Jerome J. Richardson
(Born July 18, 1936)
If hard work and humility could define a man, then that man would be Jerry Richardson.
Jerome J. Richardson was born on July 18th, 1936, in Spring Hope, North Carolina, the only child of George Bertram Richardson, of Zebulon, North Carolina, and Mary Williams Richardson of Spring Hope.
However, it is nearby Fayetteville, N.C., that Richardson considers his hometown. His dad worked there as a barber and his mom also worked there as a department store clerk. The young Richardson enjoyed a pleasant and peaceful childhood growing up in the eastern North Carolina town.
Richardson was fortunate to be befriended by six young men in Fayetteville as a child. He credits his parents, these six young men, and his high school football coach, Bob Prevatte, as the significant influences upon his character and his eventual success.
Although Richardson engaged in a wide variety of athletics, Fayetteville was a football town, and by the 9th grade, Jerry began to excel in the sport that would one day bring him fame, as well as business fortune. His football coach for all four years at Fayetteville High was Bob Prevatte, a Wofford College graduate.
After graduating from Fayetteville High in the spring of 1954, Jerry accepted a $250.00 athletic scholarship to Wofford College in Spartanburg, where his receiving skills and dedication to hard work placed him at the forefront of the program. When quarterback Charlie Bradshaw transferred to Wofford from the University of Georgia in time for the 1956 football season, a key element for Richardson’s athletic career and business fortune had arrived.
Richardson and Bradshaw quickly became friends both on the football field and off. Their combined prowess resulted not only in local fame and state-wide attention, but also national prominence, as they both were recipients of All-American honors from the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics.
Before his senior season, Richardson was drafted by the world champion Baltimore Colts of the National Football League.
Richardson graduated from Wofford with a degree in Psychology in the spring of 1959, having already married Rosalind Sallenger, a Florence, South Carolina native, and Winthrop College student. Rosalind, who Richardson describes as a very good athlete, happily took on the responsibilities of raising their three children, Jon, Mark and Ashley, as well as tending the Richardson home.
In the fall of 1959, Richardson began a short, but successful NFL career with the Baltimore Colts. In fact, his 4th quarter touchdown catch, thrown by the legendary Johnny Unitas, helped seal the ’59 NFL Championship victory for the Colts.
After two solid years with Baltimore, his contract was in the amount of $9,750. However, Richardson asked for another $250, and when he and the team failed to reach an agreement, Richardson retired from football. His college friend, Charlie Bradshaw, had only a few months earlier, signed an agreement to open the first franchised Hardee's Hamburger restaurant in Spartanburg. The frugal Richardson still had his NFL championship bonus check for $4,744.00, and he decided to invest it with Bradshaw’s new company, and move his family back to Spartanburg. The soon-to-be-famous Spartan Foods had just been born.
Once again, the Bradshaw – Richardson connection proved successful, and they opened their first Hardee's on October 19, 1961.
Without a track record, the two young fast food pioneers quickly learned the in's and out's of the 15-cent hamburger business, and Richardson soon gained the reputation for his self-effacing, no-nonsense, hands-on approach that included rolling up his sleeves and working inside his restaurants. With their early success and the help of a young, junior loan officer from the North Carolina National Bank named Hugh McColl, they were able to acquire the capital necessary to grow. Once the successful pair realized the sky was the limit, they set their sites on having Spartan Foods listed on the New York Stock Exchange before they turned 40. On June 22, 1976, just weeks before their July birthdays, Spartan Foods was indeed listed on the Exchange.
In 1977, the Quincy’s Steakhouse chain was added to the Spartan Foods family. In 1979, after entertaining assorted corporate offers, Richardson and company decided to accept an $80 million offer from the Transworld Corporation, and both he and Bradshaw stayed on as executives with the new ownership. Seven years later, Bradshaw retired, and following the liquidation of Transworld, the assets of Spartan Foods and the Canteen Corporation were moved into a new entity called TW services in New York City, the precursor to the Flagstar Corporation, where Richardson assumed a leadership role. In 1987, TW Services purchased the ailing Denny’s franchise, and Richardson took on the responsibility of engineering a massive restructuring in order to turn the once-proud restaurant chain back into a money maker. In 1990, and now President and CEO of TW Services, Richardson opened a new 18-story-tower in downtown Spartanburg in order to move operations back to the Hub City. The high rise immediately dominated the Spartanburg skyline and helped spur a much needed revitalization for the downtown business district that continues today.
In 1995, Richardson’s Flagstar Corporation was the largest publicly held company based in South Carolina, with interests in over 2500 restaurants among other holdings and over 100,000 employees. He retired from Flagstar later that year in order to devote his full time to yet another direction.
In 1993, Jerry realized a career-long goal when his investment team was awarded the 29th franchise of the NFL – The Carolina Panthers. Purchased for just over $210 million, some say the franchise is now valued at nearly $900 million. Already considered a successful franchise, the Panthers inaugural season was played in Clemson University’s Death Valley. Winthrop University, in Rock Hill, served as the team’s headquarters until the opening of its own stadium in 1996. Never forgetting his Wofford College roots, the promise of the Panthers training camp at the school’s campus provided the impetus for a state-of-the-art practice facility on the Spartanburg college campus, which also houses Wofford’s athletic department.
While Richardson keeps his charitable and civic efforts in the background, he has been honored with the Order of the Palmetto, the highest civic recognition the State of South Carolina can bestow.
Through it all, Richardson has remained a humble, dedicated family man with his wife, Rosalind, always close by. Their children Jon, Mark and Ashley, and their 9 grandchildren all live in Charlotte. Jon and Mark have key positions within the Panthers organization while Ashley serves as the family representative on the Richardson Scholarship Committee at Wofford College. After nearly 60 years, his close and special friendship with his 6 childhood friends from Fayetteville and his old friend, Coach Prevatte, remains as strong as ever.
Hard work and humility can define the man, and Jerry Richardson’s story provides the ultimate proof that such virtues, along with the right friends and partners, can lead to untold success.
Jerry Richardson was inducted into the South Carolina Business Hall of Fame in 2006.
© 2006 South Carolina Business Hall of Fame