Larry D. Thornton is the author of Why Not Win? 2019, Co-Founder of The Why Not Win Institute, Owner/Operator McDonalds Franchisee.
Firstly, can you give us a little bit of background about your business journey?
Well, my business journey has been an interesting one, to say the least. I have a degree in art and studied art, taught art in high school. Today I have the opportunity to serve on three corporate boards and to own seven McDonald's restaurants. Interesting journey in and of itself, but highly unlikely. Very unorthodox. But I have some very specific comments to make about how that happened. So, as an artist, I'm teaching school. The first job that I ever got right out of college and had an opportunity to work in this very affluent school system. And after four years of instruction, there was an Alabama state-issued proration circumstance where educational monies were moved, which meant that that school system could no longer have two art teachers. So I was the last one in, first one out. But it occurred to me that one can lose a job without having created an offense, which was the first time that anything like that had ever entered my psyche. And I could never get past that. And I would say that clearly, that is where the entrepreneurial bug bit me. And that, of course, initiated the journey that put me on a path to do some of the things that I get to do today.
What role has self-belief played in your journey as a business leader? How has it influenced your decision-making and overall success?
Well, I will tell you that growing up in a segregated South being one of six students to integrate this otherwise all white school in 1967, 68. I came to believe as a very young person, 12, 13 years old, that I didn't believe. I never thought that I had anything to offer. I never thought that I could measure up. I never, ever believed that I could make a contribution. And all of that was a result of the tremendous messages of inferiority on a daily basis going through that integration process. But due to a unique and very unusual instructor in the 12th grade, I think that the trajectory of my life changed and it initiated an opportunity for me to relearn, if you will, or redirect to find that to believe rather that I did have a value. I did have something to offer and once that occurred, a lot of it came through ART, but there's no limit to what any of us can do if we can believe. But that belief didn't just start organically. I first had to undo a lot of things that I had taken to be fact in my life. And it was just a wonderful journey and that journey continues on to this very day as I could say honestly that I'm clearly waiting for the next opportunity.
Can you share a specific moment or challenge in your journey where your self-belief was tested? How did you overcome it and what did you learn from that experience?
I remember getting an opportunity to study and register for what we call the registered applicant program with McDonald's. I was told by the gentleman who owned the majority of back all of the restaurants in the area at the time because of territorial rights that I could not own a McDonald's in the city of Birmingham. Even after I defined that and made it happen to get my first restaurant that opened in 1992 in Birmingham, Alabama, with all kinds of challenges, as you might imagine, on the first day of opening, that particular owner with two partners ended my restaurant and made it clear that I could not run a McDonald's and that they would own my restaurant within six months. And you can imagine what a challenge that was for me, these giants who already had about 21 stores at that time. So maybe I couldn't, but rather than allowing our reservations and threats to scare us, let's think about letting them motivate us. That is exactly what that did for me. In fact, if I had the mindset and I clearly did not, I should have issued that individual, I think you know, for the fact that they caused me to really, truly double down to ensure that within six months that was not going to happen not only that but before the end of the decade I owned three of his restaurants.
How do you cultivate and maintain a mindset of self-belief amidst the inevitable ups and downs of life?
I've always tried to adopt an attitude of, I can. Once I had the epiphany, if you will, as a senior from one of the most unlikely sources, it was a matter of staying true to that belief. When we change what we think, we change what we do. And I think as long as we can remain true to that, that has truly become my center. And I would argue that there's nothing that's ever, that I've ever been confronted with, that as long as I remain true to my center, and that is, I can. Nothing is too hard. In fact, two of the hardest things in life to do for any of us are these. One, something that we don't want to do. The other is something that we don't know how to do. But if we want to do it and want to do it bad, and if we're willing to learn how to do it, I don't know that there's anything that we can not achieve.
Are there any specific strategies or practices you follow to boost your self-confidence when facing uncertainties or setbacks in your business?
Well, my thoughts are these. Life is tough. There's no way around that axiom. That is a fact for every single person who's living. We're all challenged with grave concerns and struggles of getting through our day. I never ever want to not be mindful of that. But once I've determined that life is tough, then it's just a matter of getting tougher than life, in my opinion. I don't know of any other way to handle or tackle life. Once we understand that life is a challenge, life is tough, then we only have to decide how do I prepare myself so that I can deal with the tough. What kinds of life shock absorbers, if you will, do I need to develop and put in place so that when the tough comes, I'm prepared to take the shocks, to take the hits. And that is my mindset it is a mindset that I offer to my readers as well. Life is tough let's just be tougher.
How do you handle self-doubt or negative self-talk that may arise as a business leader? Do you have any specific techniques for reframing negative thoughts?
Well, negative thoughts are inevitable. I think doubt. Doubts are inevitable. But if we understand that that's a natural part in the process of life, then from that point it's a matter of a decision. Yes, the doubt is there, but I'm going to be stronger than the doubt. All of the negative thoughts that might creep into your mind from perhaps business associates, from those individuals who might be considered a colleague, who might have invited you into a competition. Here again, I just think all of those things are a matter of choice. I have for myself decided not to compete with anybody other than myself. I want to conquer my former self. That is a daily challenge. And as these doubts arise and they will but the supreme joy of life I think lies in overcoming that by simply making the decision that I'm going to move past this hurdle.
What advice would you give to aspiring entrepreneurs who struggle with self-belief? How can they start building a stronger sense of confidence and belief in themselves?
Individuals who have, from time to time, that I would frequent, who might be interested in a business venture, among the first questions that I always raise would be the question of why. Why do you want to do that? And I guess before I can answer that, I'll have to talk a little bit about why. I have always believed from the first day that I opened my business in July of 1992, the why of that being the first African American to own a McDonald's in the city of Birmingham. I was so beholden and so grateful and so appreciative of so many whose skin pigment and hair texture was like mine, who pay a huge price, sometimes the ultimate price. So I've always been mindful and thankful to those individuals. Then I look ahead for all of those individuals who might want to do what I'm doing. And that creates a level of motivation that drives me on a continuous basis. You might say it is something of a ministerial approach to business. The why of what I do has so much more to do with the dollars that are generated on the prestige of the position that you hold as a business owner. Our titles and our accomplishments and our achievements mean nothing if we can't first of all be grateful to the many, many, many people who made it possible. And then if we can't create avenues for other people, I think that if we could develop a why, why do you want to go in business? And if it's one that is aligned with other people benefiting, I think you stand a much better chance of success.
Have you ever encountered external skepticism or negativity regarding your business ideas or decisions? How do you stay grounded in your self-belief despite external influences?
Well, obviously, being the first African American to serve on the board of Directors of Coca Cola United, the largest independent butler in the nation. Being the first African American to serve on the board of directors of Synovus Bank serving on the Federal Reserve Bank board. These are a lot of firsts, especially in the south and even more so in Birmingham, Alabama, given our very sordid and story history. So without saying anything else, it's clear that I've had a lot of external doubt, not just doubt where I've been outright told that you can't do it. It's not going to happen. Not just from strangers, right within my own family. So as I said earlier, once you adopt an I can attitude and every hurdle that you are able to cross or handle, it motivates, it, strengthens so that when the next one comes and there will be a next one, there's never probably ever going to be not going to be a next. But if you're grounded in your center, if you're grounded in your why, I think for me, and I would recommend to anyone that that's the way you want to approach that, obviously it's very helpful to have examples like a zig ziggler that can you can be grounded in some of the quotes that he states.
Are there any books, podcasts, or people you'd recommend checking out for anyone who wants to change to a more self-confident and belief-rich mindset?
Obviously, it's very helpful to have examples like a Zig Ziggler that can can be grounded in some of the quotes that he states. One of my favorite ones happens to be you can have anything. Want in life, as long as you're willing to help enough other people get what they want. I love so many of the Jim Rohn quotes. Work harder on yourself than you do on any job. Earl Nightingale a mind that has been stretched by a new idea can never again return to its original mention. These great, successful business and life altering comments have served as a guide for me, and I always turn to those so that I can move past whatever challenges that I happen to be confronted with.
Finally, what are some practical tips or exercises you can recommend for entrepreneurs to strengthen their self-belief and mindset on a regular basis?
Whether we're talking about business, whether we're talking about education, if we're talking about politics, it really doesn't matter. Of interest, I referred earlier to the Jim Rome quote. I must have been in my early 30s when I first learned of that. But I can't point to a single axiom that I thought was more beneficial to me than working hard on myself. Once you improve you, everybody in your sphere of influence gets a better you. Whether that's the church, whether that is the community, your family, your place of employment. I think that is the biggest challenge for all of us, is to continuously be in a state of mind of working on ourselves, which should include our willingness to work in support of others. So much of what I've been able to do in life, I'm so humbly grateful for it, and I want people to taste of that success. So on a daily basis, I am constantly, deliberately and inadvertently looking for those opportunities to help someone who's looking but not quite seeing, someone who is hearing but really not listening. I frequent people who have capacity and ability. And strength, but not exercising that capacity and that ability, and they are not strong. As long as we put our concerns and our achievements and accomplishments to work for the good of other people, that is a recommendation that I would put before anybody in terms of continued success.