He took the stage like a victorious general and made it clear from the get-go that this would be no ordinary presentation. “I don’t do speeches anymore,” former McDonald’s USA CEO Ed Rensi barked to a packed ballroom at the Restaurant Leadership Conference. “I rant.”
The onetime second-in-command of the world’s largest restaurant chain was true to his word, lobbing provocative thoughts on everything from technology shock (“I was the guy who fought voice-mail at McDonald’s for 18 years”) to patriotism (“Some of us are apologizing way too much for our country these days.”)
Many of his thoughts played off what he’s learned, after spending 32 years at McDonald’s, from being an entrepreneur. Rensi is currently building a retro burger chain called Tom & Eddie’s, with a fifth unit under development.
Among the doozeys that jumped from brain to mouth:
On the state of the business: “If it wasn't for customers, suppliers and employees, the restaurant industry would be really good.”
On competing with his former employer: “Don’t mess with McDonald’s because they will hurt you. They are very smart people. [Pause.] By the way, I trained them all.”
On local purchasing by chains: “McDonald’s buys local food. They buy everything. So it’s local to somebody.”
On taking care of hourlies: “I insist our employees eat in our dining room. And we treat ‘em just like customers. We bring them their food, we refill their drinks. We respect them as much as anybody we do business with. Treat your employees as customers first and as employees second.”
On change: “You must have quiet evolution that’s driven by consumer benefit. You need to know where your customers are going, and you need to get there ahead of them.”
On contending with bad times: Why is it that when a company gets in stress the first thing they do is lay off a whole bunch of people? When I was at McDonald’s and we got into a situation of stress, we always did two things: We increased our advertising budget, because everyone [else] cuts their budget. And we went and got better people.”
On how he keeps in touch with consumers: I wash dishes every day, something I learned from Ray Kroc. I want to see what’s coming back. What are they eating or not eating, how many napkins they used.”
On the effects of an entrepreneurial life: "I look good for my age, right?"