Success Stories

The Story of Colonel Sanders, a Man who Failed 1009 Times Before Making KFC

Colonel Sanders KFC

“Life begins where the line ends.”

Risks are always going to be scary – that’s why they’re called so. The fear of lagging behind in this race we never signed up for is always going to be a big determinant in the decisions we make. It’s so much easier to cling on to what’s around. Why take the leap when you could just settle, right?

A name that has marked his presence in the hearts of 100’s and 1000’s of chicken lovers do not need any introduction. Even if you don’t have a love for chicken, the inspirational story of Colonel Sanders will beg you to know more about it.

Colonel Harland Sanders
Colonel Harland Sanders

This story is about a man who has been an excellent example of persistence, commitment, and determination. Today, we are going to talk about the most loved chicken brand in the world, KFC and this is the success story of “Colonel Harland Sanders”.

The next time you feel like you’ve lost out on your ‘best years’ in life and it’s too late to make it, remind yourself of this man who started upon this incredible journey of becoming the founder of one of the biggest food chains in the world at the age of 65.

How this fast food icon followed an unlikely path to creating a multi-billion dollar international company?

Early Life and Career

Harland Sanders who was born in the small town of Indiana in the year 1890. At the age of 12, after his father passed away, he took over the responsibilities on his shoulder and lift home find some jobs to support his poverty-stricken family. Later, his mom remarried when he was 12yrs old. Because the new stepfather didn’t like the boy’s around, Sander’s brother was sent to live with his aunt. While he was sent to work in a firm about 80 miles away. Sanders soon realized that he would rather work all day then go to school. So he dropped out in the 7th grade.

Later he started working at various places without a proper goal. In addition to a stint in Cuba with the Army, Sanders spent the first half of his life working a series of odd jobs, including stoking the steam engines of trains throughout the South, selling insurance, selling tires, making lighting systems, and operating a ferry boat. Rather, the only skill that he posses was cooking that his mother has taught his from the age of 7. After trying his hand at many odd jobs, he couldn’t stay at any place for long.

Kentucky Fried Chicken is Born

Later, he became a cook and dishwasher in a small café. Finally, in the year 1930, he settled into a permanent job at the shell filing station, just outside a small city called “North Corbin”. In his free time, he used to cook dishes his mother have taught him and served them in his studio house which he has converted into a small eatery. Soon his recipes were a big hit with the travelers who would regularly stop to eat at his place.

With all the savings he had, Sanders bought a larger place nearby to accommodate the ever increasing customers. He increased the dishes and included the legendary chicken fried recipe for the first time in 1936.

Kentucky Fried Chicken
Image: ChickenChattin

By the year 1937, he again expanded the hotel which now accommodated up to 150 people at the same time. He was extremely happy that he has become successful in his new business. But he was always looking to improve the production process and expand his customer base. His breakthrough came in 1939 when he found that frying his chicken and its signature “11 herbs and spices” in a new device, a pressure cooker (different from the ones used today), resulted in the ideal consistency he had been looking for.

Later, in order to expand his food chain, he started to travel by car to different restaurants and cooked his fried chicken on the spot for the restaurant owner. However, Sanders recipe was rejected by 1009 restaurants as they don’t like the taste. But he never gave up. He knew that this recipe was one of a kind and unique. He went ahead with the same conviction as he used to have and finally a restaurant owner agreed to sell Sanders chicken. Soon more restaurants were waiting to sell his new recipe of fried chicken in their restaurant.

I made a resolve then that I was going to amount to something if I could. And no hours, nor amount of labor, nor amount of money would deter me from giving the best that there was in me. –Colonel Harland Sanders

By 1963, nearly 600 restaurants were selling the recipe. After 4yrs, Kentucky fried chicken was in the pic of glory. But Sanders decided to sell the corporation to a private investor ”John Y. Brown”. Under the deal, he received $2million in cash and remains the official face of the company for which he was paid about $2,50,000 every year.

Official Face KFC Colonel Sanders
Image: Wikipedia

Sanders was not happy to let go his baby. At the age of 75, he decided that it would be the best to see his company continue to grow beyond the capacity. Also, Sanders was never really worried about making money. He always focused on quality and customer experience, then anything else. Soon KFC implemented “Stand Alone stalls” which specialized intake of home model.

By the year 1967, KFC had gone on to become the 6th largest restaurant chain by sales volume in the US. Later KFC started off by citing stores in Canada and soon spread itself to more than 90 countries, with 3000 outlets by the end of the year 1970.

KFC changed many hands before it came under the “YUM” brand in 1997. Soon, he added many more recipes to their menu like sandwiches and drinks, that would complement its best selling fried chicken recipe. By the year 1991, their sales had delivered and reached an estimated $6.2 billion with a total of 8500 outlets around the world. It was just the beginning of expansion for KFC as there was no stopping to this ever growing company.

Today, KFC is the 2nd largest restaurant chain in the world it has faced many ups and downs but has remained crowd favorite ever since its lunch with over 20,000 stores across 123 countries and with a revenue of $23billion, KFC today is one of the biggest brands in the world.

Later Years

Sanders spent the latter years of his life giving interviews on talk shows and appearing in commercials, like this one from 1969:

Sanders continued to visit the KFC restaurants around the world as a spokesman in his later years. He died of leukemia on December 16, 1980, at the age of 90, in Louisville, Kentucky.

The University of Houston, which honors Sanders in its Hospitality Industry Hall of Fame, says that up until his death in 1980, the Colonel traveled 250,000 miles each year visiting KFC locations and promoting the brand in the media.

Colonel Harland Sanders is now known in 123 countries for his favorite fried chicken recipe which is more than he has ever hoped for when he hit the road at the age of 65 with a cart full of cooking supplies. The success of KFC is a result of endless trials and determination. And the persistence of Colonel Sanders, who eventually make it as one of the biggest brands in the world.

Of course, there are going to be failures. It’s not going to be easy. There will never be an assurance of success. But if it’s really what your heart wants, you’ll find a way! Colonel Sanders surely did.

It’s amazing how the man started at the age of 65, when most retire, and built a global empire out of fried chicken.

“Believe. Dream. Try. Succeed. Age, no bar!”

Was this article inspiring? Then you’ll really like reading these posts about other relevant people that have changed the course of history.

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