Roland Parrish, the former Hammond High School and Purdue University track and field star, hasn’t let the nearly 1,300 miles from his Dallas home stop him from contributing to enhance the quality of life where he grew up in Indiana.
Parrish, a 61-year-old Hammond native, moved to Texas after receiving bachelor and master degrees from Purdue University West Lafayette. Despite being tied to the Dallas area through his ownership of 25 local area McDonalds, Parrish keeps close contact with both Hammond and Purdue.
“I love my hometown,” says the president, CEO and owner of 24 Parrish McDonald’s Restaurants Ltd. in north Dallas “I love the town and the neighborhood.”
Parrish graduated from Hammond High School in 1971, the year he was the state champion in the 880-yard dash and a member of the National Honor Society. He was MVP of the school’s track and field team in 1973 and 1974 and was named to the Hammond, Indiana Sports Hall of Fame in 1993.
His high school accomplishments earned him a scholarship to Purdue University West Layette, where he made the Dean’s List seven of his eight semesters and received a Bachelor of Science in Industrial Management degree from the university in 1978.
He has displayed his affection for his alma mater in various ways, most recently by donating $2 million Purdue’s Library Renovation Project. To honor his donation the former Management and Economics Library reopened in April 2012 as the Roland G. Parrish Library of Management and Economics.
Parrish has also received Krannert’s Business Leadership Award, which is the highest honor given by the business school and a recipient of the Purdue’s Pinnacle Award, the highest honor given to an alumni.
The former All-American high school athlete credits his journey from local Hammond boy to restaurant industry mogul to the hard work, dedication, financial discipline learned from his late father, Rev. John H. Parrish as well as his own tenacity.
“My dad worked in the steel mills (U.S. Steel Gary Works) for 30 years,” Parrish says. “The thing I remember about his work ethic is after a got an award for perfect attendance, he replied that he worked 10 years and he didn’t miss a day.
“He was a great role model, and all the men in the church I grew up in all worked in the mills and to church on weekends,” Parrish says. “I had good strong men as role models.”
After receiving his undergraduate degree from Purdue, Parrish did an internship with Exxon Corp., and then returned to the university to earn an MBA, while teaching finance and probability and statistics to fund his education.
“After getting my MBA, I looked at my options and most were in the South,” Parrish says. “Exxon’s U.S. headquarters are in Houston and I ended up there in 1984. I was on the general management tract and did stints in various departments: engineering, financial capital budgeting, supply, distribution, and direct retail and innovation.”
He stayed with the company for 13 years, surviving three downsizing that included massive layoffs during his tenure.
“I went through two and was promoted,” Parrish says. “In the third (in 1988) I stayed at a lateral position and that’s when I decided I needed become an independent business person. I always had a dream to become independent CPA one day, to have a small accounting practice.”
But fate intervened. Parrish walked into a fellow Exxon employee’s office and saw an 8-page application on his desk for McDonald’s management training program. He called the fast-food chain’s corporate office for an application the same day and immediately filled it out.
“Two weeks later I got a rejection letter,” Parrish says. “It said they had a lot of mid-managers. They weren’t impressed with my degrees from Purdue. They didn’t feel I was a good fit. I was devastated. I thought I was a winner and McDonald’s would love me and when that didn’t happen I couldn’t believe it. But I wouldn’t quit.”
He began calling McDonald’s corporate office three times a week in an attempt to reach Ruth Anderson, its licensing manager. It took six weeks before she came to the phone.
She kept rejecting his credentials until he began telling her about his customer service work.
“I talked about customer service and how I had worked in service stations in Memphis, and a small town in Arkansas, then to Jackson, Mississippi to run 15 service stations,” Parrish says. “Then I started to tell her about how during the oil embargo — a lot of customer complaints at that time – wiping windshields, uniforms, and I could tell she was listening. And I talked about what I had learned.”
Through that phone discussion Parrish finally got a “green light” but it was just for an interview to get into McDonald’s franchisee training program.
He aced that interview, but once he was accepted into the program, he worked 50 hours a week on his Exxon job, commuted 10 hours a week to train at the McDonald unpaid position for an additional 25 hours a week.
“I did that for two years,” Parrish says. “I graduated from Hamburger University with honors and made the Dean’s List. They were hard on me, which I appreciated. I typically take the harder path, and I think that made me a better person.”
Parrish purchased his first McDonalds with $180,000 he had saved while working at Exxon. He currently owns 24 McDonald’s Restaurants in North Texas with sales of more than $60 million annually.
“My basic philosophy is to run lean and mean, keep overhead down and try to build an organization of talented people: identify them, train them, develop them, promote them and then reward them financially,” Parrish says. “Because I have a strong financial background with financial discipline to save money I’ve been able to continue to buy locations from the company.”
His business has been recognized by “Black Enterprise Magazine’s BE 100,” as one of the Top Black-Owned Businesses in the nation based on sales volume. And Parrish currently is serving his third term as chairman and chief operating officer of the National Black McDonald’s Operator’s Association.
He and his wife, Jewel, live in DeSoto, Texas. They have three children: Jade, who graduated from Purdue in 2012; Roland, who works for Sports 120 in Chicago, and his son, Wesley, who graduated from the Art Institute of Chicago and works for a local advertising firm.
Parrish, who has a condo in Chicago’s Loop, is a frequent visitor to the Region and his family includes Maurice Parrish, a Hammond minister and Gary Parrish, a retired Gary police officer. He annually funds a scholarship for high school seniors in the name of Maurice Parrish and his wife, Joan, and contributes to the Hammond Foundation.