# 402: BOOK OF THE WEEK — “McDonald’s: Behind the Arches”
Story behind the Book Choice
This Sunday book blog is the first one I am writing in the air. I almost forgot what it feels like to get things done in the air while traveling. In fact, I almost forgot what it means to be traveling at all! I never complained during Covid that I was missing anything. In fact, I was not missing it, I mean, travel. But now that I am in fact traveling again, I do feel how much I missed it. Or rather, the travel part was missing from my life. And now I am sitting here writing about the McDonald’s biography because I took the book with me to the U.S. and because I will be discussing it with my students tomorrow. (If I make it there on time…).
The most impressive thing about the book is its breadth and depth. Almost like Ray Kroc who was crazy about details, Love really put together a thorough account of the company’s history from the early beginnings in California until the time of writing in the 90s. There is no way that I will ever be able to remember all these details but for a management freak like me, the management lessons will most likely stick most. This story is just so impressive that it is hard to know where to start with sharing some of the learnings. Every person who has ever started a business knows how tough it is to manage or even grow a non-industrial service business. In this case, it is simply not possible, at least for me, to even imagine how building a fast-food empire like McDonald’s is possible, even though the book teaches you all the small steps that were taken to actually achieve the seemingly impossible.
This story also explains why today’s selection of top passages was really hard. I could have picked a passage on almost every page. That is not because there are many “beautiful” passages in any way. Love does not care much about being very literary or imaginative about the writing. The book gives the facts but with a strong focus on the people that made all this possible — among them Ray Kroc as the managerial engine behind the empire. What I like best about Love’s writing is that he picks up the myths and distortions that have been created by other management books or public press coverage and then adds many more facts to the picture in order to shed a different light on people like Kroc. This way, all the details are easier to digest because the reader is able to create an image in his/her mind — of all the major figures who shaped this international brand of all brands.
1. People Instincts
I am starting with a passage on June Martino and not on Kroc because it actually says more about the latter than talking about him would be able to achieve. If there is one red thread that runs through the book it is: diversity among the management and franchise team as the number 1 success factor, at least of the business as far as it is described in this account and read through my lens. And Martino seems to be a great example embodying all this. Not only was she one of the few women who came to climb the ladder of success in the early years when McDonald’s was still very much rooted in its ‘male-only’ policy. She also was a driver to get an even more diverse and capable team together.
What fascinated me most when I read this passage about her was that Love called her skills “people instincts.” I would agree that this term is even more appropriate than just talking about “people skills,” as we usually do. Seeing things in people and then putting the right people together on a team really is something that characterizes most successful leaders. But not all of them realize that it is difference which marks a great team. This is something that hardly any other business biography I have ever read analyzes and promotes so comprehensively. The reason probably is that Kroc simply enforced this principle a lot but Martino obviously also carried it to perfection and Love must have been impressed by it in his research process.
What is remarkable about this diversity “technique,” if we want to call it like that, is that Kroc knew about the potential that emerges from extreme differences. That is not self-evident. It is one thing to know that complementary strengths make sense. It is another to really take the risk of putting people together who are on very opposite sides of the spectrum when it comes to talents and temperament. He did that and Martino obviously was a great support in this. And what especially stands out is that, at least according to Kroc’s accounts, he always knew that outstanding work and talent was to be compensated appropriately — not only with higher management positions but with actual financial assets, including bonuses and shares.
I wish that executives in other industries, including the world of research and education, would somehow learn about the power of rewarding people.
But wishes do not come true if you just have them.
You need to act them out.
In the past, I researched and wrote a lot about organizational values and the difference between visionary thinkers and simple-minded executives. I also knew that I am driven strongly by visionary goals rather than by short-term to do lists. But only now that I am running small teams and trying to build something really big am I understanding what Love is writing here. In short: I agree. The mission is almost everything. It will hold people together even if they do not share much or not as much as would actually be needed to concile their differences. But if you know what you are working for, that will make you move on and most importantly, it will allow you to shift your attention from people that simply suck (in your opinion) to the bigger picture which always needs to be present in your mind.
Since I am struggling a lot with people who are either not willing or able to contribute, it is not easy for me to just ignore it. I am not talking about people on my team(s). I am talking about others who can still be in your way if they either do not get your mission or simply oppose it. But the mission — the zeal if you want to put it into more religious terms — can make you care less about them. And that is really the key. If you waste your energy by getting angry with the slow-movers, that energy loss and the frustration can threaten the entire project in the end. But ignoring them is really only possible — at least I think so — if you have a strong mission. That is a fairly recent learning and it has taken me quite a long time to actually get there.
I am also keeping the other passage about “family” in here because it goes well together with the other topic. Even though family can be a pain in the ass, there is something bigger that connects you. Still, it takes management skills to keep everyone together. That does not happen by itself. And I do share that creating this sense of family among your people is a really important aspect which many successful businesses share — big and small. Especially in times when biological families do not really matter that much anymore — which I do not criticize in any way — people can find a home in their work place. Does that sound like “lack of work-life-balance”? Yes, absolutely, and I think along with Kroc that this is needed to make people bond deeply.
3. Old Values
It is funny that “old values” seem to be so much related to the church still. But it does not matter. My recent learning is just that. I am catching myself getting more and more “conservative” in a way when it comes to principles and practices. At the same time, I am not letting the past stop my innovative thinking and the drive to really bring about change in many possible ways. That means breaking chains with the power you feel inside because you have found who you are and what you stand for. People like that can really lead others and give them the orientation, stability, and push to achieve great things together.
I am looking forward to the journey.
P.S.: This passage about a senior manager who came back from a safari in Africa and packaged his dissatisfaction with corporate structures in animal metaphors is just worth being quoted as well.
1) When you think of McDonald’s — what are the first images in your mind?
2) Do you have a good “people instinct”? How do you know?
3) What are your top three leadership values? How do you put them into practice?