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Rage at Malfunction Led to Invention



(p. B15) A business contemporary of Raymond A. Kroc, who built the McDonald's chain into the industry leader, Mr. Edgerton started Burger King with $12,000 after managing Howard Johnson's restaurants in Miami and Orlando, Fla.


. . .


In a 1998 memoir, "The Burger King: Jim McLamore and the Building of an Empire," Mr. McLamore described Mr. Edgerton as a creative conceptual thinker but also as someone who "never focused very much on details, particularly those concerning financial matters."

Early on, Mr. Edgerton estimated that profits were running at an eye-popping 28 percent of sales. But the "books" he was looking at turned out to be an assortment of papers stuffed into a peach basket showing that Insta Burger had actually lost money in its first few months.

It was hard for the partners at first. "We were losing our butts," Mr. Edgerton said in a 2014 interview for this obituary. Paying himself $50 a week, he added, "We starved together."

A major problem was the frequent breakdowns of the Rube Goldberg-like Insta broiler they had inherited. One day, Mr. McLamore wrote, "the machine began to malfunction just at the moment Dave was standing in front of it," and the grinding of its metal parts sent him into a rage.

By Mr. McLamore's account, Mr. Edgerton "reached into his toolbox and grabbed a hatchet" and sank it into the stainless steel mechanism, destroying it. He then shouted, red-faced, "I can build a better machine than this pile of junk!"

Three weeks later, Mr. Edgerton and a mechanic who ran a machine shop had produced a continuous-chain broiler, which would set a standard for all Burger King broilers and become a model for equipment in the industry.


. . .


The business took off, and by 1967 it had more than 400 units in about 20 states, particularly in the East and California, as well as in a few other countries. Its success drew an offer from the Pillsbury Company to buy Burger King.

"I really didn't want to sell out," Mr. Edgerton said, but he went along because he had found Mr. McLamore to be "a golfer first and foremost" who wanted more time to indulge his passion and who had no real need to keep working, being married to a woman of wealth.


. . .


He complained that the company, which had a series of jolting ups and downs over subsequent decades, let its menu get too big, and that its plethora of chief executives -- "bookkeepers," he called them -- had rarely had experience in the restaurant business.

Asked in the 2014 interview if he regretted walking away from an industry on the verge of a boom that could have made him a billionaire, he pondered the question for a moment and then said, "That's hindsight."



For the full obituary, see:

Robert D. Hershey Jr. "David Edgerton, 90, a Burger King Founder Who Sold His Stake for a Bargain, Dies." The New York Times (Tuesday, April 17, 2018): B15.

(Note: ellipses, and bracketed year, added.)

(Note: the online version of the obituary has the date April 16, 2018, and has the title "David Edgerton, a Founder of Burger King, Is Dead at 90.")


The memoir mentioned above, is:

McLamore, James W. The Burger King: Jim McLamore and the Building of an Empire. New York: McGraw-Hill, 1997.






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