A uncovered autobiography and cookbook written by Kentucky Friend Chicken founder Colonel Harland Sanders was made available for download via KFC’s Facebook page last month, which documents Sanders’s life up to 1966 — annoyingly you have to “like” and add an app to your account, so we pulled out some lessons based on anecdotes for you.
In 1971, Sanders sold KFC to a liquor and food conglomerate called Heublein, which later lead to the Colonel becoming bitter as the quality of his beloved KFC declined and his relationship with Heublein deteriorated.
Writes the Smithosian, “He [Sanders] stayed on as a goodwill brand ambassador, raking in an annual salary of US$70 000 a year. He put on a white linen suit every morning and rode around in a company-chauffeured Cadillac, visiting the company’s white-columned headquarters. But the colonel was bitter: The quality of his chicken had “slipped mightily” and the whole culture of fast food appeared to disgust him.”
Sanders candidly told the LA Times that Heublein was a “bunch of booze hounds” and that they treated him like “the saloon bums they’re used to dealing with rather than a sophisticated Southern businessman.”
In 1973, Sanders sued Heublein Inc over alleged misuse of his image in promoting products he had not helped develop. In 1975, Heublein Inc. unsuccessfully counter sued Sanders for defamation after he publicly referred to their gravy as “sludge” that tasted like “wallpaper paste
The Colonel later attempted to start a new restaurant called the Colonel’s Lady Dinner House in the hope to regain the savoury days of old.
Despite the unfortunate turn of events near the end of his life — he died in 1980, age 90 — there are some gems in his autobiography on dealing with life’s curveballs, honing your entrepreneurial spirit and simply enjoying work life more.
Learn to love work
Back in 1900, at the age of 10, Sanders got his first job working on a farm to support his widowed mother and family of four. It didn’t last long, in Sanders’s own words: “There were bluebirds and red squirrels and other things that attracted a boy’s interest and I didn’t clear as much ground as I ought to have cleared.” Sanders got fired, and when he arrived home with two dollars, naturally, his mother was furious. He decided from there on out, he would aim to satisfy his employers — put in enough hours and do enough work.
His second employer was a German farmer called Henry Monk. In an effort to redeem himself with his mother, Sanders worked hard on Monk’s farm and discovered that he loved the rush of accomplishment. Saying of hard work: “once you get used to it, there’s great pleasure in working hard.”
It’s important to take stock of your accomplishments, celebrate them, and use them as fuel while you work towards other milestones. Loving work is easy when you see it as conduit for accomplishments. We have a “Board of Awesomeness” at Memeburn. Every now and again we stick an accomplishment on it — like getting SEO’ed to the top spot for the term “Google tricks.” It feels good to glance at that board on hard days.
“I’ve never believed in holding back or stinting on anything I’ve ever done and I’ve only had two rules:
Do all you can, and do it the best you can. It’s the only way you ever get the feeling of accomplishing something,” wrote Sanders.
Don’t be afraid to change your career
Before Sanders became the Colonel, he had a whole bunch of disparate jobs. He was an army mule-tender, locomotive fireman, railroad worker, insurance salesman, amateur obstetrician and a ferryboat entrepreneur. It was only when he was offered the lease of a gas and service station that his destiny as the founder of KFC began to take shape. Sanders was 65 years old when he began franchising KFC. “Don’t quit at age 65, maybe your boat hasn’t come in yet, mine hadn’t,” he said in an interview.
Keep looking until you find something you love, you’ll probably excel at it.
Add value wherever you can
What do your customers expect from your product or service? Now, add a little bit extra. For example, when Sanders took over the Standard Oil service station, the locals in town refused to buy fuel from the new guy in town. Sanders had to figure out a way to make the locals like him.
“I remembered travelling around selling tyres, and one place had given me the kind of service I had never gotten elsewhere. They had wiped my windshield. It was that simple,” said Sanders.
People expected fuel for their cars and what they got was not only a windshield wash, but Sanders went a step further and filled up their tyres. People came from all over, to experience a full service service station. The station’s sales tripled to a new record.
Unfortunately, Sanders’s business went bankrupt in the late 1920s — just as the Depression was starting — when a severe drought hit Kentucky. Farmers couldn’t pay their credit at the service station.
Sanders’s reputation preceded him however, and Shell offered him a station rent free if he agreed to relocate to Corbin Kentucky.
This is where the story of KFC began. When a truck driver mentioned that there was nowhere good to eat in the area, Sanders saw an opportunity to add value.
Start simple and do simple well
Following his aforementioned ethos of “do all you can, and do it best you can,” Sanders put his simple, homemade cooking skills to good use. He set up his own dining room table and six chairs in a room attached to the service station and started serving hot meals to hungry customers. There were no menus, no choices, just quality food.
The word got out and Sanderss approach of selling complimentary items, fuel and food worked a treat.
Sanders advertised by painting signs on barns within 150 miles of Corbin. Sanders wrote that one driver followed signs for 200 miles. “I thought I’d find a 12-storey building when I got here.” Of course Sanders’s setup was considerably smaller, but it offered quality the food — the most important thing. It didn’t matter that the Sanders’s fledgling business was modest, when the hungry driver dug into the food, the advertising seemed completely warranted.
In 1936 Sanders was granted the status of honorary Colonel by the Kentucky governor for his contributions to the state’s cuisine. By 1937 the restaurant had grown to 142 seats.
Take an interest in technology and experiment
Fried chicken wasn’t on the Colonel’s menu originally, it took too long to cook. In 1939 the pressure cooker was introduced and before long Sanders started experimenting with cooking fried chicken. He succeeded of course. By 1940 he had perfected his secret recipe of 11 herbs and spices and he could cook fresh, fried chicken in under eight minutes.
Be on the lookout for new technologies and how their innovative uses can potentially boost your business.
Don’t be afraid to get your hands dirty
12 years later, Sanders introduced his fried-chicken to a friend, Pete Harman in Salt Lake City. He cooked the fried chicken for Harman and his wife himself, in the hope that Harman would sell the chicken at his restaurant. Harman didn’t make any promises, but did a test run. It turned out to be a hit with his patrons and so Harman agreed to sell the Colonel’s chicken permanently. Harman’s restaurant became the first KFC franchise.
Three years later life threw Sanders another curve ball. A new interstate highway meant that Corbin would no longer be a prominent stop for truck drivers. At the age of 65, Sanders sold his service station on an auction and started collecting social security cheques. Funded by only his cheques, the Colonel set off on a mission to sell franchises across the country and cooked meals for restaurant owners himself as he went. Some shunned him, while others welcomed him, but he persisted and took it upon himself to make his business succeed.
The Colonel also personally trained his original franchisees on how to cook the chicken.
*Featured image taken from Col. Harland Sanders — The Autobiography of the Original Celebrity Chef
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