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The Holiday Inn Founder Who Gave Salesmanship A Good Name

Our American Stories / Lee Habeeb
The Truth Network Radio
March 21, 2024 3:03 am

The Holiday Inn Founder Who Gave Salesmanship A Good Name

Our American Stories / Lee Habeeb

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March 21, 2024 3:03 am

On this episode of Our American Stories, the story of one of America's greatest salesmen—and some of his interactions with our greatest icons.....Muhammad Ali, Sam Walton, Sam Phillips, and McIlhenny's Tabasco to name a few.

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Our American Stories
Lee Habeeb
Our American Stories
Lee Habeeb

Billie Eilish and Phineas O'Connell, they're with us today on Crew Call.

I'm your host, Anthony de la Sandra. Billie's vocals, it was automatic art. You know, I had to like choose a more challenging route than just like, da da da da, you know what I'm saying? Like, it could have been like easier. And a lot of people have asked me like, how did you choose to have it be so soft and like so simple?

And what else was it gonna like, that's what the song wanted. Thanks for listening to this episode of the Crew Call podcast on Deadline. Con Air is spreading love and celebrating women, not just on International Women's Day, but every day with Con Air Girl Bomb. Girl Bomb is their new line of powerful hair removal tools made just for us. Yeah, whether it's the silky smooth skin or the empowering confidence boost you get Con Air Girl Bomb is here to amp up those positive vibes with some self care. So to all the beautiful women out there keep shining.

Keep being you and treat yourself to some Con Air Girl Bomb magic. You deserve it. Available at Walgreens. Ready to celebrate International Women's Day? M&Ms and iHeart present Women Take the Mic, sharing empowering stories of women supporting and celebrating each other. And of course, there is a smooth and creamy companion for your listening pleasure, Peanut Butter M&Ms. Because they're just another way to help treat yourself in situations where you deserve a little added delight, like listening to your favorite podcast. So savor the deliciousness of Peanut Butter M&Ms and spread some positivity.

From breaking glass ceilings to dominating in sports and entertainment, women truly are unstoppable. This is Lee Habib and this is Our American Stories. And we tell stories about everything here on the show, including your story.

Send them to And now a story from Kemmons Wilson Jr. Kemmons is a second generation leader of their third generation family investment company that's out of Memphis, Tennessee, with the first generation being his dad, the founder of Holiday Inn. And by the way, we broadcast an hour south of Memphis in Oxford, Mississippi, a beautiful small town that's home to great writers like Faulkner and Grisham and also the home to Ole Miss. Kemmons has previously shared with us the Holiday Inn story, which you can find at And today, he brings us some lighter stories about his father and the unusual interactions that he's had with some pretty famous folks.

Here's Kemmons. I don't know if y'all remember back when they had the trampoline craze. Well, he decided that he wanted to put a trampoline that was on ground level. Our company here was manufacturing a round trampoline. It was about maybe four foot in diameter and had springs and you would just bounce on it.

And the idea was you would jog in place. So he put one in out on Lamar Avenue. And at the time, our family company wrote the insurance for Holiday Inn. Back in the early days when you could do that, it wasn't a conflict of interest. So our head insurance guy said, hey, Kemmons, man, you can't do this.

There's all kind of liability here. He said, oh, get out of here. They're just having some fun. And so I think within a week, some kid had bounced something down and went through the plate glass window.

So they started tearing it all up. But he would try anything. And so my dad called one day. He said, hey, Muhammad Ali is in town. He's staying at the big Rivermont Hotel down on Riverside Drive. And I'm going to go by and see him. Would you like to come? I said, absolutely.

You know, huge fan. And so he comes by. He picks me up and he's got this trampoline in the car. And so I said, what do you what's that for? He said, well, I want to see if he'll endorse it.

I said, oh, man. OK, so we get up there and he's got a huge suite and he's got an entourage that you've never seen. And finally, we get Muhammad Ali out of his room and we meet him. And my dad's got a camera. He said, he said, Mr. Ali, get on that trampoline and start jogging a little bit. And so he did and took his picture. And he said, I'd like for you to endorse this thing for us. He said, Mr. Wilson, you have to talk to my lawyer. I got a Jewish lawyer. And if you can get past them, we're good to go.

And also, we're going to need that picture you just took. So anyway, it went nowhere. But there was no no shame in whatever he did. He was really bold and doing that. My dad loved Tabasco and he loved it so much. He would get these little bottles and carry them in his pocket. So if the restaurant didn't have it, he had his own supply.

And this was in Hollyanne's heyday. He called Mr. McElhenney and asked him one day, he said, look, I love your product and I'd like to buy your company. I think that much of it.

And Mr. McElhenney said, Mr. Wilson, you don't have enough money to buy this company. And I don't know if you've ever looked on the back of Tabasco. It's salt, pepper and vinegar. I mean, you know, it's the secret sauce.

And so no telling how profitable they are and have been. And they became great friends. And every year he would send him a personalized bottle of Tabasco that they were so big it would take about a year to finish it off. I tell people, I think he put Tabasco on everything but ice cream. Later in his life, once he retired from Hollyanne's, he came to work for our family business and he got into nacho business. He was making nacho chips. So he was good friends with Sam Walton.

My dad starts making nachos. Well, he wants to sell them to Sam Walton. So I'm sure Mr. Walton was rolling his eyes like, listen, I don't have time. So he puts him with one of his buyers, you know. And so we had the opportunity because of dad's relationship to have lunch with Sam Walton on a couple of different occasions. At the Ramada Inn, it was the buffet. He had a red truck with a bird dog in the back.

So all these stories that you read about there are true. Two people cut out of the same mold. You know, I think, you know, my dad having grown up in the Depression and not really having anything, you know, I think that made an impression on him. And throughout his life, he was very, very frugal when he didn't have to be. But it was a mindset. I mean, he wouldn't pay two cents if he thought it was worth one cent.

Yeah. And money was just a number. He never really aspired to have second homes and boats. But he grew up in that era, you know, where you didn't know where your next meal was coming from. So money was just a number. And I'm telling you, on multiple occasions, he risked it all.

And I think if money had been that important to him, he probably would have done that. And you're listening to Kemmons Wilson Jr. with some fun and some fascinating stories about his dad, who founded Holiday Inn. So many more good stories to come. Kemmons Wilson Jr. sharing fun stories about his father here on Our American Stories. Folks, if you love the great American stories we tell and love America like we do, we're asking you to become a part of the Our American Stories family. If you agree that America is a good and great country, please make a donation. A monthly gift of seventeen dollars and seventy six cents is fast becoming a favorite option for supporters. Go to our American stories dot com now and go to the donate button and help us keep the great American stories coming.

That's our American stories dot com. Hi, I'm Antonia Blythe and this is 20 questions on Deadline. Joining me today is Alison Brie. Welcome, Alison. We got second place in my seventh grade lip sync contest for one of the songs on that album.

The one that was like, you've already won me over. Oh, that's a good one. Yeah. Very slow. All the options. In spite of me. Like, what did we do?

It's so slow. Don't forget to listen to 20 questions on the deadline. Thank you again, Alison. Thank you. I bet you're smart.

Yeah. And you like to hold your own in the group chat. We can help you drop even more knowledge.

My name is Martine Powers and I'm Elahe Izadi. We host a daily news podcast called Post Reports every weekday afternoon. Post Reports takes you inside an important and interesting story with the kind of reporting that you can only get from The Washington Post. You can listen to Post Reports wherever you get your podcasts.

Go find it now and hit follow. And we continue with our American stories and with Kemmons Wilson Jr. sharing some fun stories about his dad and Holiday Inn founder, Kemmons Wilson. Let's return to Kemmons on his dad's relationship and friendship with a fellow Memphian named Sam Phillips. Well, Sam Phillips had a recording studio called Sun Studios and Sam Phillips actually discovered Elvis and Johnny Cash. Sam was a he was an artist and he and my dad were good friends. And he looked at my dad as a sort of a financial guy.

And so they got in business with radio stations. Sam was the operator and my dad, you know, put up some money. So as Sam's career in his studio went, he called my dad one night and he said, Kemmons, I've got to talk to you.

I've got maybe the opportunity of a lifetime. And, you know, it was late at night. My dad said, look, it's late. Why don't you just meet me at my office at six o'clock in the morning?

That's what time it got this off. So Sam said, no, Kemmons, you know, this is too big a deal. I got to come over. And he said, OK.

So Sam Phillips comes over. My father put on his bathrobe. And the background story on this is my dad and my mother were very big band oriented back in those days. Tommy Dorsey, big bands.

They like that music. So Sam Phillips tells my dad that he has an opportunity to sell Elvis Presley's contract to, I think it was RCA, for $35,000. And my dad, of course, knew who Elvis was. But, you know, he certainly didn't follow him.

If you're a big band guy, you don't follow rock and roll. So when Sam said, I've got this really great offer, what do you think? Well, he told Sam Phillips, he said, well, I don't even think Elvis is professional. And I kid people today it's tantamount to somebody asking me about a rapper.

And I would say, no, no, they're not, you know, I don't like them. So Sam Phillips actually took my dad's advice and my dad said, sell this contract. And to be fair, this was the highest paid contract in the history of the industry at the time. And Sam Phillips, his business was not doing that great. So he needed the capital.

And so anyway, so he sells Elvis's contract. And I always tell people, make sure you know who you're asking advice from. Because he just asked the wrong guy. The right guy may have said, hey, you may want to hold on to this thing for a little bit longer and see what happens.

And my dad said, boom, cut it off. And Sam was really, he was so keen on discovering talent. I mean, you know, he could listen to a demo record and go, bingo, that's going to be a hit. So he may have gone a little bit out of his comfort zone. Because he may have thought that, hey, if I follow my intuition, I would have held him.

But again, you know, if you need the money, you need the money. And it was the highest offer ever paid at the time. You know, you can't say somebody's stealing him then.

You can say it now. So that happens, and we all know, Elvis went on to be a huge iconic star of the universe. And Sam Phillips and my dad stayed best friends until they died. And Sam Phillips had every right to never speak to my father again.

Like, get out of my life, you've ruined my life. And we had a roast years later. We roasted my dad, and Sam Phillips was one of the roasters. And he said, Kimmons, you know, we've been great friends, I love you. And he said, but I just want to tell you one thing. He said, not if I kept 10% of Elvis' contract, not if I kept 5% of Elvis' contract. He said, if I kept 1% of Elvis' contract, I'd be worth $50 million today. And of course, he got a big laugh from everybody. But again, that just goes to show you what kind of friendship they had. And neither one of them looked back, Sam Phillips took that money, and he went on to sign Johnny Cash and Carl Perkins, and he went on to be very successful. And that had never happened.

I mean, the story about it, how dumb can you be? Well, you know, it worked out for him. And who knows if Elvis would have ever hit the mark again. And to be honest with you, I think my dad, even if he thought Elvis was going to be or could be a huge success, at that point in time, I think he gave him the right decision about you need to sell and redeploy this money back into your business, and you'll be able to sign a couple of guys onto your record label and, you know, go from there.

It's a pretty good story when you tell somebody that Elvis is not professional. And another funny thing, he never had, as long as he lived, an unlisted telephone number. And so I can't tell you how many times we would get a call at 2 o'clock in the morning. And my father would answer the phone, and it would be some guy that's had too much to drink and peoria at the Holiday Inn, and he's complaining that they're closing the bar at 2 o'clock.

And I never saw him get upset. He would just say, yes, okay, you know, okay, I'll call the manager and we'll get back with you. And this was back in the days where the general manager, they used to call them innkeepers, they had to live on the property. And so at 2.15 in the morning, he would call the general manager and just say, what in the heck is going on there?

And you've got some guy at a bar, go take care of it. And I remember one phone call he had, again, and it had to be some intoxicated guest that was complaining about something. And my father said, well, who do you work for?

Now, let's say I work for IBM. He said, oh, really, and what's your name again? Well, he gave me his name.

He said, well, great, I know Mr. Watson, who's chairman of IBM. He'd probably like to know about that, you know, phone hung up. But I mean, but to just think that he never had an unlisted number.

You could look in the phone book and call him, and we got all kind of crazy calls. When I look back, really, a lot of the milestones in his life were that, you know, he did have the largest hotel chain in the world at one time. He was on the cover of Time magazine. He was awarded the Rachel Alger Award, which is kind of the rags to riches.

He was one of the thousand makers of the 20th century, as noted by the London Times. And he was in the National Business Hall of Fame. And really, you know, he got to meet presidents and popes and kings and queens and a bunch of celebrities. So I tell people, he had an absolutely wonderful life.

I mean, you look back and trace it and, you know, you couldn't have, you know, you couldn't have scripted it any better. And great job by Faith on the production of that piece, and a special thanks to Alex for bringing Kemmons Wilson, Jr. to us. There have been any number of stories he's told about his father, about his family, and about his faith. The story of Kemmons Wilson, Jr. and his father.

And my goodness, it doesn't get better in terms of father-son stories and the influence of a dad on his son and shaping his outlook, his world view, and so much more. Kemmons Wilson, Jr.'s story here on Our American Stories. Hey, this is John Ridley. And this is Matt Carey, documentary editor at Deadline.

And welcome to TalkTalk. John, we've got a hard-hitting episode today. A lot of controversy. Well, maybe we should put the word controversy in quotes in the documentary field about the nominees for best documentary feature. We're going to get into that with some amazing panelists. You get a shot.

But the individuals behind every one of those images, they're complicated, and they are human. This has been TalkTalk. Thank you. Great conversation.

Thank you. Ready to celebrate International Women's Day? M&Ms and iHeart present Women Take the Mic, sharing empowering stories of women supporting and celebrating each other. And of course, there is a smooth and creamy companion for your listening pleasure, peanut butter M&Ms, because they're just another way to help treat yourself in situations where you deserve a little added delight, like listening to your favorite podcast. So savor the deliciousness of peanut butter M&Ms and spread some positivity.

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Whisper: medium.en / 2024-03-21 04:30:13 / 2024-03-21 04:38:18 / 8

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