Colonel Harland Sanders – What We Can Learn from His Life

English: Logo of the Kentucky Fried Chicken Co...

English: Logo of the Kentucky Fried Chicken Corporation. Français : Le logo de le Corporation Kentucky Fried Chicken. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

My father used to share with me stories of his travels in the 1950s (before interstate highways) where he went to the original Kentucky Fried Chicken restaurant in the “backhills of Kentucky.”  As a traveling salesman for the Diamond Chain Company he was often in small towns that have all been replaced as the new highways were built – not unlike Radiator Springs from the Disney movie Cars.

The thing I learned most from Harland David Sanders life was he was a true entrepreneur.  He actually made the chicken that would become famous and came up with a secret recipe of 11 herbs and spices.  It didn’t end there, as he began to franchise his secret recipe to other restaurants he was truly involved in the work.  He was uncompromising in his approach to the quality of his product and apparently had the vocabulary to be sure that franchisees understood that he would take his pressure cooker and leave if they didn’t make it exactly right.

His business was obviously successful and the business was sold to a group of investors headed by an attorney – the future Kentucky Governor  . . . John Y. Brown.  The company was sold for $2 million (roughly $15 million in today’s money).  However, the company went public and made $285 million with the stock offering, but Colonel Sanders didn’t trust the market so he had turned down 10,000 shares.  Almost all the franchisees and employees of KFC became instant millionaires.

Rather telling to me is that a great product led to many people being rich.  The person who profited the most was an attorney . . . someone that didn’t make the product.  No wonder in the US we have so few people that want to actually do work if you can be rich just by learning the law or accounting.  These disciplines can not create the actual value, they can only take advantage of another’s work.  We have lost much of the ability to invent as college students want to be attorneys, financiers, bankers and bean counters.  We need less of these and more Colonel Sanders, Steve Jobs and others that create value.  Products and services create value for customers . . . the rest are sponges.

The same holds true for today’s business.  In service, those that create value for customers are on the front-line and yet the most money is paid to those that are there to support the front-line.  Colonel Sanders respected and valued the work and product, sounds like a great recipe to me and doesn’t have to be a secret.

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Tripp Babbitt is a speaker, blogger and consultant to service industry (private and public).  His organization helps executives find a better way to make the work work.  Read his articles at Quality Digest and his column for  Learn more about the The 95 Method for service organizations.  Reach him on Twitter at LinkedIn at

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