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Grinding It Out- Book 3 Review

Posted by Mrityunjay on January 19, 2018

“Columbus discovered America, Jefferson invented it, and Ray Kroc Big Mac’d it.” –Tom Robbins. Couldn’t be truer than that, isn’t it? Few entrepreneurs can claim to have radically changed the way we live, and Ray Kroc is one of them. “Grinding it out” is a fascinating read. It moves at a relentless pace, symbolic of the man the book is all about. As for the man, someone in the book aptly describes him- “He either enchants or antagonizes everyone he meets. But even his enemies agree there are three things Ray Kroc does damned well: sell hamburgers, make money, and tell stories.”

Like the products Ray Kroc sold all his life, this book is also same- Fast, Swift and tantalizing. He was a true revolutionary the way he brought numerous changes to fast food industry. Food service automation, advertising, franchising, shared national training etc were kind of things our civilization was not really aware of until Ray Kroc arrived on the scene. Ray Kroc founded not only a business but an empire. And to think of it, he started it at the ripe old age of 52- the age when people are normally thinking of retirement bliss. That makes his achievements all the more incredible.

41r1g2X8ttLTalking about the story, many readers might be surprised to know that it was not Ray Kroc who first started the McDonald chain. It was rather founded by the McDonald brothers in San Bernadino (near L.A.). McDonald’s was the first national hamburger chain in the US, founded in the 1940s. Ray Kroc was the man who grew the brand across the country. This book is amusingly written and a pretty fun read. In my view, the success of McDonald’s was primarily because of three factors:- 1) Assembly-line production- where food was made quickly and cheaply. 2) French fries- truly a turning point in the success of the business. 3) Good franchise model. Digging deeper, I will share some passages from the book giving us a glimpse of man’s vision, process and progression.

As Mr.Kroc writes-  “The San Bernadino restaurant was a typical drive-in. It developed a terrific business, especially among teenagers. But after World War II, the brothers realized that they were running hard just to stay in one place. They weren’t building volume even though their parking lot was always full. So they did a courageous thing. They closed that successful restaurant in 1948 and reopened it a short time later with a radically different kind of operation. It was a restaurant stripped down to the minimum in service and menu, the prototype for legions of fast-food units that later would spread across the land. Hamburgers, fries and beverages were prepared on an assembly line basis, and to the amazement of everyone, Mac and Dick McDonald included, the thing worked! Of course, the simplicity of the procedure allowed the McDonalds to concentrate on quality in every step, and that was the trick. When I saw it working that day in 1954, I felt like some latter-day Newton who’d just had an Idaho potato caromed off his skull.”

On the subject of French fries, Kroc writes “Now, to most people, a french-fried potato is a pretty uninspiring object. It’s fodder, something to kill time between chewing bites of hamburger and swallows of milk shake. That’s your ordinary french fry. The McDonald’s french fry was in an entirely different league. They lavished attention on it. I didn’t know it then, but one day I would, too. The french fry would become almost sacrosanct for me, its preparation a ritual to be followed religiously.” Looking back, Kroc writes “The quality of our french fries was a large part of McDonald’s success.”

In a twisted kind of way, Ray Kroc standardized American food taste. Initiating McDonald’s franchising system was a real masterstroke. He was an instinctive leader who brought entrepreneurs into a structure that both forced them to conform to high standards of quality and service and freed them to operate as independent business people. Last I knew, McDonald’s had more than 35000 franchises all over the world. That says something about the success of his model. I still can’t get over the fact that he was 52 years old when he first started rolling out McDonald’s across the country. He spent the next 20+ years of his life expanding McDonald’s to 4,000 stores across the world. A bit like Sam Walton (Walmart), Ray Kroc built a system that kept on growing, long after he retired.

Before discovering his true calling, Kroc peddled ribbon novelties, paper cups, and underwater Florida real estate, and played piano in now-forgotten orchestras. But life grew sweet in the Fifties after the fateful trip to California–even if “”you lose a lot of your friends on the way up”” as well as a wife or two. Not a man to waste time in idle regrets (“I had no time to bother with emotional stress”), Ray Kroc was in business of selling multimixers for making milk-shakes before getting involved with McDonalds. When he first heard about San Bernadino McDonald’s restaurant buying a lot of Multimixers from him, and he decided to meet the owners. In his words- “When I flew back to Chicago that fateful day in 1954, I had a freshly signed contract with the McDonald brothers in my briefcase. I was a battle-scarred veteran of the business wars, but I was still eager to go into action. I was 52 years old. I had diabetes and incipient arthritis. I had lost my gall bladder and most of my thyroid gland in earlier campaigns. But I was convinced that the best was still ahead of me. I was still green and growing.” Some enthusiasm!!

About his sales technique, Kroc writes, “My cup sales kept growing as I learned how to plan my work and work my plan. My confidence grew at the same rate. I found that my customers appreciated a straightforward approach”.

His words about Stress management technique is also something to read twice and imbibe- “I learned then how to keep problems from crushing me. I refused to worry about more than one thing at a time, and I would not let useless fretting about a problem, no matter how important, keep me from sleeping. This is easier said than done. I did it through my own brand of self-hypnosis. I may have read a book on the subject, I don’t remember, but in any case I worked out a system that allowed me to turn off nervous tension and shut out nagging questions when I went to bed. I knew that if I didn’t, I wouldn’t be bright and fresh and able to deal with customers in the morning. I would think of my mind as being a blackboard full of messages, most of them urgent, and I practised imagining a hand with an eraser wiping that blackboard clean. I made my mind completely blank. If a thought began to appear, zap! I’d wipe it out before it could form. Then I would relax my body, beginning at the back of my neck and continuing on down, shoulders, arms, torso, legs, to the tips of my toes. By this time, I would be asleep. I learned to do this procedure rather rapidly.”

As for his personal life, his first wife just wasn’t supportive enough of his business endeavours, so that didn’t work out. Second wife was decent but too mild and unexciting for his high octane self. His third wife was someone he propositioned while she was still married to her previous husband, a McDonald’s franchisee! Kroc makes no apologies for this behaviour, his attitude being: when it’s right it’s right.

Talking about his writing style, Kroc has a sparky, energetic and humorous writing style. Its very business-man like. Straight. To the point. I am tempted to share his writing style here. It might feel like hot, crunchy, crispy French fries to your literary buds.

About San Bernadino, the site of the first McDonald’s, Kroc writes “Now San Bernadino is on the edge of the desert, remember, and you could probably put its average annual precipitation in a martini glass and still have room for an olive.” Oh Man, I loved this line!

About hamburgers, Kroc writes “Consider, for example, the hamburger bun. It requires a certain kind of mind to see beauty in a hamburger bun. Yet, is it any more unusual to find grace in the texture and softly curved silhouette of a bun than to reflect lovingly on the hackles of a favourite fishing fly? Or the arrangement of textures and colours in a butterfly’s wing? Not if you are a McDonald’s man. Not if you view the bun as an essential material in the art of serving a great many meals fast. Then this plump yeasty mass becomes an object worthy of sober study.” Yeah, hamburger can be defined poetically too!!

On real estate “Finding locations for McDonald’s is the most creatively fulfilling thing I can imagine. I go out and check out a piece of property. It’s nothing but bare ground, not producing a damned thing for anybody. I put a building on it, and the operator gets into business there employing fifty or a hundred people, and there is new business for the garbage man, the landscape man, and the people who sell the meat and buns and potatoes and other things. So out of that bare piece of ground comes a store that does, say, a million dollars a year in business. Let me tell you, it’s a great satisfaction to see that happen.”

Guess, I am going on and on. So winding it up, I must say, the story of Ray Kroc is nothing short of miraculous and inspiring and it goes to show that if you’re in the right place, at the right time, with the right people, the right things happen. He proves that you’re never too old to be an entrepreneur. He was 52 when he started his McDonald’s gig, and he kept at it for another 20 years as the company took the country by storm. As Kroc loved to say, “Work is the meat in the hamburger of life. Perseverance will prevail every time over brains, education, and almost anything. PRESS On: Nothing in the world can take the place of persistence. Talent will not; nothing is more common than unsuccessful men with talent. Genius will not; unrewarded genius is almost a proverb. Education will not; the world is full of educated derelicts. Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent”.

Happy Reading, folks. Cheers.

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How I Made $2,000,000 In The Stock Market- Book 2 Review

Posted by Mrityunjay on January 16, 2018

My second book of the year is “How I Made $2,000,000 In The Stock Market” by Nicolas Darvas. As usual, I came across the book through potent combo of Twitter & Goodreads. It was a pretty quick read. More of a trading text, a healthy portion of the book consists of editorial edition along with some Q&A with Darvas tossed in.

Talking about the author, Nicolas Darvas was a professional dancer who used to perform all around the world. Then as it often happens, he somewhat randomly got into the stock market through; yeah you guessed it right- a tip. Beginner’s luck. And then series of mishits. Sounds familiar, right?

Book’s primary appeal lies in the fact that Darvas was not a professional investor. It’s pretty crazy readinghow-i-made his progression chart. If you are interested in stock market, you can actually relate to all the mistakes he made along the way, how all the noise and rumours played havoc with his system and mental equilibrium and then subsequently he developed his own theory which helped him in making $2 million in 18 months, starting with a stake of less than $25,000. He paid no heed to where market was heading, no prediction or theories about economy in general. What got him hooked was how a particular stock behaves. It’s almost like a scrip reveals its story through its price-volume behaviour.

While reading this book, I was reminded of Jesse Livermore. As far as similarity between the two is concerned, Darvas traded by feel. Because of his professional dancing commitments, he was travelling all around the world so he would receive telegrams with clear instructions to his broker. Every day telegram would be sent to him containing minimal information like scrip names, price, close etc. Through this method, he learned to ‘feel’ the stock price, just as Lefèvre does in ‘Reminiscences of a Stock Operator’ with the ticker tape. Like Livermore, Darvas was also a plunger. He developed this knack of probing the market; that is buying a bit now, a bit more on confirmation and still more after that.

Another important learning for him (and is relevant to all we stock market addicts) was, you can’t get emotional about the market. In his words- “I accepted everything for what it was – not what I wanted it to be. I just stayed on the sidelines and waited for better times to come.”

I really loved the way Mr.Darvas compared stocks to people. Say, he describes the characteristics of some stocks in a very interesting method. For instance, some stocks are highly nervous, irritated and jumpy and the stock price goes all over. Other stocks are sedate and almost bovine. On a closer look, you can actually see that happening. He developed this “Box theory” where a stock trades in a certain price range. He kept watching this range with normal to above average volume depicting accumulation. Then as stock jumped to a new level, he would identify the next box where stock would subsequently find its high/low and made a new range. Once he was sure of higher highs in a new price range/box movement, he would make his move and try to buy at the bottom of the box and gradually increasing his position with every upmove.

Simultaneously Darvas started paying attention to fundamentals as well and connecting the dots. Like how a stock remains steadfast even during falling market, fighting the downtrend. As he checked the story further, he discovered such scrips were growing earnings. “Capital was flowing into these stocks, even in a bad market. This capital was following earning improvements as a dog follows a scent.” And so he married this fundamental idea to his technical box theory. The author says, “I would select stocks on their technical action in the market, but I would only buy them when I could give improving earning power as my fundamental reason for doing so.”

The author puts a strong emphasis on developing/having a set of rules to play the market and no matter what one must STICK to them. It’s fascinating to witness Darvas’ personal trading development along with the construction and refinement of his trading strategy. He kept shifting his course until he finally found the methodology which suited him best. Some people would find certain similarities between his Box theory and popular CANSLIM methodology that mixes fundamental and technical approach.

There is also a stark reminder of what usually happens when you start getting all cocky after initial success. In the story, after he earns his first half million, he goes back to NY to trade on Wall Street – almost immediately he loses his  practiced edge, web of rumours, gossips, heard on the street whispers etc start affecting his trading instinct and he forgets all his own rules and lessons. Back to zero. Not exactly but near-about. Wham! And that makes me think, with all these facilities that we have at our disposal, books/TV/Twitter/WA/Spams/Pumps/Forums etc etc, we are bound to become confused. Stay away. Keep distance. Focus. Period.

One disappointing thing is that the book does not explain his method in detail. Not concisely presented, methodology in bits and pieces over the timeline, you wish there was more written and explained in the book. All in all, a decent quick read.

Happy Reading, folks. Cheers.

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A Reader’s Delight

Posted by Mrityunjay on October 4, 2014

“What a miracle it is that out of these small, flat, rigid squares of paper unfolds world after world after world, worlds that sing to you, comfort and quiet or excite you. Books help us understand who we are and how we are to behave. They show us what community and friendship mean; they show us how to live and die.” — Anne Lamott

Well, that’s what reading does. At least to me. September was a great month in terms of reading. I used to to be a voracious reader. I still am but mostly it’s been restricted to online reading. How I wish I could write reviews, feelings, reactions, lessons etc on whatever I read but then, procrastination is too good of an addiction to get rid of. Last month, I finished four books in places as usual or absurd as; my uni-dimensional room, near the sea-shore, in the train and even while talking to some boring people on phone. Reading tends to give you a huge high (Unless you are not reading Chetan Bhagat), making you totally unaware of what’s happening around and providing the oft-needed escape route from irritating reality which we all so secretly desire. So, this time, I was hooked to Survival/Adventure genre (May be something to do with my current mindset and also because ghost of Charles Darwin keeps reminding of importance of survival). I was looking for some real stories and not fiction which my life already has enough of! And once I had devoured one book, I wanted more…and more..First, I landed up with “Skeletons on the Zahara” by Dean King.

skeletons on the zaharaSo basically as one GoodReads review says, “Skeletons on the Zahara is a true story of twelve American sailors shipwrecked off the coast of Africa in 1815. They faced incredible odds when they were captured by Arab nomads and sold into slavery. They crossed the Sahara (called the Zahara back then) and faced starvation, beatings, dehydration, sunburn, and hostile tribes. They did incredible things in order to survive.” That pretty much sums up the story line. Now, take your eyes off the screen for a minute and imagine the entire scenario. Think of the plight, travails, suffering and the mountain of the odds faced by the sailors in the unforgiving desert with temperature crossing fifty? Can you imagine the hardships? Did you just notice some lumps in your throat? if you did, just buy the book and read it.

Post reading, I googled about the entire expedition gone terribly wrong and about the authenticity of the voyage under the guidance of Captain James Riley. As the author claims, everything seems true. Dean King has undoubtedly done his research, personally visiting many details of locations that Riley had visited. This is an extraordinary detail of a survival journey gone haywire. Many a times, details were so lucid that I felt dehydrated while reading the book and needed a glass of water and the water never tasted this better. It’s a perfect tale of human suffering and human endurance, both assimilated in a way that we tend to realize that most of the details could be incomprehensible to the first world mind. I have always been very interested about far-flung places and historical events so that way, I thoroughly enjoyed learning about Sahara, Morocco, facts about camels, cultural and theological aspects etc. It was also interesting to get a glimpse into social and anthropological insights into Arab culture circa 1815, a major part of which, unfortunately remains unchanged even now.

If you are a true literature aficionados you won’t find the writing style of Dean King very appealing. Sometimes, it felt rushed, some other times, it felt as if we could have done with some more details but then I liked it this way only. It was a prose told in a factual way. Queasy, dehydrating story of fate and pluck. Go, read it.

Second book was Escape from Camp 14” which is about escape and survival of a person born in North Korean political prisonescape 14 camp. it’s gut-wrenching story about a nation, possibly most isolated and draconian in nature. North Korea has largely remained an enigma to the outer world. We all are pretty much well aware of what is taking place in Iraq, Syria, Saudi Arabia or other such regressive nations but North Korea has remained, by and large, a closed country. It’s isolated, belligerent, almost on the verge of bankruptcy and starving yet the world hears nothing about them. A wild estimate says, more than 2 lakhs people in this tiny peninsula are being held in it’s political prison camps with no respite in sight.

This is the story of Shin Donghyuk who was not just born and brought up in one such camp but also managed to survive and escape to Sotuh Korea and then to USA. Truly Remarkable! While reading this story, you can almost imagine what must have gone through the Nazi concentration camps and Gulags run by Soviet Russia at the behest of Stalin. It was that brutal and inhumane. You can be forgiven for assuming that you were reading a dystopian novel. Being a citizen of a thriving democracy like India, it was hard to imagine people are still being made to live on planet Earth in that fashion. Just the notion of that possibility can give you worst nightmares. Damn it Man, I am so lucky to be an Indian.

From literature point of view, “Escape from Camp 14” is not at all beautiful. Written by Washington Post correspondent Blaine Harden, the book has more of a journalistic style of narration. I did expect more drama, more fluidity & lucidity in storytelling but it was not to be. At times, it felt pretty straight forward and bland but all in all, this book was a huge eye opener.

That was all about the first two books. Will cover 2 more in next post. To sum it up, what I find most exciting about survival stories is how you start feeling grateful to all that you have been provided with. When you read, hear and think about such stories, you feel amazed at what the human body and spirit can endure without breaking. I mean, I do 20 sets of Surya-Namaskar or Push-Ups and I feel like drinking water every few minutes lest I fall flat with exhaustion. But how the hell these guys could go for months walking through the desert with almost nothing to eat or drink. It’s almost unbelievable but don’t they say, truth is stranger than fiction?

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