McDonald’s: Behind the Arches by John F. Love

 “[Ray A. Kroc] was immortalized as the founder of a major new industry. His accomplishments in food service were likened to those of John D. Rockefeller in oil refining, Andrew Carnegie in steel manufacturing, and Henry Ford in automotive assembly.”

In his popular 1999 book on globalization, The Lexus and the Olive Tree, Thomas Friedman introduced his widely debated “Golden Arches Theory of Conflict Prevention,” which states that “No two countries that both had McDonald’s had fought a war against each other since each got its McDonald’s.”

While Friedman’s theory has been proved wrong on quite a few occasions, he does make a very valid point, as he essentially connects having a McDonald’s restaurant to a nation’s globalization. In the book, McDonald’s: Behind the Arches, John Love celebrates the company, perhaps one of the most iconic in the world, one which offers food of a reasonable quality to middle or even lower income people around the world at an affordable price.

Love narrates the fascinating story of how the company grew from a single restaurant called the McDonald brothers— run by brothers Richard and Maurice—which was a tiny drive-in in San Bernardino, California, in 1937 to being the biggest restaurant chain in the world. The numbers are staggering – there are over 35,000 McDonald’s restaurants in the world, serving 68 million people a day, from over 118 countries.

And it is all because of one man, a remarkable entrepreneur – Ray Kroc. Ray Kroc saw the potential in the McDonald brothers – Richard and Maurice’s idea that nobody else did. He bet everything on that idea and what followed was one of the greatest triumphs in the history of global capitalism.

John Love’s narrative of McDonald’s is not authorized by the company or vetted by McDonald’s legal team – which means it is not a hagiography. Love is a fan, but he is also an accomplished writer and retains his objectivity.

The book is not a negative story either – as many books written on McDonald’s such as the very popular Fast Food Nation: The Dark Side of the All-American Meal by investigative journalist Eric Schlosser. This is a book for people who admire McDonald’s as a company and wish to learn the secrets of its great success.

As Love explains his position: “This is not a corporate book, not the type of history that companies commission to commemorate some milestone. I am an independent journalist, and McDonald’s Corporation had no editorial control over this work.”

Love explains why there were several restaurant chains started at around the same time Ray Kroc took charge of McDonald’s, such as Bob’s Big Boy, Burger King, Tastee Freeze, Dairy Queen, and Kentucky Fried Chicken – but why none of them succeeded to the extent that McDonald’s did.

He discusses how Ray Kroc took the idea of a simplified diner menu, a faster process of getting food to the customer, and a family-friendly atmosphere and made it so much compelling that the carhop-serviced hamburger joints that were so popular around that time. 

There are amazing stories of how Kroc bought the restaurant chain for $2.7 million in cash from the brothers, and his anger at finding out that the brothers failed to include the original restaurant in the deal. So what did Kroc do? He opened a McDonald’s down the street and put the brothers out of business!

Anyone who likes quality corporate narratives or business histories will love this book. Just an outstanding effort.