Success is often achieved when the person is able to go further than most people, breaking limitations imposed by their own economic, physical and cultural boundaries. Cordia Harrington is a classic example of success, as she overcomes poverty to become one of the most powerful women in businesses today.A rags-to-riches story, Harrington overcame her difficult childhood and poor economic background to become a multimillionaire. She came from a poor working class family, always wearing hand-me-down clothes, as her parents struggled to pay the bills. A big night out for the family was a monthly visit to the local McDonald’s restaurant. So it is but fitting that today, she is the CEO of The Tennessee Bun Company, a company based in Nashville, Tennessee supplying buns and English muffins worldwide to McDonald’s, Pepperidge Farms and other popular food distributors.
A characteristic that has set Harrington apart is her strong will to achieve and a resourceful spirit. Her first taste of success was in the real estate business. She poured her entire life savings of $587 to rent an office and become a real estate agent. Given her fierce determination to succeed, she was soon selling homes faster than contractors could build them. Tired of waiting for contractors to complete the homes, she decided to build the homes herself by becoming the contractor. As she explains,
“Instead of moaning and complaining, you have to take that energy, when problems happen, and put it towards taking you to the next level.”
Then a divorced mother of three boys, Harrington moved to Illinois and opened one of the first women-owned McDonald’s franchises to spend more time with her children. She was, however, faced with the challenge of driving traffic to her McDonald’s franchise due to its sleepy rural location in Effingham. Her solution? Get a loan to buy into the Greyhound bus franchise and have the buses stop near the McDonald’s. The shrewd strategy paid off:
“I was proud to say that 88 buses a day would stop there. That helped grow the sales a lot. In the summertime, we had over 120 buses a day. Our sales rocketed to one of the top forty in the US. We were so excited.”
She opened two more McDonald’s franchises in the Mid-West. Then in 1992, she had the opportunity to be in the McDonald’s bun committee that allowed her to tour bakeries around the world. Those trips opened her eyes to the huge business possibility for baking buns. When McDonald’s announced that they needed a new bun contractor, Harrington was determined to win the contract, even though she had no bakery experience.
She spent the next four years learning about the bakery business, visiting mills and sending photos of herself in a baker’s cap to McDonald’s executives. As she told in an interview with Reader’s Digest,
“If you have a dream, you can’t wait for people to call you. So I’d visit a mill and send them photos of myself in a baker’s hat and jacket, holding a sign that said, “I want to be your baker.”
Her persistence paid off and she got the McDonald’s contract. Harrington sold her franchises, invested everything she owned, and borrowed $13.5 million. The Tennessee Bun Company was born in 1996. Today, TBN is the world’s fastest high-speed bun company, producing 1,000 buns per minute.
To complement her bun baking business, she started a trucking company, Bun Lady Trucking, to make sure that her buns get to market on time. She also branched out to expand the bakeries’ efficiency; with a business called Cold Storage of Nashville. In 2007, she started CornerStone Baking Company producing frozen dough pieces for several well-known casual dining restaurants.
A true American success story, Cordia Harrington aimed – and reached – the stars through the virtues of hard work, imagination, and perseverance
- Cordia Harrington
- The Bun Companies Corporate History
- How She Became the ‘Bun Lady’ (CBS News)
- How Bread Made Her a Millionnaire (Reader’s Digest)