Cordia Harrington owned three McDonald’s franchises when the company asked her to sit on its bun committee in 1992. She quickly realized opportunity was knocking. Here’s how she seized it:
Ambition. McDonald’s decision to hire a new bun supplier lit up her determination to win the contract even though she had no experience running a bakery. The way she describes it, McDonald’s cracked open the door, and she ran for it.
Flair. Harrington promoted herself. She’d visited a mill and sent back photos of herself in baker’s garb, holding a sign that read, “I want to be your baker.”
Fortitude. After sealing the deal, Harrington sold her franchises, invested all her money and borrowed $13.5 million to build the most modern bakery in the world. Bad timing. The fast-food chain started suffering in the late ’90s, and at the harrowing moment when Harrington couldn’t make payroll, McDonald’s saved her buns by easing their exclusive agreement.
High standards. Harrington won’t settle for passing inspection. She wants the highest marks. The industry standard for rejects is about 4%. Hers is 2%.
Confidence. “I had good roots of love and encouragement,” she says. “When I got crazy ideas, my dad would say, ‘You can do that!’ Even when I was 11, I had a nursery school in my backyard, and I’d charge 25 cents for three hours.” By summer’s end, she’d saved 60 bucks.
Today, two of her sons work for the Tennessee Bun Co., and Harrington’s CPA husband is now her CFO.
It worked out fine that Harrington wasn’t an expert—she’s not even a good baker—because she asked questions that prompted her team to try new things. “I never know where a stupid question will lead,” she says.
Lesson: Hop to it. “If you have a dream,” she says, “you can’t sit back and wait for people to call you.”
— Adapted from “Breadwinner,” Margaret Heffernan, Reader’s Digest.
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