Recently I watched Michael Keaton play the role of Ray Kroc, the founder of the McDonald’s empire, in a film aptly named “The Founder”.  Keaton was very believable playing the character, whose name I have known for many years.  A bust and tribute to Ray Kroc is on display in virtually every McDonald’s location, at least in the US, as he was the vision and energy behind the expansion of the empire.

The McDonald brothers, Richard and Maurice, were arguably the inventors of the fast food concept and created its first burgers. But it was Kroc who took the concept national and then global through franchising, and leveraging the concept for the real estate value it created. He eventually bought out the two brothers netting them $1 million each in 1961 (a lot of money at the time, but pennies compared to what the company was about to become). The brothers both died well-off financially, but by all accounts a bit resentful about how the buy-out saga.  Watch the film if you haven’t seen it!

I have had the honor to work closely with quite a few founders over the years, from tech start-up entrepreneurs to billionaire Russian oligarchs, and the successful ones do seem to have a few things in common.

Mere Mortals

First of all, they are all mortals. They either are dead already, like Kroc, or will die, and they won’t be taking any of their wealth with them. I mention this for two reasons: 1) To remind myself that financial success can only be enjoyed for a short time before it is passed on to someone else; and, 2) a spouse, children, government or charities are, I believe, the only possibilities for where the wealth will go. As such, it’s important for anyone with wealth to continually be assessing how he/she wants to direct what and when goes to whom.

Limitless Possibilities

Successful founders see things for their full and limitless potential. For them the line between dreams and good ideas is blurred, and goals are set accordingly. And even if they end up aiming for the stars but hitting a lamppost instead, they have at least hit a lamppost. True visionaries (and not all entrepreneurs are visionaries) have the ability to see what is possible and are unfazed by the the practicalities of how to get from here to there. Which leads to the next common trait…

Obstacles are Details

Moving toward any goal invariably means running into problems or pitfalls which for many people, myself included, provide an excuse to give up or modify the goal. How many times do I catch myself hitting a roadblock, or resistance from someone, to what I’m trying to accomplish and I feel the instinct to withdraw or give up? Successful founders don’t dwell on problems but instead immediately look for a way around or through. More often than not they will instruct someone on their team, come hell or high water, to sort it out (I’ve often been on the receiving end of these instructions). Not that all problems are solvable but I’ve found that most in fact are – if there is a will there is a way.

What Others Think or Feel Doesn’t Matter

This is one which for me, I must admit, doesn’t come naturally. By in large, most founders I have known are not what I would describe as “sensitive” people. Sometimes they are driven by anger or some internal pain which seems to drive them to achieve greatness as an antidote. In their tracks they can often leave a trail of hurt feelings and make other feel trampled on. I think Kroc may have been operating from this place. But for those without the baggage of anger or pain, I clearly see a common thread of not caring about what others think. Decisions are made based on facts and on what will lead to the intended outcome, sometimes just like a computer.

Truly graceful men and women are able to think and act like this while at the some time maintaining a healthy respect for others. I joke about some successful entrepreneurs I know being slightly autistic in their approach to decision-making. I have worked with some who I honestly believe are somewhere on the autism spectrum, and they’ve been blessed with the ability to decide and act not based on emotions or considering what people around them will think.

I never cease to be inspired by the entrepreneurs and visionaries with whom I work and support on a daily basis, both in capacity as a financial advisor and coach.

What other key traits do successful founders and entrepreneurs have?  See the trailer below for the main trait which “The Founder” claims to have been his secret for success. Let know what you think too!


1 Comment
  • Chris Saye
    Posted at 19:51h, 10 June Reply

    Great insight! Life is ultimately about the balance you choose to strike between “me” and others, between strength- being able to single-mindedly pursue a goal- and flexibility – being able to adjust a goal as circumstances demand. And the keyword here is “choose”.
    I wonder how many successful entrepreneurs- which as you write tend to be on one end of the spectrum on both of these dilemmas, act the way they do because of natural inclination, and how many are instead consciously (and as I imagine, painfully) aware of the trade-off they are signing up for.

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