Fred Turner

Obituary: Fred Turner, the man who made McDonald’s

Fred Turner, the man who made McDonald’s, died on January 7th, aged 80. He’s a lesser known figure than the company’s founder, Ray Kroc, but he was as instrumental as his boss in creating the burger giant.

A tree, wrote William Blake, moves some men to tears, but for others is merely “a green thing that stands in the way”. Similarly, for some the red and yellow livery of McDonald’s is a blot on the landscape; but for Fred Turner those soaring golden arches were so lovely, so inviting, that he ordered them taken off the restaurant fascias and placed on tall signs near the roadway, where no motorist could miss them.

Under the arches was displayed the number of hamburgers served, eventually reckoned in billions.

When Mr Turner became operations manager, in 1958, he had charge of just 34 restaurants. By the time he retired in 2004, having risen to CEO in 1973 and chairman in 1977, there were 31,500 restaurants worldwide, and the number of sear-sizzled beef patties in a bun with melty American cheese popped into clamshell polystyrene packs seemed to stretch out to infinity.

Indeed, even by the corporation’s tenth birthday in 1965 — which was also ten years since Ray Kroc, the founder, had hired Mr Turner as a grillman in his very first franchise outside Chicago — McDonald’s was changing the American landscape. A billion hamburgers had been sold by then, ground out from 100,000 cattle grazing the plains of Kansas or Texas. Enough flour was needed for buns to cover the whole state of Pennsylvania. Fired into orbit, those burgers would make two rings around the Earth. Thundering down again, they would fill Yankee Stadium.

This wide world of burgers was governed by Mr Turner, or rather, as he hoped everyone would call him, Fred. Few rulers were more affable, more self-effacing or more exacting. When customers strolled in under those golden arches he made sure they got just what they wanted, time after time.

To begin at the beginning, McDonald’s restaurants had to look attractive, brick-built and with mansard roofs. He put in lots of indoor seating, so that diners would linger, and conversely introduced the first Drive-Thru, in 1975, so that they could be served within 50 seconds without leaving their cars. Each place was spanking clean; he would visit obsessively to chew out staff for smudgy windows or litter in the parking lot, and his training videos insisted that even the pipes under the sinks should be buffed until they shone. He knew what he was talking about; he had sweated by a grill himself…..

The Economist: Read the full article