The Founder – Movie Discussion
Persistence. Nothing is more important than persistence.
Persistence and determination alone are all powerful. – Ray’s Motivational Record
It’s a fascinating and conflicted story, the story of how Ray Kroc made McDonalds into the empire it is. An ugly tale of victory and triumph. It’s a story of our time and an ambiguous one, at that—making it all the more a story of our times.
Ray was one of those dreamers and salesmen who was always into the next “big thing,” convinced that would be the thing that would finally help him “make it”. He was incredibly driven and persistent. In fact, persistence was really his god. The movie begins with him listening to a motivational record which said, “Persistence. Nothing is more important than persistence. Persistence and determination alone are all powerful.” It ends with him quoting it as if it is his own, and it many ways it was, not in terms of creation but in terms of ownership. He believed that persistence was the all-powerful force which granted him success. And it did…but it also made him deplorable.
Along with persistence, Ray had other strengths. He was a visionary and he had a gift for business and management. When he saw the McDonalds brothers’ streamlined operation, he had seen enough other burger joints to see that they had something truly unique and marketable. He convinced them to franchise—something they had wanted to do and even tried to do in the past, but not successfully.
Ray was really the antithesis of the McDonalds brothers. They cared about quality and family. Values Ray espoused but only because he saw them as marketable, qualities he could use, not qualities he personally really cared about. Ray said he cared about quality, but he really cared about success and money (the bottom line). He cared about quality only insofar as it furthered the bottom line. He cared about family insofar as families brought in more revenue than the teenage market, but he didn’t care about family when it came to honoring his wife (he had an affair and left her, saying he’d “rather die than give her even one share of McDonalds stock”), or taking care of the McDonalds brothers who gave him the formula for the business in the first place. He said he cared about family, but really he cared about himself.
Ray was truly a visionary, and maybe even a prophet, but unfortunately his prophecy was more about the demise of family and Christianity in America, of which he, through McDonalds was either a driving force or simply a reflection of. He was driving through small towns in the Midwest, I believe, and he noticed that all of them had a church with a cross with a flag—signs of Americana, places where people and families gather and feel safe. These two icons, the cross and the flag “signify family and community, places where people come together to break bread. McDonald’s can be the new American church… and it ain’t just open on Sundays—it’s open 7 days a week!” He espoused the idea of expanding our sense of family and community, of helping us join together in fellowship more than just on Sundays…but really, he was talking about replacing church with commercialism. Sadly prophetic.
While Mac McDonald was jovial, optimistic and trusting, his brother Dick had major concerns about Ray. He said, “[This deal with Coke] goes against our core beliefs of family and [not following strict commerce]. … I’m just not comfortable with that kind of crass commercialism.” “A hot-head like that, you don’t know what he’s capable of.” “If they all pop up at once, how’s he going to maintain standards?” “There’s a wolf in the hen-house and we let him in…. I should have trusted my gut.”
The McDonald brothers truly felt that “It’s better to have 1 great restaurant than 50 mediocre ones.” They continued to push back on Ray’s compromises and quick advances. They weren’t against growth, but they cared about growing the right way. They cared about having a place which maintained their values and were ready to sacrifice growth and profit to ensure it. Ray, however, was strictly driven by profit. The McDonalds brothers trusted in their contract to protect them, but Ray was unscrupulous and found equally devious lawyers who showed him ways to work around the contract and force the brothers out.
He basically stole the restaurant from them…all because of the name. I say that because he could have easily created his own chain with their formula, they’d shown him all their secrets. The one thing, however, that he “knew he had to have” was the name, “McDonalds.” Ray said, about McDonalds vs. all the other burger joints he’d known: “they all lack that one thing that made McDonald’s special—the name. That glorious name—McDonald’s. Sounds like America. It could be anything you want it to be. … A guy named McDonald, he’s clearly never going to be pushed around in life.”
Ray’s mentality about their contract and his business dealings? “Contracts are like hearts—they’re meant to be broken.” “You know what I came up with? I came up with the concept of winning.” “Business is war. It’s dog eat dog; rat eat rat. If my competition was drowning, I’d walk up and put a hose in his mouth. Can you say the same?” Mac’s reply was, “No. And I wouldn’t want to.” That’s the difference between the two. Ray saw his cutthroat mentality as a virtue. Mac would sooner loose his business and even his name (since Ray stole the name McDonalds they could never use it again for business) than lose his humanity and his (real) virtue. WHO they were mattered more to the McDonalds than WHAT they were. The opposite was true for Ray.
It’s a hard movie. There’s this glorious American dream quality to the story—this guy who, at 52 had nothing to his name, really and had never had any success, suddenly launches McDonalds. That is the American dream—the idea that anyone, at any point in their life, might catapult their way into success and create something that outlasts them. And yet, there’s also this horrible reality that to do so, he was conniving and backhanded and really willing to kill a drowning man to get there. Is this the only way to achieve the American dream? Could he not have gotten there with the McDonalds brothers at his side? Not for a man who felt that persistence was the highest and most powerful virtue. I’m not saying it’s not a good virtue, but it isn’t the most important one. Jesus said the most important virtue was love, loving God and loving your fellow man. Ray knew nothing of this.
I heard someone say that the orphan (or poverty) mentality is one that says that if life is a pie chart, if someone else gets a piece, it’s one less piece for me. Therefore, you have to grab all the pieces you can—because they are in limited supply. A kingdom mentality, however, is one that says its’ great for you to have slices of the pie, because God can make more pies! The supply of pie is unlimited so I’m not threated by however many pieces you have (even if you take one of mine). I’ll just ask God for more pies. Ray had an orphan mentality. He had to grab his slices of pie no matter who he took them from, because he had no God to turn to ask for more pie.
That orphan mentality also says that you have to prove your worth. You have no confidence that you are a fully-loved son, instead, you could lose your place in the family at any moment if you don’t perform well enough. Ray was desperate to prove his worth to the world. His identity was tied up in his success, so for him, it wasn’t about business so much as it was about life and death. His very identity was on the line, dependent on his material success. The McDonalds brothers, however, operated from a son-ship mentality. They weren’t proving their worth in their business, they were loving other people through it. They didn’t have to have national success to feel worthwhile as men. They may have been trampled by Ray Kroc, but I dare say it is to them God will say, “Well done, good and faithful servants.”
As a contrast, let me just point you to the story of Joseph. His success was a result of the favor of God. He had a vision of greatness, but waited on God to bring it about. He spent time in a pit and slavery and prison, but he remained faithful to God. He didn’t fight his way to success. He didn’t abuse others to get to a place of glory. He served God and loved his fellow man. He did right by his owners and masters; he refused temptation; he served his fellow inmates—and in due time, the LORD opened up an opportunity and he became second in command over all the land. Such a different story from Ray Kroc’s.
But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness,
and all these things will be given to you as well. – Matthew 6:33
Questions for Discussion:
- Ray said he believed in the things the McDonalds brothers did, but how do you know he didn’t? How can you tell when someone is lying about their values?
- How did you feel about the McDonald brothers? How did you feel about Ray? Did those feelings change throughout the movie?
- Why do you think Ray and the McDonalds brothers couldn’t find a way to work together?
- In what ways was Ray acting contrary to the way Jesus would have done business?
- How might an orphan mentality and insecurity about his identity have affected the ruthless way Ray did business? How might a man with an identity in Christ as a fully-loved son have done things differently?