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Economic Development is . . . (increasing the flow) of capital through the community and reducing its leakage.

Bad Decisions

I have received quite a bit of feedback from my article a couple weeks back entitled “It Can Happen Here”. One comment that struck me was from a lady that said she was encouraged by the article’s message, but she didn’t think she could ever start her own business.  She felt that some bad choices she made in her life would prevent her from moving forward. This week’s article is for her; it looks at some bad decisions of a guy named Rex.

Rex was born on July 2, 1932 in Atlantic City, New Jersey to a young unmarried woman he never knew. He was adopted at just 6 weeks of age. After his adoptive mother’s death when he was 5, his father moved around the country seeking work. Rex spent time in Michigan with his grandmother, Minnie, whom he credited with teaching him the importance of service and treating others with respect.

At 12 Rex got his first job at The Regas, a restaurant in Knoxville, Tennessee, then lost it in a dispute with his boss (a bad decision).  Rex vowed to never lose another job, ever! Moving again with his father, by 15 he was working in Fort Wayne, Indiana at the Hobby House Restaurant owned by the Clauss family. When his father prepared to move again, Dave decided to stay in Fort Wayne, dropping out of high school to work full-time at the restaurant (another bad decision).

At the outbreak of the Korean War in 1950, rather than waiting for the draft, he volunteered for the U.S. Army to have some choice in assignments. Having food production and service experience, he was sent overseas to Germany as a mess sergeant and was responsible for the daily meals of 2000 soldiers. After his discharge in 1953, Rex returned to Fort Wayne and the Hobby House.

In the mid-1950s, KFC founder Col. Harland Sanders came to Fort Wayne to find restaurateurs with established businesses in order to try to sell KFC franchises to them. At first, Rex, who was the head cook at the restaurant, and the owners declined Sanders’ offer, but the Colonel persisted and the Clauss family franchised their restaurant with KFC and later also owned many other KFC franchises in the Midwest.

During this time, Rex worked with Sanders on many projects to make KFC more profitable and to give it brand recognition. Among other things Rex suggested to Sanders that were implemented: KFC’s signature chicken bucket (to keep the chicken crisp), reduce the number of items on the menu, focus on a signature dish, and introduce the trademark sign featuring a revolving red-striped bucket of chicken. Rex also suggested Sanders make commercials that he appear in himself.

He was then sent by the Clauss family in the mid-1960s to help turn around four ailing KFC stores they owned in Columbus, Ohio. By 1968 Rex had increased sales in the four fried chicken restaurants so much that he sold his share in them back to Sanders for more than $1.5 million. This experience would prove invaluable to Rex when he began his own restaurant in Columbus, Ohio, November 15, 1969.

Rex named his restaurant after his eight-year-old daughter Melinda Lou. What you don’t know is that Rex’s daughter’s nickname was “Wenda”, stemming from the child’s inability to say her own name at a young age. For you see Rex is none other than David Rex Thomas, the founder and chief executive officer of Wendy’s (At the time of his death in 2002, there were more than 6,000 Wendy’s restaurants operating in North America.)

For you see Rex (Dave) is an example that good decisions come from experience, and experience comes from bad decisions.

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