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Columbus is a Kroc

November 24, 2009

Ray Kroc, the founder of McDonalds, has long been regarded as one of this country’s great entrepreneurs. The Ray Kroc story has been told so many times, the myths surrounding “the founder of McDonalds” had all but become reality.

Almost, that is, until the real Mr. McDonald, the one that pioneered the fast food industry and built the golden arches that bear his name, began holding press conferences from his New Hampshire retirement home. Not having been the founder as he allowed us to believe, makes Kroc no less of an entrepreneur however. His accomplishments, after acquiring the restaurant some thirty years ago, are a significant chapter in the real history of entrepreneurship.

This Columbus Day marks the beginning of a year that will culminate in the celebration of 500th anniversary of “the discovery of America.” To the Indians that inhabited the lands he “discovered” and to the Vikings that preceded him, the celebration of Columbus’ “discovery” is at least controversial.

Despite the jeopardy concerning his claim to “the discovery of America”, Christopher Columbus will, as will Ray Kroc, maintain his entrepreneurial legacy intact.

He was an Italian immigrant. The eldest of five children. The son of a tradesman. She was young and wealthy. Influential and intelligent, she was born to privilege and presided with power.

He was Christopher Columbus. She was Queen Isabella. He was one of the greatest seamen and navigators in history. She reigned as the queen of Spain. He was an early entrepreneur with a vision. She was the first venture capitalist.

He was a hard working youth but had little formal education. His first efforts to expand his horizons had only moderate success. One of his early ventures was nearly a disaster. As he grew to manhood he taught himself the skills he needed for his future endeavors.

As with many early stage ventures, this one started out as a family affair. Supported by his two brothers, he began the preparations needed to begin the long journey that lie ahead. He had the vision and the energy, he would do the hard work and make the sacrifices, he would take the risks and put his life on the line. He only needed the financial support that would allow his enterprise to come to life.

He began his search for funding close to home. Armed with a vision that would change the world, but lacking a resume of success and without influential contacts, he was repeatedly turned down. Rebuffed at home, he went abroad. Time and again he heard that the experts disagreed with him. After all, who was he, what had he ever accomplished? His resolve never weakened.

It took nearly ten years to find the backing necessary to start the project. And even then, it was a happen stance meeting that led to a casual acquaintance from which developed a friendship that produced an introduction.

That introduction was to a wealthy, influential and intelligent young women who saw the potential in the plans of the persistent entrepreneur. She too was told by the experts to dismiss this visionary. She however, understood the relationships of risk and reward, the powerful leverage involved with an investment of this type and the value of the personal commitment displayed by this Italian adventurer.

She bankrolled all of his needs. He was provided substantial incentives for his personal benefit should his performance live up to his promises.

Despite the hard work and the accidents of good fortune that would eventually contribute to their success, the undertaking was almost abandoned just two days prior to making their historic discovery. During the early morning hours of October 12, 1492, land was sighted. Later that day, Christopher Columbus set foot on what was later to become known as the New World. He claimed possession of his discovery in the name of his venture’s backer, Queen Isabella of Spain.

He proved to be a better adventurer than a manager. Removed from control of his newly discovered empire, he resurfaced again and again, ever committed to his vision. Responsible for one of the greatest discoveries of his time, he was eventually deprived of the rewards of his labor.

He had the courage to sail into uncharted seas. She had the fortitude to refute the conventional wisdom of the experts. Together they changed the face of the world and the way we all do business. An entrepreneurial script that we all hope will be repeated, and learned from, many times as we proceed with the continuing “rediscovery of America.”

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