Kemmons Wilson Interview
Founder of the Holiday Inn
His name is Kemmons Wilson.
You may not recognize his name, but you know the business that he founded and ran for many years.
That business is the Holiday Inn.
It was on a vacation with his family in 1951 that Kemmons Wilson decided to start a hotel chain. Just one year later the first Holiday Inn opened in Memphis, Tennessee.
Now 83 years young, Mr. Wilson has penned his autobiography for Hambleton-Hill Publishing titled "Half Luck And Half Brains".
Kemmons Wilson rise from a poor boy in Memphis to a Hotel chain entrepreneur with a personal fortune estimated at $200 million dollars, is nothing short of spectacular.
The Sunday Times of London named Kemmons Wilson one of the 1,000 makers of the Twentieth Century!!!
By the 1970's, a new Holiday Inn was being built somewhere every two and a half days, and a new room every 20 minutes.
The Holiday Inn was larger than Hilton, Sheraton, and the Marriott combined.
In 1979, Holiday Inn became the first lodging and food-service chain to top a billion dollars in gross sales. The next year, with the opening of a Holiday Inn in Anchorage, Alaska, the company became the first lodging chain to have facilities operating in all 50 states.
In the '70's, Holiday Inn would establish the largest chain of hotels in Asia, including inns in Japan, Singapore, Thailand, Hong Kong, Cambodia, the Philippines, India, Sri Lankan, Pakistan, Malaysia, and Tahiti.
In 1989, Holiday Inn was sold to a British conglomerate.
Today it remains the world's largest lodging chain.
As a brand name and icon of American pop culture, Holiday Inn ranks alongside Coca-Cola, McDonalds, and Chevrolet.
When Kemmons Wilson retired as Chairman of the Board in 1979, there were 1,759 Holiday Inns in 50 different countries. As of January 1996, there were 2,104 Holiday Inn properties in 63 different countries.
Kemmons Wilson's ventures today include the Wilson Graphics printing operation, his W and W's candy operation, real estate holdings, shopping malls, home building, Wilson World and Wilson Inn Hotels, Federal Savings Bank, an oil-drilling operation in Rapids Parish, Louisiana, developed by Occidental Petroleum, a deep-mine coal operation near Fort Smith, Arkansas, and Orange Lake Country Club. His company still owns or manages eight Holiday Inns.
It is indeed an honor to present an interview with one of America's greatest businessmen in this century — Mr. Kemmons Wilson.
Q. You've titled the book "Half Luck, Half Brains". Many years
ago a study was conducted to find out what most successful people have in common,
and it was luck and personality. Brains didn't really enter the picture. Would
you agree with that study?
A. I think there's a whole lot to that, yeah. You know, I had a great friend Abe Plough that lived in Memphis and visited with me and my children a whole lot as they were growing up. He started the Co. Schering Plough. That was his favorite saying. You gotta have half luck and half brains if you're gonna be successful and I liked it and I picked it up. I quote him in the book as saying that if you remember. Of course, I didn't get to finish high school, so I don't have too many brains. But, I've got a saying when you don't have an education you just got to use your brain.
Q. You had a lot of common sense.
A. (Laugh) That's all I had. You're exactly right. I grew up awfully hungry and I was sure I was not gonna live my life out being hungry. My mother used to tell me I could do anything in the world I wanted to if I worked hard enough. And she drilled it in my head so long that I finally decided I could. Luckily she got to live long enough to see it.