Team Building

PofE 055: Dave Thomas Built a Fast Food Restaurant That’s Building a Legacy Supporting Adoption


Mom hugging her adopted boy."No legacy is so rich as honesty." -William Shakespeare


Background and Challenges:

  • Born on July 2, 1932, Dave Thomas was born an orphan in Atlantic City, New Jersey. He never learned the identity of his mother.
  • Rex and Auleva Thomas adopted him at the age of six weeks. His adopted mother passed away when Dave was five.
  • His father sought support from his parents to help raise Dave as he moved frequently looking for work. 
  • Dave learned the spirit of serving others and treating everyone with respect from his grandparents while living with them in Michigan.
  • At age 15, Dave lost his first job in an argument with his boss and committed never to get fired again.
  • He dropped out of high school, to work full-time at a restaurant. It was during this time that his father decided to move again, and Dave decided not to go. Dave finally received his GED at age 61, in 1993.
  • Dave enlisted in the Army in 1950 during the Korean War and was enrolled in Cook and Baker's School in Fort Benning, GA. During his tenure, he regularly served over 2000 soldiers daily.
  • After his military tour, Dave Thomas worked as a manager for a number of Kentucky Fried Chicken fast food restaurants and made many suggestions that allowed him to sell the share he owned back to Harland Sanders for $1.5 Million.
  • A year later, he opened his first Wendy's fast food restaurant and the rest, as they say, is history. 


  • Starred in more than 800 national commercials. My favorite was, "Where's the beef?!"
  • Create the 3rd largest fast food restaurant during his time with over 6,000 franchises.
  • In 1999, Dave Thomas was inducted into the Junior Achievement Hall of Fame.
  • In 2003, He was posthumously awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom.
  • Founder of the Dave Thomas Foundation for Adoption and was named national spokesman on adoption by President George Bush.

What can we learn?

  • It's not how you start, it's how you finish.
  • Hard work always pays off.
  • Learn from the mentors or examples you have.
  • Keep making course corrections until you get it right.

Here's an interview Dave Thomas conduct on the impact of his mentor Col. Harland Sanders.


Website References:


Principles of Execution Key Concepts:

  • Fast Food Restaurants
  • Adoption
  • Adoption Agencies

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