minute of motivation - personal leadership example of colonel sanders KFC


This is Greg Thomas from Leadership Excellence, Ltd. Over the decades I have helped thousands of individuals learn how to live more productive and fulfilling lives.

Today, I welcome you to experience “An Encouraging Example.” Some individuals have shown remarkable grit, determination, leadership and persistence to change the world, or achieve their goals. Their personal examples can encourage or inspire us to be more and do more. Let’s get started on an encouraging example…

Many of us have heard of a man named Harland Sanders, or affectionally known as Colonel Sanders. He was the founder of the Kentucky Fried Chicken Franchise and a prominent spokesman of the 1960’s and 70’s.

By the time of Sanders’ death, there were an estimated 6,000 KFC outlets in 48 countries worldwide, with $2 billion ($6.3 billion today) of sales annually. What you may not know are the challenging events that led to his eventual success. Let’s recap some of the highlights of his biography.

Harland David Sanders was born on September 9, 1890.

His mother was a devout Christian and strict parent, continuously warning her children of “the evils of alcohol, tobacco, gambling, and whistling on Sundays.”

He lied about his young age to serve in the United States Army but he was honorably discharged in February 1907.

Sanders progressed on various railroad jobs on the Northern Alabama Railroad until he was fired for “insubordination” after he got sick.

While working on the railroad, he met his wife Josephine. They were married on June 15, 1909, in Jasper, Alabama. Eventually they had 3 children together.

He then found work as a fireman on the Illinois Central Railroad, and he and his family moved to Jackson, Tennessee. But, Sanders lost his job at Illinois Central Railroad after fighting with a colleague.

He studied law by correspondence through the La Salle Extension University but his legal career ended after a courtroom brawl with his own client destroyed his reputation.

As his biographer John Ed Pearce wrote, “[Sanders] had encountered repeated failure largely through bullheadedness, a lack of self-control, impatience, and a self-righteous lack of diplomacy.”

At age 26, the family moved to Jeffersonville, where Sanders got a job selling life insurance for the Prudential Life Insurance Company.[7] Sanders was eventually fired for insubordination.

In 1920 (age 30), Sanders established a ferry boat company, which operated a boat on the Ohio River between Jeffersonville and Louisville.

It was a rare success for him and Sanders cashed in his ferry boat company shares for $22,000 ($334,000 today) and used the money to establish a company manufacturing acetylene lamps. The business failed after Delco introduced an electric lamp that it sold on credit.

Sanders then moved to Winchester, Kentucky, to work as a salesman for the Michelin Tire Company. He lost his job in 1924 when Michelin closed its New Jersey manufacturing plant. He was now 34-years old.

In 1924, by chance, he met the general manager of Standard Oil of Kentucky, who asked him to run a service station in Nicholasville. In 1930, the station closed as a result of the Great Depression.

In 1930 (at age 40), the Shell Oil Company offered Sanders a service station in North Corbin, Kentucky, rent free, in return for paying the company a percentage of sales. Sanders began to serve chicken dishes and other meals such as country ham and steaks.

In July 1939, Sanders acquired a motel in Asheville, North Carolina. His North Corbin, KY restaurant and motel was destroyed in a fire in November 1939, and Sanders had it rebuilt as a motel with a 140-seat restaurant.

By July 1940 (age 50), Sanders had finalized his “Secret Recipe” for frying chicken in a pressure fryer that cooked the chicken faster than pan frying. But in in December 1941, gas was rationed, and as the tourism dried up, Sanders was forced to close his Asheville motel.

In 1947, he and Josephine divorced and Sanders married his 2nd wife, Claudia in 1949. Sanders had believed that his North Corbin restaurant would remain successful indefinitely, but at age 65 sold it after the new Interstate 75 reduced customer traffic.

He was now 65-years old and had experienced many failures in business and his personal life. He was left only with a meager savings and $105 a month from Social Security. Most people would have retired at this point and accepted their impoverished circumstances.

Yet, Sanders decided to begin to franchise his chicken concept in earnest, asking his franchises to pay Sanders $0.04 per chicken. He financed his new business using his $105 Social Security check.
Adjusted for inflation, $100 in 1955 is equal to about $1000 in 2022.

After closing the North Corbin site, Sanders and Claudia opened a new restaurant and company headquarters in Shelbyville in 1959. Often sleeping in the back of his car, Sanders visited restaurants, offered to cook his chicken, and if workers liked it negotiated franchise rights.

The franchise approach became highly successful. KFC was one of the first fast food chains to expand internationally, opening outlets in Canada and later in the UK, Australia, Mexico, and Jamaica by the mid-1960s. Sanders obtained a patent protecting his method of pressure frying chicken in 1962, and trademarked the phrase “It’s Finger Lickin’ Good” in 1963.

So here is what we can learn from Colonel Harland Sanders. Never give up on your dreams. Quitters never achieve their goals. The Colonel had every reason to view himself as mediocre and many of his failures or setbacks were due to his own personal shortcomings. But, in spite of his past record he never gave in to defeat or age.

Think you’re too old to finish your dreams or start your business? Think again! The Colonel was 65-years old when he started again with only a small savings, a Social Security check, and an idea. To him it was worth the risk and he still had many years of struggle ahead of him before his business took off. He understood the old adage, “nothing ventured, nothing is gained.

Allow his example to be a lesson to you in his burning determination and effort to achieve his dreams. You can, too!

As Winston Churchill once said, “I like things to happen, and if they don’t happen I like to make them happen.”

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