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Ten Career Lessons from The Founder Movie

Last Saturday night, I finally got to watch the controversial movie “The Founder”, a biographical drama that tells the fascinating story of Ray Kroc who turned a single hamburger operation in California created by the McDonald brothers in 1940 into the global fast food empire with a market cap of US$165 billion. It is obvious that the movie portrays Ray Kroc as a greedy and unethical narcissist. To some extent, I have to agree that the criticism of his ruthlessness and disloyalty is warranted. That being said, this brilliant movie is packed with valuable career lessons that everyone, job seekers especially, can learn from. Here are ten of them:

1. Persistence

Persistence is probably the biggest lesson this movie teaches. How do you create a restaurant business and become an overnight success at the age of 52? Ray Kroc said, “I was an overnight success alright, but 30 years is a long, long night.”

There is an excellent quote in the movie by Calvin Coolidge, the 30th President of the United States:

“Nothing in this world can take the place of persistence. Talent won’t; nothing is more common than unsuccessful men with talent. Genius won’t; unrewarded genius is practically a cliché. Education won’t; the world is full of educated fools. Persistence and determination alone are all-powerful.”

In the job search process, it is tempting for one to look for a shortcut to success. Unfortunately, there isn’t one. Getting a great job offer will take a lot of hard work and rejections, even if you already have a perfect resume. Winston Churchill put it best: “Success is stumbling from failure to failure with no loss of enthusiasm.”

2. You Are Not Too Old

Ray Kroc joined the McDonald’s when he was 52 years old. At that time, the McDonald brothers, Mac and Dick, were 52 and 45, respectively. If the three men found their success at such an “old” age, maybe you should not be too frustrated that you haven’t landed your dream job at 26. I am probably too old for this” is a comment that frequently comes up during my coaching sessions with experienced job seekers. Don’t let your age be the excuse of not striving for greatness.

3. Shoot for The Moon

Norman Vincent Peale once said “Shoot for the moon. Even if you miss, you'll land among the stars.” Most job seekers are not ambitious enough. They are settling for the low-hanging fruit. Recently, a new client of mine at 36paths with a Master of Financial Economics degree confessed that he would be happy if he could land a Teller role. No disrespect to hardworking tellers out there, but I encouraged him to think bigger and shoot for a more intellectually challenging role that better utilizes his education. All of us can learn from Ray Kroc. He had an ambitious goal of making McDonald’s a coast-to-coast sensation. Guess what? He overachieved it eventually.

4. Be Open-minded & Inquisitive

Before coming across McDonald’s, Ray Kroc was an unsuccessful milkshake machine salesman. He had sold paper cups, worked as a real estate agent, and sometimes played the piano in bands. He certainly did not have a linear career path by any means, thanks to his open-mindedness. More importantly, when he learnt that a client just ordered 6 milkshake mixers, he did not simply fulfill the order and move on. Instead, his inquisitiveness led him to drive over 2,800 kilometres to find out exactly why a local burger drive-in wanted 6 milkshake mixers. And the rest is history.

I’d recommend exposing yourself to various areas, even those you previously never thought of. For instance, assuming that you are dedicated to pursuing a career in investment banking, which is perfectly fine, but don’t limit yourself to only Investment Banking. Apply to jobs and network with professionals in areas such as Sales & Trading, Equity Research and Corporate Banking and see what happens. Always be curious to learn more, because your dream job or the opportunity of your lifetime might be lying where you never imagined.<