The story of Holiday Inns

I love the story of Holiday Inns and its founder Kemmons Wilson probably more than any other hotel or business story I know. Numerous books have been written about this subject but I will try to condense it to one page.

Kemmons Wilson was a home builder who lived in Memphis. He had 6 children and in August of 1951 his wife finally convinced him to take a family vacation to Washington DC. They drove in his non air conditioned Oldsmobile back before interstates were built. Then, there were no franchised hotel chains like Holiday Inn, Hyatt, Hilton, Marriott etc. On that trip Kemmons and his large family had to stay in old independent mom and pop hotels that had no consistency and always charged extra for each child. As written, Kemmons said it was a miserable trip.

When he got back to Memphis he decided to start a chain of hotels that would have consistency and where the guests would know what to expect at every Holiday Inn. Kemmons had no formal education, knew nothing about the hotel business and knew nothing about franchising. He started with an idea and a sketch pad.

He hired an architect to draw up some plans for his hotel idea. The architect was finishing the plans during the Christmas holidays that year. The movie White Christmas didn’t come until 1954 but Bing Crosby and Fred Astaire made a movie eight years earlier called Holiday Inn. The architect was rolling up the finished plans while watching that old movie and he just took a pen and wrote in cursive, the name Holiday Inn. When Kemmons saw the plans and the name on the plans he fell in love with idea and the way the architect had written the words Holiday Inn. That cursive scrip of the name Holiday Inn is still being used today.

Kemmons personally built and paid for the first 4 Holiday Inns located in Memphis and opened the first one in 1952. A few years later he hired a young lawyer named Bill Walton to be the first corporate attorney and told him to learn how to franchise. Bill’s first desk was an old door propped up on cinder blocks and he was self-taught on all things franchise.

By the late 50”s they were selling franchises as fast as they could approve the construction and by 1959 there were 100 Holiday Inn hotels and by the mid 60’s they were opening a new Holiday Inn hotel every week. By 1975 there were 1700 Holiday Inn hotels worldwide.

Kemmons Wilson retired in 1979 having sold all his stock in the company and today his three sons run the business ventures for the family. The family has used me extensively for the better part of 23 years to sell their hotels for them and I can tell you from first hand experience, they are the classiest and most honest people I know.

Kemmons Wilson was an average guy that had an above average idea who believed in setting the example and leading from the front. He consistently out worked everyone around him and the process he became world famous.

What’s the point of this story? The point is when God gives out ideas, it is usually to average people like you and me. I could talk for days about the people who founded companies like McDonalds, KFC, Walmart, Marriott etc. and how they all started with a simple idea and then simply worked that idea. KT

One thought on “The story of Holiday Inns

  1. I just love the way you capture a story. Your passion for truth and honesty pours out when you speak about successful people that have touched you.

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