“Some people bring out the best in you in a way that you might never have fully realized on your own. My mom, Ruby Lloyd Wilson, was one of those people,” says Kemmons Wilson, founder of the Holiday Inn hotel chain.
“Most people called her Doll. My father died when I was nine months old, making her a single mother and a widow at the age of eighteen.While I was growing up, there were times when we had so little money that we had to live on a few pounds of dried butter beans for a week at a time. While food was scarce, my mother’s love and devotion were abundant. Each night, she sat me on her lap and spoke the words that would change my life, ‘Kemmons, you are destined for greatness and you can do anything in life if you’re willing to work hard enough to get it.’
“At fourteen, I was hit by a car and the doctors said I would never walk again. My mother took a leave of absence from her job at a meat-packing plant and moved into my hospital room to care for me. Every day, she spoke to me in her gentle, loving voice, reassuring me that no matter what those doctors said, I could walk again if I wanted to badly enough. She drove that message so deep into my heart that I finall believed her. A year later, I returned to school — walking on my own.
“When the Great Depression hit, my mom lost her job like millions of others. I was seventeen, and against Doll’s wishes, I left school to support the both of us. At that moment, it became my mission in life to succeed for my mother’s sake, and I vowed never to be poor again.
“Over the years, I experienced varying levels of business success. But the real turning point occurred on a vacation I took with my wife and five kids in 1951. I was frustrated at the second-rate accommodations available for families and was furious that they charged an extra $2 for each child. That was too expensive for the average American family, and I was determined to offer them an alternative. I told my wife that I was going to open a motel for families with a brand name people could trust that never charged extra for children. I figured about 400 nationwide motels would be the right number so that each one would b within a day’s drive of about 150 miles.There were plenty of doubters who predicted failure because there wasn’t anything remotely similar to this concept at that time.
“Not surprisingly, Doll was one of my strongest supporters and among the first to pitch in. She worked behind the desk and even designed the room decor for the first hundred hotels. As in any business, we experienced enormous challenges. For years, we paid our employees Christmas bonuses with promissory notes because cash was so short. But with my mother’s words deeply embedded in my soul, I never doubted we would prevail. Fifteen years later, we had the largest hotel system in the world, with one of the most recognizable names in the business.
“You may not have started out life in the best of circumstances. But if you can find a mission in life worth working for and believe in yourself, nothing can stop you from achieving success.”
Kemmons Wilson founded the first Holiday Inn in 1951 an built it into the largest hotel chain in the world. When he retired in 1979, the company had 1,759 inns in more than fifty countries with annual revenues of $1 billion.”
Excerpted from Cynthia Kersey’s, Unstoppable, here.