Golden arches

I'm not saying people "make their own luck." But maybe they decide what to do with it when it arrives. Also, 7 other things worth your time.

Another day, and a lot more new subscribers to Understandably. Thanks for being here and signing up. Please share this newsletter with others who might enjoy it and ask them to sign up, too.


I’m going to share a YouTube video at the end of today’s newsletter.

It was posted a full decade ago, and it was already 20 years old — depicting an as-it-happened account of something that seemed incredible at the time.

The reason, besides the fact that it’s just a nice, nostalgic video, is that it gives me a chance to tell a story about taking advantage of good luck.

Its main character is Ray Kroc, the somewhat controversial founder* of McDonald's.

This was a man whose success story included zero foreshadowing—but seems inevitable in retrospect.

He spent 17 years selling paper goods, working in real estate, all kinds of things, and then spent still more years pushing a quixotic product—a fast food milkshake mixer that could produce five or six shakes at a time.

One restaurant in America saw great success with it, and really, this was Kroc’s stroke of luck: it led him to get to visit the original McDonald's restaurant in San Bernadino, California, and to get to know the owners, brothers Richard and Maurice McDonald.

Learning about their success led Kroc on an improbable journey to expand the brand, and ultimately run the company—even to call himself the founder.*

I’ll explain the asterisk here; in short, Kroc wound up starting a completely different company to lease land to McDonald’s franchisees, and then bought the original McDonald’s company from the McDonald brothers. My colleague Jeff Haden over at Inc.com wrote about this just yesterday. (Pure coincidence, Jeff.)

But it all took a long time. Kroc was 52 years old before he even heard of McDonald’s.

In other words, he was the average age of the four astronauts I wrote about yesterday before he even got involved with McDonald’s. I find this very reassuring.

If you've seen The Founder, the 2016 movie about Krock’s life starring Michael Keaton, he comes across as complicated, creative, visionary, driven, at times even cruel. 

But he was also extraordinarily lucky. Right place, right time, with the right combination of traits to take advantage of it.

“I have always believed that each man makes his own happiness and is responsible for his own problems,” Kroc wrote in the opening lines of his 1976 autobiography, Grinding It Out.

It’s easier to take that attitude after you’ve already achieved success, although that also doesn't mean it’s necessarily incorrect. In the end, what Kroc created wasn't just a business or a brand but a symbol of America—one that was arguably as well-loved worldwide as the American flag.

The point is, none of this seemed preordained at the time. None of it seemed explainable. Which brings us to the YouTube video.

I'm old enough to remember being a kid when the first McDonald's opened in Moscow. The year was 1990; six years after Kroc’s death.

It was a huge deal—not because Soviet citizens wanted hamburgers, but because they wanted the chance to experience America. Seriously, check out the length of these lines, just to get a Big Mac.

The moral? Work hard. Keep your eyes open. And be ready to take advantage of opportunity when it shows up.


7 other things worth your time

Photo: Creative Commons from Wikimedia. I wrote about Kroc for Inc.com a while back. If you liked this post, and you’re not yet a subscriber, what are you waiting for? Please sign up for the daily Understandably.com email newsletter, with thousands and thousands of 5-star ratings from happy readers. You can also just send an email to signup@understandably.com. 

And of course, please share Understandably! Seriously, if you’ve wondered, What can I do to help Bill? That’s the #1 thing I need—for people who enjoy this newsletter to encourage friends and family to sign up as well. Thank you!

Share Understandably

One-click review and feedback: