkeyMedia Software is my 9th Business Venture. I come from a long line of entrepreneurs; some more successful than others. Always working on the design of my companies. Always trying to be remarkable, somehow, some way, even on the days when I might be feeling like a fake. Feeling like a fake you ask? Of course! You think us entrepreneurs always know where we are headed? No way. Always trying to service my customers. Always trying to find a way to differentiate, to compete.

I spend so much of my time just dreaming. Dreaming! For those of you that know me well, I often get so far ahead of myself. These days, I dream a lot of how our multi-unit restaurant community will embrace catering in the next decade. I am certain of it. I am seeing it more and more, day by day. Especially here in North America where markets are competitive, and consumers are screaming loudly at all of our operators to provide more services.

I read a lot. I write a lot. I scour the internet for good material to help me grow my businesses. It’s ironic that I ended up in the consulting, education and software business. Or Is it?

After all, as an entrepreneur I am always trying to grow my businesses. You can only do that if you work on your systems. Your belief systems, your sales systems, your service systems, your business systems…. It’s all just a set of subsystems, leading into one giant turnkey system. At least, that’s the way out for most of us. We need to build it to grow it, or we just get stuck in it.

So many of us work “in” our businesses and we just have a hell of a time working “on” our businesses. I know, you’ve heard it before, but I found this great video by Michael Gerber, Author of the E-Myth that I think really speaks volumes to this conversation.

After watching this inspiring speech, I dug further. Further into our restaurant industry leaders. Just a couple of them; ones that we all know. And boy, did they suffer in their humble beginnings. Here is a small tidbit on Ray Kroc’s early business “surprises”. I love the way he almost went broke at the beginning. Why? Because I have been there myself on more than one occasion.

And so, I continue down my path of trying to learn more about the early days of the food business. I was recently in Kentucky, and I felt that I had to visit the grave of Harlan Sanders. I’m not sure why, but I just felt compelled to pay my respects; So I went. Here’s a photo of my visit.

It was interesting to see that others have been to this gravesite. And to pay their respects, if you look closely at the photo, you will see that fans actually leave Heinz Ketchup Packages organized in a row on his tombstone. Heinz ketchup packages? I wasn’t sure what to think at first, but then I realized that when you are part of pop culture, you influence young people too.

I started thinking more about what it must have been like in the early days of these entrepreneurs. How did they get up each and every day and fight the battles they needed to fight to get through. Well, they just did. They didn’t think about it that hard. They just did what comes natural to them. What they thought was right. Were they always on track? Were they always correct? No. Certainly not. But no matter.

But what all of us entrepreneurs share is a common belief that we are adding value. That we are innovating. That we must dig in deep to our will to survive. I love this video of the history of Harlan Sanders:

This video reminds me to never give up. It just doesn’t matter what the competition is doing. It only matters that you just keep going. Pick a direction and keep going. It might not be the right direction, but that’s ok. At least you picked one.

In the end, for me, it always comes down to the leadership. It’s about being firm. It’s about being clear. It’s about finding people that are smarter than you to work with you. It’s about being fair. It’s about being kind. It’s about being generous. It has everything to do with the people you surround yourself with.

If Ray Kroc and Harlan Sanders were alive today, I would be trying my hardest to show them just how catering, and following my “turnkey system” of strategy, education and software can change their modern day business. I know what you are thinking. “Erle, if you are so sure, why don’t you just call up the current leaders of today’s brands?”.

Well, I have been and I will continue to do so. Many are listening, and many are working with me. Experiencing success with these turnkey systems.

So, as the world turns tomorrow, I am building my business to grow! What about you? Focus on what’s right in front of you and just keep going.

Tom Feltenstein and Barry Klein – Listen and Learn

I took this photo in October at the FastCasual Executive Summit Conference last October in Chicago.

Since then, I have been looking at it once in awhile. For some reason, over the last 5 months, this photo feels significant to me, but I have been unable to put my finger on the reasons why.

A couple of our forefathers
Tom Feltenstein and Barry Klein at FastCasual, October 2011

This morning, it dawned on me. I woke with clarity as to why this particular photo is important. And so, I will try to explain.

You see, Tom and Barry are from a different generation. A generation that can be easily forgotten, if we are not careful. From my perspective, our community needs to be very careful not to forget our forefathers. Tom and Barry, (and many others), experienced a time in our industry that is critical to our history. Our entire multi-unit restaurant community, as we know it, is based on the principles that Tom and Barry’s generation worked so hard to figure out. They sweated, they laughed and they cried.

Of course, they worked under the vision of Ray Kroc and fantastic leaders such as Ed Rensi. Real people, trying to solve real life business challenges.

To me, this photo is significant. Not because they are the founders of such important icons such as Ronald McDonald along with Willard Scott and Roy Bergold. Not because of the happy meal. Not because of the advent of drive thru or breakfast. Not because of the philanthropy work of Ronald McDonald house.

It is significant because here they are, together, no less than 40 years later, after their team changed the future of the multi-unit restaurant industry. Clearly, they served great leaders in Ray Kroc and Ed Rensi. That is obvious. Great leaders, breed great teams and great people.

For me, this photo demonstrates how the key to our industry is the people. Real human beings. Both Barry and Tom have experienced wins, losses, frustration and elation. Their careers span decades of innovation, of passion, of energy and of a belief system that along the way, they were just doing the best they could to make their shareholders happy. They were accountable.

When I look at this photo, I see great human beings. I see big hearts. I see humble and gracious wise men. Generosity, creativity, and a desire to simply do the right thing. Regardless of what today’s consumer opinions are about the brand they worked so hard to build, at the time, they were part of a team of true innovators who explored unknown territory. Franchising, systems, technology, consumer awareness. They helped influence pop culture, and they did it by the skin of their teeth. By chipping away every day. By doing the simple things.

Of course, they applied business logic to their daily decisions, but I can tell you, growing McDonald’s was hard. It was uncertain. It was scary. Just ask them. They will tell you.

“Erle, why is this photo so significant?” You ask. Well, to me, this photo captures the essence of the human spirit that lives deep in our multi-unit restaurant community. Of course, we all work hard. We all try and and be great leaders and we all try to follow visions and great leadership models. For those of us that are slugging it out every day in our businesses, we are experiencing the same challenges, fears, anxiety, stress and elation when things go well, as these gentlemen did under the tenure of Ray Kroc and Ed Rensi.

We are no different. We are people who are following our beliefs, adjusting to market pressures and doing what we can to meet the market demands of our customers. We are just trying to survive.

To me, this photo is significant because here they are, perhaps 35-40 years later, still slugging it out in our industry, trying their best to make a difference. The world has changed a lot since those days at McDonalds. Just ask them. But no matter. They are still standing.

It is significant, because when I look at this photo, I see my future, and the future of so many others that are working hard in our present time to make our industry amazing. We are all becoming a part of history. So I ask you, look into this photo. What do you see?

I see generosity, creativity, loving kindness and a true desire to make a difference. I see two gentlemen who have forgotten more about our industry, than any of us currently know. I see experience. I see leadership. Important and relevant history. I see how our industry took shape off the sweat of their backs. Did they know it at the time? Probably not. They were just doing what they knew best at the time. Just like all of us today.

As business people we spend most of our time dodging bullets. Once in awhile we get to shoot a few and that is important to our long term ability to survive in our businesses for the long term. Let’s face it, business is hard. It’s just hard.

When I looked deep into this photo this morning, it dawned on me. I am simply 30 years behind them. I wonder if in the year 2042, I will still be standing to be in a photo like this at the FastCasual Executive Summit? I’ll be 76 years old, and I wonder what I will have to say at that time? Will I have contributed anything great? I wonder.

Of course, just like all of you, I am slugging it out day to day, doing my best to make a difference. Following my belief systems, which is so powerful that it allows me to never give up. I wonder what our industry will look like in the year 2042? It’s just so hard to imagine, to predict.

As I look at the significance of this photo, I see myself and many of you. What is our purpose? How are we shaping our industry? How are we making a difference? When will our ideas become dated and stale, only to be forgotten by the next generation? Certainly we believe that each of us is innovating, that we are gaining traction in our businesses. We believe there are profits to be made, otherwise we would be spending our valuable life energy doing something different.

I woke this morning looking at this photo and imagined a world where my vision was now behind me and was now part of history. I imagined a challenging path to success. I faced my own reality of wins and losses in my own business.

What I realized after a lot of consideration, is that Tom and Barry understand that our industry is all about people. People who show up each and every day. People that just never give up. People with passion, skills and a desire to compete fairly. To run honest businesses.

By the year 2042, I will be in that photo, if I am fortunate enough to be accepted as a contributor. As an individual that cared enough to make a difference. As an innovator. More importantly, I would be fortunate to have as many friends and colleagues as both Barry and Tom.

And so, I felt compelled to celebrate our forefathers by writing in my blog today. Of course, there are many others that are of equal if not greater importance in the history of our community, but when I took this photo, they were not around. And so, as I sign off today, to rest my brain so that I can slay more dragons tomorrow, I find myself inspired by these two individuals. Not only because of their contributions and effort, but because they are amazing human beings. Both of them. Always lending a hand, an ear and sound advice.

I should be so lucky to be as successful as these great leaders in our community. Please don’t forget to take care of our elders. Call them and say thank you. They deserve it. They have a lot to share with us. They have a lot to teach us. They have a lot to offer us.

I am honoured to know both of these great leaders, and while I recognize that the paradigms in our industry have shifted, there is a theme that remains consistent through time. Be generous and be kind. Be humble and be helpful. Give back. Pay it forward. That is what I see in this photo. Inspiration, generosity and a willingness to survive. To never give up. To fight hard for what you believe and to ignore the naysayers. To carry on our work, in the face of adversity.

Just look at their faces. The stories they can tell are fascinating. I encourage each of you to take time out in our community, source out experienced leadership and pay your respects. Ask your questions now so that we may listen and learn. Then adapt and adopt and commit to yourself to be great leaders in the years to come. Pass the knowledge to future generations and make sure you never forget about our forefathers before us. These are the people that influenced pop culture and changed an industry. History was made.

So I ask you, what are you doing in your business that makes you worthy of being in a photo like this at the FastCasual Executive Summit in 2042? To give you a hint, I recommend that you practice loving kindness, generosity and define what truly makes your organization great in the years to come.

Listen and Learn. A picture is worth a thousand words.

I want to say thank you to these two great leaders. Thank you for slugging it out. I would not have the opportunity to do the work that I love, if not for your sweat and tears. I remain forever grateful to both of you.

Also, thank you for keeping it loose and making it fun. The fun is what makes it all worthwhile.