RAYMOND A. KROC Biography - Craftmen, artisans and people from other Occupations


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Name: Raymond Albert Kroc                                                             
Born: 2 October 1902 Chicago, Illinois, United States                                 
Died: 14 January 1984 San Diego, California, United States                             
Raymond Albert Kroc (1902-1984) was a salesman who set up the first franchise of       
the McDonald brothers' drive-in restaurant. He bought the golden arches symbol         
from them and built the McDonald's chain based on the concepts of a limited menu       
of controlled quality and uniformity combined with massive advertising.               
Ray Kroc was born in Chicago, Illinois, on October 2, 1902, the son of                 
relatively poor parents. He went to public schools in Oak Park, Illinois, a           
suburb of Chicago, but did not graduate, leaving school to serve as an ambulance       
driver during World War I, like Ernest Hemingway, also from Oak Park. After the       
war Kroc became a jazz pianist, playing with the Isham Jones and Harry Sosnick         
orchestras. Upon his marriage in 1922 he went to work for the Lily-Tulip Cup           
Company, but soon left to become musical director for one of Chicago's pioneer         
radio stations, WGES. There he played the piano, arranged the music, accompanied       
singers, and hired musicians. Kroc's wanderlust was not satisfied with this, and       
the real estate boom in Florida soon found him in Fort Lauderdale selling real         
estate. When the boom collapsed in 1926 Kroc was so broke that he had to play         
piano in a night club to send his wife and daughter back to Chicago by train. He       
later followed them in his dilapidated Model-T Ford.                                   
Kroc thereupon returned to Lily-Tulip as a salesman, later becoming midwestern         
sales manager. In 1937 he came upon a new invention, a machine that could mix         
five milk shakes at one time, called the "multi-mixer." Kroc founded his own           
company to serve as exclusive distributor for the product in 1941. Many years         
later, in 1954, Kroc heard of a drive-in restaurant in San Bernardino,                 
California, owned by Richard and Maurice D. McDonald, which was operating eight       
of his multi-mixers. Curious as to how they could possibly use so many machines       
in a small establishment, Kroc found the brothers were doing a remarkable             
business selling only hamburgers, french fries, and milk shakes. Kroc, from his       
years in the paper cup and milk shake business, recognized a potential gold mine       
and approached the brothers about starting a franchise operation based on their       
restaurant, selling hamburgers for 15 cents, fries for 10 cents, and shakes for       
20 cents. After some negotiation the McDonald brothers agreed. Under the               
arrangement, they would receive one-half of one percent of the gross, Kroc would       
use the McDonald name and concept, pledged to retain high levels of quality, and       
would retain their symbol--the golden arches. Ray Kroc opened the first of the         
chain of McDonald's restaurants on April 15, 1955, in Des Plaines, Illinois.           
Small by today's standards, this restaurant in Des Plaines (now the world's           
first "Hamburger Museum") was a little red and white tile affair where root beer       
was poured from a wooden barrel, potatoes were peeled in the restaurant, and           
there were local supplies of fresh hamburger meat. The symbol, now long               
forgotten, was Speedee, a hamburger-bun-faced creature. On that first day, Kroc's     
restaurant had sales of $366.12. By 1961 there were over 130 outlets, and in           
that year Kroc bought out the McDonald brothers for $2.7 million. From these           
humble beginnings emerged an empire which by 1984 had 8,300 restaurants in 34         
countries with sales of more than $10 billion.                                         
Ray Kroc revolutionized the restaurant industry in much the same way that Henry       
Ford transformed the automobile industry a generation earlier. Kroc's great           
contribution was to figure out how to mass-produce food uniformly in astounding       
quantities, and then to convince millions of Americans that they needed to buy         
this food. To accomplish the first objective, Kroc reduced the food business to       
a science. Nothing was left to chance in the logistics of the McDonald's               
operations, which were carefully researched by sophisticated methods. The             
precision of the operation can be appreciated when it is understood that each         
McDonald hamburger was made with a 1.6 ounce beef patty, not more than 18.9           
percent fat. It is exactly .221 inches thick and 3.875 inches wide. All other         
aspects of the operation are equally rigidly controlled. Kroc also relentlessly       
stressed quality, banning from his hamburgers such filler materials as soybeans.       
The other side of the McDonald's success story is franchising, marketing, and         
advertising. Three-quarters of McDonald's restaurants are run by franchise-holders.   
By 1985 each franchise cost about $250,000 and ran for 20 years, after which it       
reverted to the company. When choosing franchise-holders, Kroc always looked for       
someone good with people. As he said," ... we'd rather get a salesman than an         
accountant or even a chef." The franchise owners were then intensely trained at       
McDonald's "Hamburger University" in Elk Grove, Illinois, where a training             
course led to a "Bachelor in Hamburgerology with a minor in french fries." The         
company also provided a lengthy manual that outlined every aspect of the               
operation, from how to make a milk shake to how to be responsive to the               
community. The capstone of the McDonald's operation, however, was advertising.         
Hundreds of millions of dollars were poured into advertising--to the point where       
the head of another fast-food company said in 1978 that consumers were "so             
preconditioned by McDonald's advertising blanket that the hamburger would taste       
good even if they left the meat out."                                                 
Despite its astounding success, and despite the fact that the company worked           
hard to project a charitable and community-oriented image, McDonald's came under       
attack on several fronts. A number of communities refused to allow its                 
restaurants in their area, seeing it (as one commented) as a "symbol of the           
asphalt and chrome culture." The company was also criticized for its extensive         
use of part-time teenaged help, and especially for the $200,000 which Kroc             
donated to Richard Nixon's re-election campaign, since the administration soon         
after recommended amending the minimum wage law to provide for a "youth               
differential." This would have allowed employers to hire teenagers at 80 percent       
of the minimum wage. The architecture of the buildings and the nutritional             
content of the food was assailed, although nutritionist Jean Mayer said that as       
"a weekend treat, it is clean and fast."                                               
In the mid-1970s Kroc turned his energy from hamburgers to baseball, buying the       
San Diego Padres. He had less success at this, however, and in 1979 gave up           
operating control of the team, saying with his typical crustiness, "there's a         
lot more future in hamburgers than in baseball. Baseball isn't baseball anymore."     
In the years before his death he and his second wife, Joan, set up foundations         
to aid alcoholics and established Ronald McDonald houses to help the families of       
children stricken with cancer.                                                         
Kroc cut a commanding figure, his thin hair brushed straight back, his custom         
blazers impeccable, the bulky rings on his fingers glinting as he ate his             
hamburgers with both hands. Aware of his abrasiveness, he once commented: "I           
guess to be an entrepreneur you have to have a large ego, enormous pride and an       
ability to inspire others to follow your lead." He died in San Diego on January       
14, 1984.