Grinding it out

Before the Henderson Libraries Business Book Club went on summer hiatus, we read a book called “Grinding it Out: The Making of McDonald’s” by Ray Kroc. Although 20 years old, the book is as relevant today as it was then.

I’m not a fan of Mickey D’s food, but there’s no denying that Kroc invented the fast food industry, creating standardized ingredients, cooking processes and delivery systems. Unlike the McDonald brothers, who opened the very first stand in Southern California, Kroc had the vision and determination to make the Golden Arches an international success story.

In retrospect, with a McDonald’s seemingly on every corner, it’s convenient to assume that Kroc achieved success in a linear way, reaching one goal after another with hardly a bump in the road. The truth, like the signature Big Mac, is a lot messier.

For one thing, McDonald’s didn’t turn a profit until 12 years after the buyout. For another, the company nearly went broke a number of times, only to be bailed out at the last minute by a combination of pluck and luck. (In this regard, Zappos traveled a similar route. My guess is that this business scenario is much more common than we think.)  Even more improbably, Kroc was already 52 years old when he became CEO, far from the multi-millionaire tycoon he would eventually become.

The book’s title, then, is more than a hamburger metaphor. It describes how difficult it is to attain true business success. Through sepia-toned memories, we recall a fully-realized McDonald’s springing to life with clowns and Happy Meals intact. But the myth of the overnight success is just that: a myth. Sure, it’s been known to happen. But more often than not, today’s overnight success is tomorrow’s overnight disaster.

The reality is both more discouraging and more comforting. More discouraging because there’s rarely a substitute for hard work. More comforting because we can choose to roll up our sleeves and put in the long hours. Success, then, is a decision. Maybe it’s as simple and as challenging as that.

Brian Rouff serves as managing partner for Imagine Communications.

Contact Brian at brouff@weareimagine.com.

Note: The Business Book Club starts up again on Friday, Oct. 12, from noon – 1:15 p.m. at the Green Valley Library. To RSVP, contact Megan Lane at mlane@weareimagine.com.

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