How Will YOU Be Remembered?

"Ray Kroc will go broke selling hamburgers for $.15."  That comment was made by my father after a family visit to the first McDonald's restaurant to open nationwide in our hometown of Des Plaines, Illinois.   Although I was only a young boy,  I remember how impressed I had been by a man who could not only sell hamburgers for $.15 but continue to sell them month after month, year after year.  I watched that restaurant continue to be successful and as luck would have it, I finally had a chance to meet the man in person who had won my admiration so many years before.  Time had proven my father dead wrong in his estimation of the founder of the McDonald's empire.  As an adult, I wondered what made the difference between those who succeed and are remembered and those who are forgotten over time. 

Many years later, my life's journey took me to the City of San Diego, California.  I was excited to learn that Ray Kroc also lived in San Diego, and I could not let the opportunity to meet the man I had admired for so long go by.  Mustering up more courage than I thought I possessed, I stopped by McDonald's corporate headquarters and asked to meet Mr. Kroc in person.  Gloria Ramirez, Mr. Kroc's assistant whose responsibility was to screen all visitors and direct them to the appropriate staff, greeted me cordially.  She must have seen how totally rattled I was and felt some sympathy for me, for she was patient and extremely kind.  I was simply an extremely nervous and ordinary man requesting to meet one of the greatest corporate giants of our time.  After talking with me for a few minutes, she contacted Bob Tracy, another of Mr. Kroc's trusted staff and he came down to the lobby and escorted me back to his office where we spoke for another fifteen to twenty minutes.  His important question to me was "What would you say to Mr. Kroc if you were to meet him?"  I recounted the trip to McDonald's first restaurant and my father's comment on $.15 hamburger sales and how much I had admired Mr. Kroc over the years.  Mr. Tracy said to follow him.

 I found myself across the desk from Ray Kroc, the man himself.  He was very gracious and had a warm smile as I repeated my reasons for wanting to meet him.  The rest of the conversation eludes me, as I was simply overwhelmed that I had the opportunity to sit and talk with Ray.  Later in the week, I wanted to drop off a small gift in appreciation for the time Ray spent with me.  I remembered he loved to smoke cigars, so I purchased a custom tabletop cigar lighter from a small local tobacco shop and dropped it off with a thank you note to his front office.  I told Gloria how grateful I was to have met Ray and thanked her.  A week later, Ray sent me a personal letter that encouraged me to "first, be daring and be different." 

From that first meeting, Ray and I developed an open door friendship.  As his health began to fail, I made a point of stopping by several times a month just to say hello.  Over time, I made mental note of some of Ray's favorite sayings: All money means to me is pride in accomplishment; As long as you're green, you're growing—as soon as you're ripe, you start to rot;  Creativity is a highfalutin word for the work I have to do between now and Tuesday; If you work just for money, you'll never make it, but if you love what you're doing and you always put the customer first, success will be yours; If you're not a risk taker, you should get the hell out of business; Luck is a dividend of sweat—the more you sweat, the luckier you get.  You are only as good as the people you hire; and my favorite, It is easy to have principles when you are rich—the important thing is to have principles when you are poor. 

Ray's character and strong belief in customer satisfaction erupted at the first home game by the Padres Baseball team in 1974.  Ray was the new owner and ended the game by grabbing the microphone and announcing over the public address system "I've never seen such stupid ball playing in my life!"  A streaker chose that particular moment to run naked across the field.  "Throw him in jail!" Ray roared.  Ironically, 1974 would be the first season that the Padres did not finish in the National League West cellar (finishing fifth), and was also the year that brought with it the promise of an owner willing to step up to the plate with the team.  Ray's number one priority was to provide the best product for his customers whether they were buying hamburgers or playing baseball.  As only the greatest of men can do, Ray later apologized to the team and the fans for his impromptu outburst.

 On one of my visits to Ray's office, I took my 11-year old sister with me.  It was important to me to capture that moment with a picture of the three of us.  I  wanted her to always remember Ray as my friend, but more importantly, I wanted her to remember him as an ordinary man who took risks to create an empire.   Through our friendship and long talks, he mentored me without really knowing he was doing it.  I think we all have helped others more than we realized by just taking some time to share our experiences and life lessons.  Twenty years later, I sent that photograph to her so she could share it with her own 8-year old daughter. 

I remember Ray Kroc as a great visionary, a man of integrity and substance, and a man of dedication to his customers.  It was not his great fortune that kept him in my fondest memories.  Rather, it was the small things that he did, the friendly gesture of getting to know one of his customers and the sharing of wisdom as a friend that keeps him forever in my heart and my thoughts.  His message was clear--having the passion to follow one's dreams is what being truly successful is all about.  Do that, he said, and all the wealth and fame will follow.  You never really know how much the smallest effort and kindness can affect others for life.  

How will YOU be remembered?

Patrick Lawler