Roland Parrish’s journey to McDonald’s is similar to Michael Jordan’s road to the NBA.
Parrish had worked at the Exxon Corporation for more than a decade when he applied to Mickey D’s management program. But like Jordan’s first attempt at his high school varsity, Parrish was told he didn’t measure up.
We all know that Jordan went on to become the greatest basketball player in history. And after being embraced by McDonald’s, Parrish, who said he framed the rejection letter, is at least a superstar business owner and philanthropist.
“So, I want to talk a little bit about rejection. How did I regroup? Perseverance, preparation and humility,” Parrish said as he shared his narrative during the Jarvis Christian College’s Business Colloquium and Luncheon.
Parrish, president CEO and owner of Dallas-based Parrish McDonald’s Restaurants, said he called McDonald’s corporate office at 9 a.m. every Monday, Wednesday and Friday for six months, trying to reach the author of his rejection letter.
He also started networking, in search of someone with connections to the fast-food chain. He ended up spending a day with a franchisee in Indianapolis and visiting the corporate headquarters.
As an example of humility, Parrish cited Chris Bridges, also known as the rapper Ludacris. Bridges was in high school working at a radio volunteering to do all the public service announcements. A rapper visiting the station heard Bridges’ voice and hired him to appear on his next album.
“Chris will tell that this was his start to where he is today,” said Parrish, whose company operates more than 20 restaurants and grosses more than $60 million annually.
Parrish’s presentation was entitled “A Roland Parrish Colloquium: Straight Talk about Rejection, Perseverance, Success, and Responsibilities of a Black Businessman.”
His audience included Gladewater’s director of economic development, Mineola’s city manager, a Wood County judge and justice of the peace as well as the mayor of Hawkins, who briefly lobbied for a McDonald’s for his town.
There also were a number of students, including Corey Harris, a freshman accounting major from Baton Rouge. “I definitely enjoyed his (presentation),” Harris said. “His story will continue to motivate me on my path to being a successful real estate investor and entrepreneur.”
Parrish, whose company has been among Black Enterprise magazine’s top 100 black-owned businesses for 12 consecutive years, also talked about personal humility. He shared about the various departments he worked during his 13 years at Exxon – distribution, finance, and engineering – and being sent to Arkansas and Mississippi to actually run service stations.
He said the service station experience actually helped him connect with Ruth Anderson, who wrote the rejection letter, when he finally got her on the telephone. He said she wasn’t moved by his education or ethnicity but was impressed with experience as a service station operator, an interaction which proved to be a catalyst in Parrish getting his first franchise.
Parrish shared stories and offered advice. He urged students to live beneath their means and protect their credit scores. Once in business, he said check the money first, pay taxes on time, work with those you don’t like and surround yourself with talented people.
Parrish also said he is committed to preventing what he called “economic leakage” in the African American community by using black attorneys, accountants, landscapers and other professionals. One of his slides included a graph that showed $100 churns in the white community 17 days, 20 days in the Jewish community and 30 days in the Asian community. But in the African American community, that $100 churns for only six hours, said Parrish, a native of Hammond, Indiana who earned a track scholarship to Purdue University.
At Purdue, he was a two-time MVP and team captain his senior year. He also was a consistent Dean’s List Scholar. He received his bachelor’s and MBA from Purdue’s Krannert School of Business.
Parrish gifted $2 million to Purdue’s Management and Economics Library renovation project. The facility was renamed the Roland G. Parrish Library of Management and Economics. It is the first building at Purdue to be named for an African American and has both national and international recognition.
“I get up every day and I want to do the best I can. I want to be a Superman . . . I try to be that consistent person. I try to be that humble person, and when I look back, it’s been a great run,” said Parrish, who serves on Purdue’s Dean’s Advisory Council for the Krannert Business School and the Department of the Libraries. Parrish currently serves on the advisory boards for the Salvation Army and the Dallas Mavericks of the NBA.
Parrish also sponsors “McMiracle on Highway 67,” an annual December affair that gives new 26-inch bikes to fifth-graders in the Dallas area.
“It’s better to treat people right and pay them than penny pinch,” he said.