"I believe in God, family, and McDonald's—and in the office, that order is reversed."
"It is ridiculous to call this an industry. This is not. This is rat eat rat, dog eat dog. I'll kill 'em, and I'm going to kill 'em before they kill me. You're talking about the American way—of survival of the fittest."
"If my competitor were drowning I'd stick a hose in his mouth and turn on the water."
Ray Kroc's business card was simplicity itself—it bore just his name, the golden arches, and the word "Founder." But a more accurate title might have been "Usurper." Contrary to what the McDonald's marketing department tells you, Kroc wasn't the founder of anything. He just happened upon the scene at the right time and latched onto a proven winner.
Richard and Maurice McDonald had already established a thriving chain of eight burger joints in Southern California before Kroc even heard of them. In fact, Kroc merely signed on as their franchise agent. The McDonald brothers had been approached before—most notably, by the Carnation Company—with offers to handle their franchising, but they wanted to do it themselves. Ray succeeded where Carnation failed by ceaselessly nagging the brothers, until they finally relented.
Acting on their behalf, Ray sold McDonald's franchises around the country for 1.9% of the gross receipts. One of his first sales targets was Walt Disney, whom he had met in Connecticut during Red Cross ambulance driver training near the end of World War I. Ray sent him a letter in 1954 after hearing about Disneyland, which was still under construction:
For whatever reason, he never got a reply. Undeterred, Ray Kroc crisscrossed America, planting McDonald's restaurants wherever he went. In a sense, then, Ray was the Johnny Appleseed of the fast-food industry. But if you happen to be one those cynics who reflexively hates everything about McDonald's, another less charitable way to express Kroc's function would be as the carcinogen which caused the chain to metastasize nationwide. Take your pick.
Either way, Kroc built an empire for Richard and Maurice McDonald, no question about that. And they, in turn, were more than happy to let to him do it. But after a while, Ray got pissed off at the brothers for their laissez-faire attitude toward the franchisees in California and Arizona, the only states excluded by Kroc's arrangement. As he wrote later in his autobiography Grinding It Out:
I get furious all over again just thinking about that California situation during the first five years we were in business. It was aggravation unlimited. In many ways it was a parallel to the frustrations I faced at home with my wife. The McDonald brothers were simply not on my wavelength at all. I was obsessed with the idea of making McDonald's the biggest and the best. They were content with what they had; they didn't want to be bothered with more risks and more demands. But there wasn't much I could do about it.
Not to mention the fact that the McDonald brothers had sold a franchise to somebody in Ray's backyard: Cook County, Illinois. For their part, maybe the brothers were pissed at him after he started claiming credit for everything. One of Ray's boasts wound up in print over and over again (even in his autobiography): "I put the hamburger on the assembly line."
Eventually the McDonald brothers decided they'd had enough grief and in 1961 agreed to sell their interest to the self-serving asshole. But there was a catch. During negotiations, Richard and Maurice changed their mind about giving up the first McDonald's outlet in San Bernardino, California. They decided to keep the store after all, as a sort of monument to the company's history. It would exist as a living reminder of the corporation's humble roots. Hell, it was the root. Predictably, this prospect drove Ray crazy:
I closed the door to my office and paced up and down the floor calling the [McDonald brothers] every kind of son of a bitch there was. I hated their guts.
For Kroc, this wasn't business; it was strictly personal. He confided to a friend: "I'm not normally a vindictive man, but this time I'm going to get those sons of bitches." When it came time to compile the autobiography, Ray rationalized:
What a goddam rotten trick! I needed the income from that store. There wasn't a better location in the entire state. I screamed like hell about it. But no way. They decided they wanted to keep it, and they were willing to pull the plug on the whole arrangement if they didn't get it.
He needed the income? What a pathetic excuse. But let's pretend for a second that it wasn't pure bullshit. How did Kroc respond to this serious financial crisis? As he proudly expressed it in his memoirs:
I opened a McDonald's across the street from that store, which they had renamed The Big M, and it ran them out of business.
Actually it was one block north, but the rest is true. Ray even presided over the store's grand opening. And its effect certainly was devastating. The Big M closed in 1964—just two years after the new McDonald's moved in.