Tracy Johnstone 12 February 2023

That Time in the Airport: Being Human Enough for Business

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Luck is the dividend of sweat. The more you sweat, the luckier you get.” – Ray Kroc

The franchise model Ray Kroc developed with McDonald’s is one of the most successful business models in history. It has been copied thousands of times. And it works because Ray invented a title called Owner/Operator.

I married a man who was a McDonald’s franchisee. What that means in McDonald’s land is that he wasn’t just an owner. He was required to also be an operator. He could literally operate every function of a McDonald’s restaurant.

So when Tim and I made our family, I also joined the McDonald’s family. That meant I put on my crew uniform and started dropping fries, mopping floors, and cleaning bathrooms. I had to work my way up.

In the process, I became a student of our business. Every facet of it. That is the genius of the owner/operator model. I knew the times and temperatures for food, I became a food cost analyst and a food safety expert. I learned how to grow in a penny profit business. And my lucky sweat was how I got it done.

Ground Truth from the Dining Room

Profitability is the key to unlocking the door of success and the key to taking care of our people. To build that profit, you can’t just read the reports. You must do the detail work of getting underneath the why and how. And that can’t be learned from a distant office. It happens on the restaurant floor.

Eventually, we had seven McDonald’s locations. I considered myself a boutique operator, small enough to be in the restaurants, big enough to create wealth.

By putting in the time, from the back door to the rooftop to the walk-in to the dining room, I knew my restaurants. I was not a spectator; I was in the game.

Being in the game means knowing your people and teaching those folks to count the ketchup packets. Being profitable takes practice, putting systems and routines in place, and then constantly tweaking them to purr like a kitten. And make money.

It is easy to think entrepreneurs who scale their businesses do so from a beach or yacht. Don’t believe it. They do it by being the leading expert in the world on their business.

Being that student of your business enables you to read end-of-month reports with a knowledge of how those numbers came to be. You know when the numbers are off but, most importantly, why they are off. The CPA is only processing numbers you give them. You must become the subject matter expert to get the numbers you want.

There is a phrase, “You need to work through your people,” and I could not agree more. But, don’t hide behind that sentence. If you’re in the weeds of your business and think you’re doing it wrong, you’re not.

Nit-Pick Your Work, Not Others

And I don’t mean micro-managing. That is nit-picking someone else’s work. I’m talking about your work. There is a time to delegate of course, but do not do so until you sling the mop yourself for a while.

So, work a position in your business. Stand in those shoes. Over time, you will see what equipment needs attention, you will ask yourself why is this placed here, what if we change the set up, what is missing?

The most meaningful compliment I received as an owner/operator was “Very nice, not many business owners know that.”

So be a proud owner/operator. It’ll bring you the best kind of luck.


P.S. – In Part II you will learn more about counting those ketchup packets.