The Colonel

Today, just about everyone knows Colonel Sanders or has tried his secret recipe of eleven herbs and spices.  We recognize his image in red and white on restaurant signs around the world.  His is one of the most successful food chains in the world.

But at age 65, by almost every measure, Harland Sanders was a failure.  As a young man, he tried his hand at several professions including tire salesman, railroad fireman, farm hand, insurance salesman, steamboat pilot, and country lawyer.  He failed at all of them.  His first wife left him when he was fired for insubordination. At the time, his brother-in-law called him a “no good fellow… who can’t hold a job.”  He then opened a service station where he made food for local customers.  For a time, he enjoyed some minor success with a 142-seat restaurant, where he created his recipe for fried chicken.  But even that store failed when a new interstate created a bypass of Corbin, KY and took most of his customers elsewhere.

Undeterred, Colonel Sanders was determined to succeed.  At an age when most men retire, he took $105 from his first social security check and began visiting potential franchisees, pitching them on his secret recipe.  He slept in his car.  He shaved in service station bathrooms.  He was turned down 1009 times.  Finally, Pete Harman of Murray, UT agreed to sell his recipe for chicken.  This approach proved successful and the Kentucky Fried Chicken corporation grew to more than 300 franchisees.  Less than ten years after starting his new company, Colonel Sanders sold it for $2 million (roughly $15 million today) to John Y. Brown. He died in 1980 at the age of ninety.

As of last year, KFC boasted 20,604 outlets around the world.  They were the first to bring fast food to China and remains its most popular country with 4,563 locations.  They are now owned by YUM Brands and remain based in Louisville, KY.

Colonel Sander’s entrepreneurial journey is similar to many small business owners who struggle with idea after idea before finally landing on the one that succeeds. The key, at least in the Colonel’s case, is to never give up, work hard, and to always believe that success is just around the corner.

As many of you know, I began my restaurant career with Kentucky Fried Chicken in 1982.  After ten years of working for a franchisee, CMI of Virginia, I worked for another restaurant company owned by John Y. Brown, Jr.  Small world.


Never give up. Hard work. Always believe.

Lead The Way!