April 18, 2024
Peter Calder

"The Founder": Threading the Needle of Business (2 minute read)

It got mixed reviews, which I thought was interesting; the common aspect I've seen with negative critics seems to be the biggest reason I like it.

The story follows Ray Kroc and his life when stumbling upon a revolutionary restaurant and then his journey taking over and franchising the business to thousands of locations worldwide. The biggest draw for me to watch this film is that it was about McDonald's, arguably the most famous and highest volume of locations for a restaurant in the world. I thoroughly enjoyed the high amount of coverage the story can unpack and cover.

There's the business side to the film that covers the importance of details like financials, profit, loss, capital, equity, contracts, marketing, and more. But then it also dives into the personal side with different character traits and themes like power,  greed, passion and attraction.  

Starting with the personal side of the characters and story. From the beginning and the first time Ray describes McDonald's as his business, we know where the plot is going to go. Persistence is the common connector that seems to describe and define Ray's character. It starts with him pursuing different business ventures, and when he runs across the McDonald's opportunity, he would not take no for an answer and persists first with the two owners to take it to the next level and franchise. This is also complimented by power and greed; Ray sought to not only take complete control of the business, which did not seem to be his initial intent but also to cut the original founders out of the business idea and first location. Dynamics of attraction were also played around between Ray's wife and then Ray with Joan, his new wife, towards the end of the film. These relationships between Ray and his spouses and then Ray and the original brothers who started McDonald's raise an interesting question.

What number or where do you draw the line of who is deserving of something or how much of a piece of something? For example, the brothers came up with the entire idea and methodology of the business but received far less compensation than Ray for the entire empire, but at the same time, Ray was responsible for all of the growth that brought in all that new money. So how much should the brothers be compensated? Then, when Ray gets divorced, he makes a point of not allowing his ex-wife to receive any of the McDonalds business, even though she seemingly helped in many ways as Ray's partner but also with securing possible franchisees and other attributes that helped drive the success of the McDonalds business. So, yet again,  how much should she be entitled to of the McDonald's corporation in the divorce with Ray?  

This leads to the interesting business themes and details that come up in the film, such as, in these cases, contracts. Ray had an initial contract with the brothers, which then ended up not being able to be retained, and the brothers couldn't sue or honour it because Ray became too powerful. This highlights some negative sides to the capitalistic society we live in.

Again, marriage is technically a contract, so this theme comes up again in the film, especially with Ray and his wife's separation. Other business themes, such as capital, were explored. The finances behind McDonald's growth (whether it was factually true or not) were very interesting, using real estate to drive growth and expansion while also keeping control of the internals at the restaurants. This business strategy has made the restaurant chain one of the largest real estate companies in the world.

Product was also an important theme explored: the environment the  McDonald brothers created for the right clientele and then, of course, creating great burgers in an extraordinarily fast way. Marketing also was tapped into with the frequent coverage of the marvellous golden arches and name McDonalds.  

Going back to the ethical ideas that are brought up to the audience. Who is the actual founder? Which matters more, the idea or the execution? And by how much? These are some interesting takeaways from the film; I ultimately think the movie's most important question it raises is the name, The Founder. Who is it? And how much of it are they deserving of it? Is Ray the founder, the brothers, or a mixture of both? If so, how much of each entity deserves a mixture?

Michael Keaton as Ray Kroc was incredible. I saw some reviews that didn't exactly like how Keaton's character kept bouncing between the positive, inspiring and driven entrepreneur with good intentions while switching to the ego-enraged, greedy salesman type. This, to me, was what I thought was the character's best aspect. I don't think people or characters need to be one way or the other; they can have a combination of both and do not need to fit into a specific category.