Wichita Entrepreneurs Have Launched Big-Name National Companies

From Albert A. Hydes development of Mentholatum in 1889 to the takeoff of Clyde Cessnas aircraft business in 1927‚ early Wichita entrepreneurship paved the way for subsequent savvy capitalists and todays thriving Wichita commerce.

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From Albert A. Hyde’s development of Mentholatum in 1889 to the takeoff of Clyde Cessna’s aircraft business in 1927‚ early Wichita entrepreneurship paved the way for subsequent savvy capitalists and today’s thriving Wichita commerce. Pizza Hut‚ Rent-A-Center‚ Raytheon Aircraft Co. (formerly Beech Aircraft)‚ The Coleman Co.‚ Bombardier Learjet‚ Taco Tico‚ White Castle and other companies with household names all got their start in this vibrant mid-size city on the prairie. “My most profound theory is that the people who are attracted to the prairie aren’t passive. They think that they want to change things and‚ in some ways‚ the prairie is perceived as kind of empty‚ like a blank slate you can write on‚” surmises Craig Miner‚ the Willard W. Garvey Distinguished Professor of Business History at Wichita State University. “So‚ they have that entrepreneurial attitude‚ and I think they’re risk-takers.” In fact‚ the Garvey professorship was founded by the son of agricultural entrepreneur Ray Hugh Garvey‚ who in the 1950s owned 200 million bushels of concrete elevator storage and operated 100‚000 acres of farmland‚ making him the foremost American farmer of his time. Miner’s description of prairie entrepreneurs aptly depicts Frank Carney. With a $600 loan from his mother‚ Carney‚ then a sophomore in college‚ and his older brother‚ Dan‚ launched restaurant giant Pizza Hut in 1958. Just down the street from their father’s corner grocery store in Wichita‚ the first restaurant sported a steep‚ pointy roof‚ prompting Carney’s sister-in-law to declare‚ “That looks just like one of those little huts you see up in the mountains‚” Frank Carney recalls. The rest‚ as they say‚ is history. “Besides‚ we only had room for three letters plus ‘pizza’ on the sign‚” he adds. By 1968‚ there were 300 restaurants‚ and the company went public in 1972 with 1‚000 stores. When the Carneys sold Pizza Hut to PepsiCo in 1977‚ there were about 4‚000 restaurants nationwide and in several other countries. “My dad was the first entrepreneur in our family‚” Carney says. “He left a very stable job with a large company because he wanted to be in business for himself. He would say‚ ‘The one thing you have to do to be free is be in business for yourself.’ That’s what started the entrepreneurism in our family.” Another Wichita entrepreneur‚ also in food services‚ is Scott Redler‚ one of the founders and vice president of Freddy’s Frozen Custard. Established in 2002‚ Freddy’s specializes in made-to-order steakburgers and gourmet custard‚ which is thicker and richer than ice cream. Custard lovers order “Freddy’s Famous Concretes‚” given their name because the custard is so dense it won’t pour out – even if the cone or dish is turned upside-down. By mid-autumn 2006‚ 13 Freddy’s restaurants had opened in Kansas and three other states. Redler praises Wichita’s “very strong entrepreneurial spirit‚” which nurtures independent business. “People who over the last 30 years did very well – Pizza Hut‚ Rent-A-Center and other franchises – understand the risks and understand the rewards‚” Redler says. “That encourages others to give something a shot and see if it works.”

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Fri, 10/27/2017 - 19:55