The Founder is the fascinating story of McDonald’s. In 1954, McDonald’s consisted of 1 hamburger stand and Ray Kroc was a 52 year old milkshake-machine salesman. Today, McDonald’s has 36,615 locations and annual revenues of $24 billion. Ray Kroc was the man who made that possible. He was a combination of genius, hustler, and smooth-talker. He was also a cold-blooded business shark ready to devour anything or anyone in his way.
In 1954, Ray Kroc (Michael Keaton) by chance eats at the only McDonald’s in the country. Mac and Dick McDonald (played by Nick Offerman & John Carroll Lynch) have invented something entirely new. The idea of “fast food” seems very routine to us now, but in 1954 it was revolutionary. Before McDonald’s, there was no way to get a quick lunch. At restaurants and drive-ins of the day it took 20-30 minutes to get even the simplest meal.
Ray Kroc immediately understood the potential and was frustrated that the McDonald brothers did not realize what they had . Mac and Dick were perfectly happy running their successful little hamburger stand. They finally let Ray Kroc talk them into the idea of franchising the system, mainly just to shut Ray up. They really didn’t think expansion would work.
The Founder is the story of how Ray Kroc built the business and slowly pushed the McDonald brothers out. Ray Kroc wanted it all. The term “The Founder” is what Ray Kroc eventually put on his business cards, despite the fact that he obviously did not found McDonald’s.
Michael Keaton is perfect as Ray Kroc. He is the smiling wolf in sheep’s clothing. B.J. Novak plays Harry J. Sonneborn, the financial wiz-kid who comes up with a revolutionary idea of his own. He shows Kroc that the real money to be made is from the real estate, not the hamburgers. He devises a plan for Kroc to own all the land that the franchises are built on, and then making a fortune leasing the land back to the McDonald’s stores.
Kate Kneeland plays June Martino, who was the loyal assistant to Ray Kroc from the beginning. Her hard work and loyalty paid off and she eventually became a hugely successful businesswoman, trading stock on the New York Stock Exchange.
So who was the real Ray Kroc? Was he an American icon who built an empire through hard work, or was he a nasty McPrick willing to take credit for other people’s ideas? The truth is he was both. He did push out the McDonald brothers from their own business and told the world he had invented it all. However, he also made Mac and Dick McDonald rich men. In addition, Ray Kroc provided opportunities for thousands of small entrepreneurs who did very well buying McDonald franchises.
The Founder is an excellent movie. It is a fascinating look at what has become a worldwide institution. From its lowly beginnings, McDonald’s now feeds 1% of the world’s population every day.