Charles Kemmons’ life story Wilson, the founder of the Holiday Inn hotel business, is the epitome of a rags-to-riches tale. After losing his father while he was very young, this young kid took on the duty of making a living and assisting his single mother in every way he could. This young man sold practically everything under the sun before establishing ‘Holiday Inn.’ However, selling ice cream, cigars, and popcorn was his main source of revenue. The astute salesman put his gains aside and began buying movie theaters across the country. After a frightening experience at a filthy yet pricey rural motel, he was soon inspired to create motels. This prompted Charles to make an instant adjustment in the lodging options available to travelers, paving the path for the establishment of ‘Holiday Inn.’ The ‘Holiday Inn’ hotels were noted for having clean rooms, regular pricing, and being convenient for people on the road, making them ideal for families. Kemmons became well-known quickly, and his hotels were well-known not just in the United States but also around the world. Wilson sold the company to ‘Bass PLC,’ a UK-based firm that renamed the hotels’Holiday Inn Worldwide.’ Continue reading to learn more about his life and work.
Childhood and Adolescence
On January 5, 1913, Charles Kemmons Wilson was born to insurance executive Kemmons and his wife, Ruby Hall. Ruby had to accept full responsibility for her child when his father died while he was only nine months old, and she had to raise him in Memphis, Tennessee.
Career of Kemmons Wilson
Wilson worked hard to supplement his family’s income by selling popcorn, magazines, groceries, and a variety of other items. He attended ‘Central High School,’ but dropped out after his mother lost her job as a result of the catastrophic global economic crisis known as the ‘Great Depression.’
Charles started his career as a businessman to help support his mother, managing an ice cream shop, a cigar store, and a sandwich stand. He soon collected enough money to purchase the ‘DeSoto Theatre,’ a movie theater in Memphis that had previously gone out of business. He eventually owned eleven theaters in various places, some of which he built himself.
Wilson was dissatisfied with the accommodations he was given during a family vacation to Washington, D.C. in 1951. This inspired him to create a new company of running hotels, for which he teamed up with Wallace E. Johnson and Eddie Bluestein, who assisted him in the areas of investment and architecture, respectively.
In 1952, the first of the ‘Holiday Inn’ brand of motels opened on Summer Avenue, the way to Memphis. He didn’t leave any stone unturned in his construction of further motels, which grew to 100 in the next seven years.
The hotels were distinguished by particular features, with quality, cleanliness, and accessibility taking precedence. Wallace and Wilson, the partners, were also adamant about having a Bible in each room.
By 1964, this business entrepreneur had 500 hotels, and ‘Holiday Inns’ were giving other, more expensive lodgings a run for their money in terms of style and comfort.
In the year 1968, Kemmons opened the 100th ‘Holiday Inn’ in San Antonio, Texas. In the same year, the chain’s first international hotel debuted in Leiden, Holland, in Europe. He bought the ‘Continental Trailways’ about the same time and utilised its bus transportation services for his hotels.
‘Holiday Inn’ grew in popularity around the world, and by 1972, the brand had grown to over 1400 hotels. ‘Holidome’ indoor swimming pools were also installed in some hotels to turn them into resorts.
In July of 1974, this well-known businessman purchased the ‘Memphis Tams,’ a team in the ‘American Basketball Association.’ Famous people like Al Wilson, Isaac Hayes, and Mike Storen were among his financial backers for this initiative.
The team, now known as the ‘Memphis Sounds,’ had a huge success under the new ownership, performing exceptionally well in the 1975 ‘ABA Playoffs.’ The team, however, was purchased by a Baltimore-based group of entrepreneurs the next year.
Wilson’s ownership of ‘Continental Trailways’ ended in 1979, when the company was sold to Henry Lea Hillman Sr., a Pittsburgh industrialist. Following his choice to retire from work, the proprietor of ‘Holiday Inn’ stood away from management in the same year.
The hotel business remained in Kemmons’ hands until 1990, when it was purchased by the British corporation ‘Bass PLC’ and renamed ‘Holiday Inn Worldwide.’
In his autobiography, ‘Half Luck and Half Brains,’ published in 1996, this remarkable entrepreneur shared his rags-to-riches experience, emphasizing on the founding of ‘Holiday Inn.’
Major Projects of Kemmons Wilson
Wilson is best recognized for founding the ‘Holiday Inn,’ a hotel company known for being family-friendly and focusing on quality and service. With over 1400 locations throughout the world, the hotel chain became the first to earn revenue of $1 billion USD in 1972.
Achievements & Awards
Wilson was inducted into the distinguished ‘U.S. Business Hall of Fame’ in 1982, created by the non-profit ‘Junior Achievement.’
Personal History and Legacy
Charles married Dorothy Lee, his childhood sweetheart, in 1941-42, and the couple had three boys, Spence, Kemmons Jr., and Robert, as well as two daughters, Carole and Betty. Dorothy died after a blissful marriage of 59 years, leaving behind her children and husband.
Wilson died on February 12, 2003, at the age of 90, in his Memphis home. The great businessman was laid to rest in a Forest Hill cemetery.
The ‘University of Memphis’ named one of its institutes the ‘Kemmons Wilson School of Hospitality and Resort Management’ to honor this remarkable entrepreneur’s contribution to the world of business.’
Estimated Net Worth
The Estimated net worth of Kemmons Wilson is about $1 million.