What if you don’t get going until your fifties? Keep that question in mind – we’ll come back to it.
Think Apple and you think Steve Jobs. Amazon, Jeff Bezos. Tesla, Elon Musk. Young companies still live under the shadow of their, often, young founder. Books about these visionaries are mainstays of bestseller lists and must-reads for managers.
But what about older companies whose brand overshadows their founder? Mature companies aren’t as sexy, and their founders are long dead so we don’t read about them as often. Which brings us to McDonald’s. No one’s idea today of an exciting brand. But a brand so embedded in the culture, protestors routinely trash it when they can’t get to the American embassy. What Tim Hortons is to Canada, McDonald’s is to our southern neighbours.*
And now there’s a movie:
The movie comes from founder Ray Kroc’s autobiography Grinding It Out. It’s an ode to hard work and grit from a Depression-era travelling salesman. And grit is a popular idea these days. Kroc was an immigrant who worked two jobs – milkshake mixer salesman and lounge pianist – before stumbling across a family-run burger chain in California. He took a chance, opened a franchise, and spun that into a global behemoth.
He bought that franchise at age fifty-two.
And THAT’S the great lesson from this book. At an age when most people are closer to retirement than their first job, clearing their mortgage, and ushering their kids out of the house, Kroc started a whole new life. The mantra today is that you need to make (or lose) your first million by thirty. In my previous life in academia you published or perished by your third decade. And at thirty, the sports stars are already past their prime.
Now, it’s not that Kroc sat around doing nothing until opportunity crept up in later life. During his travels, he gained insight into markets and demand. He developed an expertise and instinct that came from a career of observing and serving customers. It all set him up to take advantage when he could.
So, when we millennials can all expect to retire in our seventies instead of our sixties, and hopefully live into our nineties instead of our eighties, we shouldn’t worry that we haven’t yet made it in our thirties. Certainly, some of us will. But some of us will wait. We’re still learning. We’re still gaining wisdom.
And part of that wisdom is two lessons: don’t be scared of the slow lane. You’ll see more and learn more. But, secondly, when that fast lane comes up on you at a completely unexpected time, don’t be scared to jump into it.
Check out Ray Kroc’s story. Just because the book is old and he was *ahem* a mature entrepreneur doesn’t mean it has no lessons for us today.
*Proving – pace Bill 101 – that you don’t have to drop an apostrophe or good grammar just for branding.