R. David Thomas
Doctor of Commerce
Since I was eight years old, I?ve wanted to be in the hamburger business.
Born in Atlantic City, New Jersey, he began working at the age of twelve delivering groceries in Knoxville, Tennessee, and three years later, he left school after grade ten and began supporting himself. Shortly after turning eighteen, he joined the United States Army where he became one of the youngest soldiers ever to manage an enlisted men?s club.
In 1956, Thomas met the man who became one of the greatest influences in his life Kentucky Fried Chicken founder, Colonel Harland Sanders. Six years later, he turned four failing KFC restaurants around by providing a focus narrowing the menu to just a few items and making chicken and salads the selling point. Married with four children and with franchises that were almost bankrupt, within six years, he turned a $135-a-week salary into $1.5 million, and at the age of thirty-five became a millionaire.
During those years with KFC, Thomas remained drawn to hamburgers, and even through critics said the market was saturated, he opened the first Wendy?s Old Fashioned Hamburgers restaurant on the 15 November 1969, in downtown Columbus, Ohio. He named the restaurant after his eight-year-old daughter, Melinda Lou, nicknamed Wendy by her siblings.
By 1973, Thomas began selling the Wendy?s concept, not as single franchises, but franchises for entire cities or parts of states, to experienced restaurant operators with sound financial backing. Today there are more than four thousand restaurants in the United States and over thirty countries and territories worldwide. System wide, over 130,000 people are employed by Wendy's and its franchises.
Even though Thomas? dream of creating a better hamburger led him to the top of a multibillion, multinational business, he believes strongly in practical experience and continues to be driven by his own directive: You can?t rest on last year.
Thomas? enthusiasm goes beyond the corporate business sector to include support of charities such as St. Jude Children's Research Hospital in Memphis; Children?s Hospital in Columbus; Recreational Unlimited; The Ohio State University Cancer Research Institute; and the Children's Home Society of Florida.
The cause that is closest to his heart is adoption. In 1990, he became a national spokesperson for the White House initiative on adoption, ADOPTION WORKS FOR EVERYONE and works tirelessly to raise awareness of this topic. When his autobiography, Dave's Way, was published in 1991, Thomas pledged all profits from book sales to adoption awareness programs, and in addition, donates all speaking fees to children's charities and adoption programs. In 1992, he established the Dave Thomas Foundation for Adoption, which focuses on raising public awareness for adoption and offering educational programs for prospective adoptive parents.
He has received honorary degrees form the following institutions: Duke University; Northwood Institute; Hawthorne College; Hanover College; and Clemson University. He also holds an honorary professorate from Baylor University.
In 1993, he fulfilled a lifelong dream and passed his GED exam and received his high school diploma in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. Being a high school dropout always bothered me, but I thought it was too late to get my diploma. Now, I know it?s never too late and maybe this will inspire others to do the same.?
The 1979 Horatio Alger Award recipient continues to tell young people to get all the education possible saying, I may not have a formal education, but I was lucky enough to find mentors who taught me about building a business and motivating people. You can?t have a career until you get a job, and too many people want to start at the top. Just work hard and apply yourself. My recipe for success is hard work, patience, honesty and total commitment.