Cordia Harrington is a shining example of the American dream. She comes from sparse working class roots; her parents lived month-to-month, struggling to pay the bills. She always wore hand-me-down clothes. A big night out for the family was a monthly visit to the local McDonald’s restaurant.
Just like some of the greatest American rags-to-riches stories, Cordia Harrington is a woman who brought herself up from scanty beginnings. Her greatest asset was her will to achieve. When Cordia Harrington embarked on a business career as a real estate agent, she invested her life savings, $587, in a plywood sign and a rented office.
In those early Arkansas years, Cordia Harrington excelled so quickly in real estate that soon she was selling homes faster than the contractors could build them. This was Cordia Harrington’s first business challenge, and she solved it with a move that characterized her resourceful spirit.
“Instead of moaning and complaining,” says Cordia Harrington, “you have to take that energy, when problems happen, and put it towards taking you to the next level.”
Cordia Harrington did just that. Rather than wait around for results from inconsistent contractors, Cordia Harrington opened her own construction company to build the very same houses she sold. This way, Cordia Harrington could be sure that the houses were of a quality up to her exacting standards.
Cordia Harrington wanted nothing more than to create time to spend with her children. In keeping with this goal, and as homage to her humble childhood, she opened a McDonald’s restaurant in Effingham, Illinois, a small town of 10,000 people. Cordia Harrington was one of the first and few woman franchisees in McDonald’s history.
Cordia Harrington’s distinguished career is punctuated by setbacks coupled with delightful strokes of imaginative genius. For example, when Cordia Harrington opened her Effingham McDonalds, she needed a way to drive traffic to the sleepy rural location. Cordia Harrington literally drove the traffic right to her restaurant. She took out a loan and purchased a Greyhound Bus franchise. She shrewdly situated the Greyhound Bus stop right on the corner of her McDonald’s parking lot.
“I was proud to say that 88 buses a day would stop there. That helped grow the sales a lot,” says Cordia Harrington sweetly. “In the summertime we had over 120 buses a day. Our sales rocketed to one of the top forty in the US. We were so excited.”
When Cordia Harrington says “we,” she means her family – the children who helped her run that first McDonald’s, the children she wanted to make more time for. With her family’s support and inspiration, Cordia Harrington was able to open two more McDonald’s in the Midwest.
“So my idea of owning this business,” says Ms. Harrington, “where you can make money and not be there – it didn’t work!” Cordia Harrington chuckles at the life lessons she has learned. She was doing well for herself, but working harder than ever. On her feet all the time, she smelled like French fries day in and day out. Then came the business development that would change Cordia Harrington’s life forever.
“During this time I was, as a joke, put on the bun committee,” confided Ms. Harrington. “The men in my co-op thought this was hilarious because of the word 'bun.' They didn't know that in a short time, they would be picking me up in the corporate jet to visit bakeries around the world.”
Cordia Harrington speaks glowingly of her global McDonald’s education. She began learning about sesame seeds from Guatemala and flour from Russia. She was fascinated and stimulated. True to her winning and imaginative spirit, Cordia Harrington decided that she could produce buns for McDonald’s more efficiently than the current system she was studying. Armed with a will to achieve, she convinced global McDonald’s that they needed her.
Today, Cordia Harrington is CEO of The Bun Company, a conglomerate supplying buns and English muffins worldwide to McDonald’s and other popular food distributors. In corporate circles Cordia Harrington is affectionately known as The Bun Lady. She owns three high volume bakeries producing 1,000 buns a minute for corporate giants like McDonalds and Pepperidge Farms. Cordia Harrington also started a trucking company, Bun Lady Trucking, to make sure that her buns get to market on time.
President George W. Bush visited The Bun Company in 2007 and took a tour hosted by CEO Cordia Harrington. The President congratulated Cordia Harrington’s success. Cordia Harrington has also been named among Fast Company’s “Top 25 Woman Business Builders”. Cordia Harrington was also recently named to the Federal Reserve Bank’s Nashville Board. She is a member of the Minnie Pearl Cancer Foundation Board and supports over 18 Ronald McDonald Houses in the USA as well as the Bethel Orphanage in China. This is quite an impressive run from her humble beginnings in a deflated Arkansas real estate market.
Cordia Harrington is an entrepreneur motivated by love and perseverance. She is a businesswoman who does not accept "No" for an answer. She is a committed and loving mother. Her vision of making time for her family has been the guiding principle of all of Cordia Harrington's success. Cordia Harrington is a self-made woman who proves the virtues of hard work, imagination and perseverance. She is a true American success story.