What Happened when McDonald’s Took on Personal Money Management?


Image via The Weinstein Company

In the recent movie The Founder, we are introduced to the man who made McDonald’s – home of the golden arches and the iconic brand behind nearly 40,000 restaurant locations worldwide. His name is Ray Kroc and he built an empire of fast food that now employs 375,000 people.

Kroc (played by Michael Keaton) is 52 years old and a weary traveling salesman when he chances upon Ray and Mac McDonald, owners of a new kind of burger restaurant in San Bernardino, California and pioneering developers of the “speedy system” of food production.

“Franchise the d*** thing! Do it for America!” urges Kroc, who has the vision to see what’s possible and the boldness to pursue his envisioned future. The rest is restaurant history. (link to the trailer)

It’s truly an amazing company. A few stats:

  • McDonald’s serves 1% of the world’s population every day
  • Its hires around 1 million workers in the US every year
  • One in every eight American workers has been employed by McDonald’s

The impressive impact that McDonald’s has had on this economy alone is unquestionable. But it has also set the stage for many careers. It touts itself as committed to being “America’s best first job.” It has even proven to be an excellent place to stay and grow as people take on managerial or even corporate jobs with the company.

But McDonald’s realized years ago that many of its employees might be struggling financially. Rising to the challenge, the company sponsored a well-meaning initiative in 2013 that was designed to give its workers budgeting advice. This didn’t turn out well.

McDonalds employees budget

The company’s perennial critics seized on one budgeting scenario that presented two incomes – perhaps willfully misreading it in some cases as a suggestion that one person would be working two jobs at minimum wage. (The author of the actual budgeting report explained to reporters that the scenario could apply to two-earners within a single household. But the damage was done.)

Ultimately, the public relations controversy overwhelmed the effort to provide much-needed budgeting assistance to families challenged to better manage their finances.

The incident, however, did bring into the spotlight some of the difficulties that hourly workers might be experiencing in today’s economy, particularly those working at a minimum wage who are just trying to pay their bills and manage their money responsibly.

As the research suggests, hourly workers represent 59% of the American workforce. Of that group, 71% are under 30. And they are often struggling. In fact, 56% of Americans overall are living paycheck to paycheck – with less than $1000 in their checking and savings accounts. These are the types of people McDonald’s endeavored to support with financial education.

But there is a lesson for all of us here.

As the epic story of McDonald’s reminds us, there’s a great entrepreneur behind every great business – someone willing to boldly take chances (often sacrificing one’s own income to meet payroll each month). But if you visit McDonald’s on occasion, you can also see all the employees – waiting to serve — that make a proud business possible.

No one can do it alone. Owners, managers, and employees are all in it together.

While McDonald’s may have faltered in its efforts to help its people manage their money and overcome financial hurdles, it’s clear that such support is still greatly needed and valuable. By finding ways to help your people navigate or endure their financial challenges, you earn their respect and lay a foundation for mutual success.

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