Portrait of a Corporate Maverick

In stocks as in politics, it pays to study history, especially when there's ample evidence that every stock market stalwart began as an upstart grower trying to break the rules of business.

Accordingly, today we examine one of the most successful corporate rebels ever, Ray Kroc, the indomitable spirit behind fast-food giant McDonald's (NYSE: MCD  ) .

McDonald's

Recent Price

$35.84

Market Cap

$44.04 billion

52-week High/Low

$36.75 / 31.09

Major competitors

Burger King (NYSE: BKC  )
Wendy's (NYSE: WEN  )
Yum! Brands (NYSE: YUM  )

How it all began
Though legend places McDonald's beginnings near its company headquarters in Oak Brook, Ill., it actually began as a small hamburger stand in San Bernardino, Calif., named after its founding brothers, Richard and Maurice McDonald. The pair had opened the original McDonald's in 1940, according to Howard Rothman's book 50 Companies That Changed the World.

Eight years later, with business booming, the McDonalds decided to initiate some sweeping changes, Rothman writes. Among them: deeply cutting prices and limiting menu choices. Most importantly, the stand's signature 15-cent burger was to be served the same way every time.

By 1954, demand had soared, and the brothers needed eight of the milkshake-making Multimixers that Kroc was hawking to restaurants around the country. Intrigued by how busy McDonald's was, he traveled west to see the stand for himself. Kroc was immediately impressed. The next year, as the brothers' franchising agent, Kroc would open the first of the McDonald's we know today, in Des Plaines, Ill.

A revolution begins
It's correct to give Kroc some measure of credit for popularizing fast food, but Rothman writes that his real innovation was something altogether different.

In the late '50s and early '60s, smoking ads were as common on TV as, um, personal hygiene ads are today. Most restaurateurs capitalized on the trend by installing highly profitable vending machines at their eateries. But not for Kroc and McDonald's. Instead, he wanted to move customers in and out as fast as possible -- as a way to ensure profits on otherwise cheap fare.

Would you like fries with that 800-bagger?
Though rebellious at the time, Kroc's desire for cost and convenience seems obvious today. But it was he who led us to the deep fryer with a bold vision, and in the process, spawned an entire industry of imitators -- from Burger King to Wendy's to Yum! Brands' Taco Bell.

Not that investors mind the competition. According to the McDonald's website, the fast-food joint went public in 1965 at $22.50 a stub. By the end of 2003, a 100-share stake in the firm would have grown into $1.8 million. That's an 800-bagger over 38 years, or a 19.2% annualized return.

Tap into the greatest growth
Rule Breakers advisor and Fool co-founder David Gardner is constantly scouring the markets for the next Ray Kroc. He believes that by doing so, he'll find the next McDonald's: an ultimate growth stock capable of such powerful returns that it will lift an entire portfolio.

So far, he and his team have found four multibagger stocks, including two that have more than tripled. Both firms share managers who, like Kroc, possess a passion for their businesses that should continue to lead to outsized returns. Want to find out who they are? Try Motley Fool Rule Breakers for 30 days. It's free, and there's no obligation to buy. Click here to get started now.

Fool contributor Tim Beyers only breaks the rules in his portfolio. Wimp. Tim didn't own shares in any of the companies mentioned in this story at the time of publication. Get the skinny on all of Tim's stock holdings by checking his Fool profile. The Motley Fool has an ironclad disclosure policy.


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