June 8, 2018

When the founder of Dominoes met the founder of McDonald

Beginning in 1968, I tried to make appointments with Ray Kroc. His staff would always ask, “Why do you want to see him?” and I’d explain, “I feel that Domino’s is about fifteen years behind McDonald’s; we’re following the same path of development. McDonald’s is my model, and Mr. Kroc is my idol.” It didn’t get me to first base.

From 1972 on, I had someone call Mr. Kroc’s office once a month to try to arrange a meeting. There was always some reason I couldn’t get to talk to him. Then, early in the summer of 1980 [IF Note: In 1980, Domino’s only had 290 Stores. Domino’s would grow to 3,600 stores by the end of 1986], Helen McNulty managed to get me a tentative appointment with him at his office in San Diego. Margie and I planned a vacation trip to San Diego with our four daughters, and Kroc’s assistant said he’d do his best for me. Kroc was then seventy-eight years old and in failing health, so his schedule was erratic. But if I would call his office every day while we were out there, the assistant said, he’d see what he could do. After several fruitless phone calls, while Margie and the girls were off visiting Sea World and the San Diego Zoo, I finally was told that Kroc would see me, but only for fifteen minutes.

Wow! I was so excited I could hardly stand it. I had to wait in the lobby of his office for quite a while, and I began to worry that he might cancel our meeting. But then I was ushered in – and there he was, smiling that impish smile. I had brought along my dogeared copy of his autobiography, Grinding It Out: The Making of McDonald’s 4, and I showed him how I’d underlined his precepts. He autographed the book for me, and we had a great chat. I was getting frustrated, though. I wanted to listen to him so I could learn from him, but he kept asking such great questions that I was doing all the talking. In no time at all, he understood the Domino’s concept as well as anyone except me.

We talked for two and a half hours. Finally, his assistant broke in and said we had to wind it up. Kroc nodded, leaned over his desk toward me, and said: “I’m gonna give you some advice. You’ve got it made now. You can do anything you want. The system you’ve got will give you all the money you can possibly spend. So what you should do now is slow down. Take it easy. Open a few stores every year, but be careful. Don’t make any new deals that could get you into trouble. Get your debts paid off. Play it safe…”

I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. It was the exact opposite of what I thought he believed in. Finally, I could take no more of it.

I blurted: “But that wouldn’t be any fun!”

He stopped talking and just stared at me, kind of hurt-looking. Then his face broke out into a big grin. He lunged forward across his desk and pumped my hand.

“That’s just what I hoped you’d say!” he laughed.

I guess I must have made some sort of impression on him, because that night I got a call from Mike Paul, who told me excitedly: “Hey, Tom, guess what… Ray Kroc just came into our store and ordered a pizza!”

Source: Pizza Tiger book

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