by Brittany Fitzpatrick
Special to The New Tri-State Defender
Jim Byrd opened his first McDonald's in Memphis in 1989. Over 20 years later, he and his brother, Darrell Byrd, have built a successful business with a combined eight McDonald's restaurants.
"My dad always taught us that in anything we do we have to be twice as good at it. That's a philosophy we carry with us...and it's helped us in this business," said Darrell Byrd.
The Byrd brothers exuded the posture of successful businessmen as they sat in the back of one of Jim's McDonald's restaurants reflecting on more than two decades of hard work and overcoming obstacles.
But ask what he wants his legacy to be, and Jim Byrd the businessman becomes Jim Byrd, the man – full of compassion and a soft spot for helping kids.
"I want people to know that I tried to do some good while I was here," he said.
In 1990, Jim was "the new, young McDonald's franchisee" looking to make his mark on the community. When he was asked to oversee the construction of the Ronald McDonald House® of Memphis – a place where kids being treated for cancer and other serious illnesses at St. Jude Children's Research Hospital would be able to stay with their families free of charge – he quickly accepted.
"I've been hooked ever since," he said.
Today, Jim serves on the Board of the Ronald McDonald House of Memphis. He chairs the Building & Maintenance Committee and recently led the organization's $1.3 million renovation. Darrell also supports the organization as a McDonald's operator.
"Jim thinks big and he loves a challenge. What's most inspiring to me and the Ronald McDonald House staff is how engaged he is in the mission. He's right in the trenches with us. He leads by example," said Caron Byrd, executive director of Ronald McDonald House of Memphis.
"From the day Ronald McDonald House opened to this day, no matter what happens, there's always another blessing that exceeds the one we just had. It's been fun to watch that," said Jim.
"When you look at the families that are there from all walks of life – races, creeds, colors – you see that everybody joins together, because their children have cancer and they have that common cause," he added. "All of the normal '-isms' of life disappear and people join together to help each other."
According to Darrell Byrd, helping an organization that supports families in their greatest time of need is a natural fit for the brothers as their business is also centered on family.
Jim's three daughters – Shayla, Sherie and Sheryl – all worked for their dad during high school. Today, Darrell's daughters – Briana, Chandiss and Ceosha – are behind the counter continuing the tradition.
Darrell says that he and his brother strive to instill the values they gained from their father in all of their employees.
"We teach them the importance of customer service, we teach them respect and we teach them to overcome obstacles. We give them a sense that they have to believe in themselves and that they can make anything come true with hard work and dedication. If you can do that, then you can be successful," Darrell said.
"I've had people who worked for me who are now bringing their kids in to work for me, because they want them to get the same lessons they had coming up," Jim added.
One of those employees is former McDonald's Restaurant Manager Rodney Winton, Jim's first employee, whose daughter now works for Jim.
"I didn't know when I was hired by him at the age of 16, that I would spend the next 17 years of my life working for him. I still remember the day that he told me that he saw potential in me. From that day forward, he started grooming me into a restaurant manager," said Winton.
"I sent my daughter to work for Jim because the things that I learned from McDonald's helped prepare me for life. I'm hoping that my daughter will have the same learning experience that I had,"
It's humbling, said Jim, to know "you're making a difference in the community through the young people and helping their families grow."
Whether through their business or their involvement with Ronald McDonald House of Memphis, Jim and Darrell are working to use their success to impact as many families as possible.
" When you watch people come from everywhere and they've just gotten the news that their child has cancer, it's rewarding to know that we can make them feel comfortable and safe and take care of their day-to-day needs," said Jim.
"As long as the Lord blesses me, I'll be a part of Ronald McDonald House and will support it."