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Dave Thomas

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Dave Thomas was born in Atlantic City, New Jersey on July 2, 1932. At six weeks old, he was adopted by Rex and Auleva Thomas. Auleva passed away when he was five which lead to a youth of traveling with his father around the country as his dad looked for work.

During this time, Dave credits his summers with Grandma Minnie Sinclair, who he says taught him about doing the right things and treating people well.

Dave got his first restaurant job at age 12 and fell in love with the restaurant business. When he was 15, he found work at the Hobby House Restaurant in Ft. Wayne, Indiana, owned by Phil Clauss. His dad was planning on moving again so Dave decided to drop out of school, live at the YMCA and stay to work full-time. He later said that leaving school was his biggest mistake (Although he was wealthy by the 90’s, he got his GED in 1993 as an example to children. He was voted, tongue-in-cheek, by classmates as “Most Likely to Succeed”).

During the mid-fifties, Dave met Colonel Sanders, founder of Kentucky Fried Chicken and the Colonel became one of Dave’s strongest mentors. When Phil Clauss purchased several KFC franchises, Dave worked closely with the Colonel to improve the operation.

In 1962, Dave accepted an opportunity to manage four failing KFC restaurants in Columbus, Ohio, owned by his Hobby House boss Phil Clauss. Four years later, Dave’s experience and determination turn the stores around. Phil sold the restaurants back to KFC, and Dave received a percentage of the sale, making him over $1.5 million at age 35. This early success would enable Dave to pursue his dream of starting Wendy’s.

When he was a child, Dave Thomas dreamed of opening a hamburger restaurant. His dream came true on November 15, 1969 when he opened the first Wendy’s Old Fashioned Hamburgers restaurant in Columbus, Ohio. Named for one of his four daughters, Wendy’s was everything Dave dreamed of: An old fashioned, friendly place where families could be together and enjoy great tasting, made-to-order hamburgers.

Wendy’s became known for fresh (not frozen) ground beef hamburgers that are square rather than round. Dave explained, “At Wendy’s, we don’t cut corners!” Dave also created the modern-day Pick-Up Window, revolutionizing the quick-service restaurant industry.

He shared his experiences and the knowledge he gained in his 1991 autobiography, Dave’s Way. Dave saw it as a way to give back and provide insight into how he turned his dreams into reality. He later published a book on success called Well Done! and the business book Franchising for Dummies.

Dave was probably best known in the U.S. as the “guy on Wendy’s TV commercials.” In early 1989, Dave agreed to appear in a few commercials. During his nearly 13-year run (and 800+ commercials) as Wendy’s spokesman, Americans came to love him for his down-to-earth, homey style. The campaign made Dave one of the nation’s most recognizable spokesmen. The Guinness Book of World Records recognized the Dave Thomas Campaign as the “Longest Running Television Advertising Campaign Starring a Company Founder.”

Thomas was an extremely generous philanthropist and supported adoption, cancer and children’s causes. Thomas died of cancer on January 8, 2002, at his home in Fort Lauderdale, Florida.

Companies and Investments

Wendy’s Old Fashioned Hamburgers

Lessons Learned

"Principles matter. Whether it is the way you interact with customers, employees, vendors, bankers, family, whoever, if you are not principled in your actions, those actions will never serve you well. My Grandma Minnie Sinclair taught me that and she was right."

Inspiring Quotes

“You got to like your work. You have got to like what you are doing, you have got to be doing something worthwhile so you can like it—because it is worthwhile, that it makes a difference, don’t you see?”

Col. Harlan Sanders

My Quotes

Influential Books

McKinsey & Company Inc. - Valuation: Measuring and Managing the Value of Companies, 5th Edition (Wiley Finance)

Mentors

Phil Clauss

Colonel Harlan Sanders

References


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