Memphis Wisdom

Last week I attended the Memphis Minority Business Conference to hear what three successful Memphis businessmen. It was a roundtable discussion facilitated by Larry Jensen who is in commercial real estate. Each man had ideas that inspired me and probably many of the 400 people in the audience.

Kem, son and namesake of Kemmons Wilson, founder of Holiday Inn, told stories about his energetic father. He said his dad was inspired to create attractive uniform motels because of an experience the family had in the 1950′s traveling from Memphis to Washington, D.C. Mr. Wilson had inspected a room at a Ma and Pa motel and paid $6.He and his wife slept in the only bed and Kem and his two brothers and two sisters slept on the floor in their sleeping bags. The next morning the owner said the room cost $16, two dollars extra for each child. Mr. Wilson told his wife, Dorothy, that when they got back to Memphis he was going to build 400 motels. She laughed. As Kem said, that only motivated him more. When he got back home he built four motels in Memphis. When the bank said that is all the credit, Mr. Wilson came up with the idea of franchises.

Kem said they never had an unlisted phone number, that anyone could call with a complaint at any time and that some did, usually in the middle of the night, waking Mr. Wilson. He would listen and then he would call the executive manager of the particular hotel and tell him to fix it ‘or else’.

Pitt Hyde grew up in a business family who owned Malone & Hyde grocery stores. He learned that business and when he sensed a downturn in the food industry, he looked for another business and founded AutoZone. It now has 5,000 stores and is based on good customer service. When a customer brings in a part, the employee offers to test it to make sure it is the problem. Computer monitor screens are placed so the customer can see the options for replacement. Pitt says when he goes to visit a store from the Support Center (his name for the central office), he wears the uniform that store team wears and waits on customers right alongside the store team. he doesn’t do ‘walk throughs’ he does ‘work alongside’.

Duncan said his dad grew up dirt poor and created Duncan Williams, Inc., Investment Bankers, on yellow pads. He wrote down all his ideas and created a very successful company. This is exactly what Napoleon Hill suggests in Think and Grow Rich. Duncan said he bought his dad a pair of Ray Ban sunglasses and his dad looked at him like he was crazy since he got his sunglasses 3 for $1.00 at the drugstore. This sounds like a similar value system to Sam Walton’s, founder of Walmart, who drove an old pickup truck. Both men could have afforded anything they wanted. What they wanted was to create successful businesses.

Duncan, Pitt, and Kem give back to the community. Each of them want the best for Memphis. I have some ideas on how to do this. As they form more clearly, I will be sharing…