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1987 Horatio Alger Award Winner

Raymond L. Danner*

Chairman, Shoney's, Inc.
Chief Executive Officer, The Danner Company

"If you want success, go out and work for it. You may get tired, but that's about the worst that can happen to you."

Born in Louisville, Kentucky, Raymond Danner was the son of a German immigrant who made his living as a paperhanger. Work was never plentiful for Danner's father and after the stock market crash of 1929 he rarely had work.

Danner lived with his parents in a room above a grocery store in a poor neighborhood. The store was owned by his uncle and four families lived above it, with each family taking one room. Danner said that the memory of those cramped years has been a strong motivator in his life.

When he was nine, Danner moved with his parents to a small apartment. At age 10, he made his first investment. He committed to spending $20 on a bicycle at Montgomery Ward by putting $3 down and paying $1 a month. The bike enabled him to accept a summer job mowing lawns of repossessed houses owned by a Louisville savings and loan company. He made $1 per yard, and by the end of that summer in 1935 had had paid off his bike and saved the rest of his earnings.

When he was 16, Danner's father died. To help his mother, Danner worked three jobs. He joined the Army Air Corps when he was 19 and dreamed about owning a business when his service commitment ended. He invested $600 with a friend to buy an old store, which they sold in 18 months at a profit. Danner used his money to buy a duckpin bowling alley, and one year later he sold that franchise for nearly double his original investment.

After several other business ventures, Danner bought a Shoney's franchise in Nashville. By 1966, he operated seven Shoney's in the region. He expanded into other ventures, opening 22 Kentucky Fried Chicken franchises in Louisville. In 1969, he took his company public. Two years later he merged his interests with Shoney's founder. When he was chairman of Shoney's, there were 500 restaurants in the chain. In 1988, after 37 years with the company, Danner chose to leave to pursue his own investment business.

Today, the Danner Company includes three car dealerships and two manufacturing plants. For five years, his company built and owned a shrimp processing plant in China. Danner sold his interests in China and turned his attention to South America, where he had a logging company and waste disposal businesses.

Danner encouraged young people to explore entrepreneurship and advised them to discipline themselves to please their customers in whatever business they are in.

Of his Horatio Alger Award, he said, "I am honored to be a Horatio Alger Award recipient. My life story is a good example of what you can do if you have the desire to do it. I believe in what this award represents. I'm still making the American dream come true."

* Deceased