Ed Rensi on Burgers & Life

Starting his McDonald’s career as a grill man and part-time manager trainee in 1966, Ed Rensi would advance to President and CEO of the iconic brand from 1991-1997. 

Starting his McDonald’s career as a grill man and part-time manager trainee in 1966, Ed Rensi would advance to President and CEO of the iconic brand from 1991-1997.

What are you reading now?

Mostly, I read historical fiction. I’ve been reading some of Bill O’Reilly’s books.

What are your essential books on business?

I don’t read books on that subject. I try to read current events. I read Harvard Business and six newspapers each day, including The London Times.

The movie “The Founder” (the story of Ray Kroc and McDonald’s), was it an accurate portrayal?

It was 50% accurate, I thought Keaton did a good job from an acting standpoint.

You were CEO of McDonald’s while Ray Kroc was alive. Tell us about him.

Ray Kroc was one of the most honorable, principled men I’d ever met in my life. He loved the franchisees and he wanted them to be successful more than anything else.

What is your take on the current political climate?

Tragic. Personal self-interest has gone past the greater good of this country.

What is your advice for President Trump?

He is one of the most inarticulate, yet smartest men that I’ve ever been acquainted with. He needs to stop his impulsive behavior. He’s right, but should take some time to think about what he is going to say before he says it.

You are outspoken on political topics. Would you ever consider running for political office?

Absolutely not. I will tell people what they don’t want to hear, I have a potty mouth, and I couldn’t raise five bucks. At the end of the day the money class wants somebody they can get elected, and that they can control — and you don’t have enough money to control me.

Then let’s pretend you have just become President by immaculate election and you can mandate two changes to legislation or government regulations via executive orders. What would you change?

Create trade schools on the German model and recreate the concept of Federalism. Big state government and a very small federal government with term limits for all elected officials. 

Why?

Better solutions come from being close to problems. 

What is the best investment that you have ever made?

My family.

The worst investment?

Restaurants as investments are not good for me! Too much outside industry regulation: zoning, labor, health, food fraud, fads and fears without facts.

You owned a NASCAR racing team for 13 years. In 2003 you had a great year with four, first place finishes and 13 top five finishes in 34 starts. Did the numbers work as a business, or was it simply an expensive hobby?

It’s not a hobby at all. It worked right up until the economic crash at the end of President George W. Bush’s term. And then all the sponsors panicked and quit spending money, and I got hung out to dry on about $18 million worth of sponsorship money.

Who are your sports heroes?

Mike Ditka and Vince Lombardi.

Favorite musical artists, living and dead?

There is no question. Frank Sinatra and Dean Martin.

Your favorite steakhouses?

Gibson’s in Chicago and Delmonico’s in New York.

Who are your business heroes?

Ray Kroc and Fred Turner.

Which restaurant companies have the leadership and vision to evolve and grow over the coming years?

Capital Grille (DRI), Danny Meyer’s Shake Shack (SHAK) and Rich Melman’s Lettuce Entertain You restaurants (Chicago-based, privately owned). Rich Melman is one of the most strategic, if not the most strategic restaurant guy that’s ever existed in the world. He’s got fabulous restaurants. He gives great leadership. He know his business, he is an incredible executive.

Who has the best burger in QSR?

Tom & Eddie’s edamame burger and McDonald’s Deluxe when freshly made. 

The millennial generation appears set on their course. A recent survey found post-millennials (born after 1995, often referred to as “Generation Z”) to be less focused, but better multitaskers, more entrepreneurial and more individual. You have had an extraordinary career—what is your best advice to the young workforce in this new era?

Don’t be self-indulgent, learn to be a team player for the greater good. Get focused fast about the rest of your life. Socialism does not work…ask Greece. 

— Interviewed by Jeff Joseph