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Autozone Founder Pitt Hyde Puts Memphis Entrepreneurs & Startups In The Zone

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Autozone founder Pitt Hyde speaks to entrepreneurs and startups at New Memphis Institute Luncheon (photo: nibletz.com)

One of the keys to success of any startup community is the participation of the communities entrepreneurial patriarchs. Most cities across the country have at least one, if not a handful of companies that laid roots in their town.

Take St. Louis for instance. Anheuser-Busch, the billion dollar beer company that eventually sold to In-Bev, was founded in St. Louis. Through the years the Busch family was very active in the entrepreneurial community, and that activity has transcended through generations. Now Busch off spring like Rick Holton Jr are fueling the current startup and entrepreneurial growth, even at a grass roots level with things like Arch Angels, Arch Grants, VentureSTL and Cultivation Capital.

Memphis Tennessee was the founding home for major corporations like FedEx and Holiday Inn. Although their first store was just down the road in Forrest City Arkansas, AutoZone’s next three stores and their corporate headquarters were (and still are) in Memphis Tennessee.

Joseph R. “Pitt” Hyde III, started AutoZone in 1979 as part of the family business Malone & Hyde.  At a luncheon today in Memphis Hyde recounted the early days of AutoZone and it’s first store opening in Forrest City Arkansas, opening the next three in Memphis a few weeks later. But he knew when he began the auto parts giant that he needed to be in it and committed to it for the long haul.

Hyde was fortunate to grow up in a family full of entrepreneurs. After earning his degree in economics from the University of North Carolina, Hyde went on to join the family’s wholesale food company, Malone and Hyde.  Hyde was the first president of Super D Drugs in 1968 and then went on to be elected President at Malone & Hyde where in 1972 he was elected chairman.  For the next 10 years Hyde was the youngest CEO of a company on the New York Stock Exchange. He was also the sitting chairman of Malone and Hyde when it was the first public company ever acquired by KKR, the company that eventually bought out RJR Nabisco.

Today wasn’t for the history buffs though. Hyde was the keynote speaker and the panel moderator for the New Memphis Institute’s “Celebrate What’s Right” “Memphis’ Net Goolden Age of Entrepreneurship Luncheon”.

Although some may consider Hyde an old school, passionate, cut throat CEO, he has the full range of experience and proven results as an entrepreneur.

Hyde talked about one of his company’s GTX. The medical device company was trying to raise money early on. Hyde made the trek up the east coast and eventually to the west coast, the valley and Paolo Alto. He found that most venture firms were willing to invest, if he would relocate the company to wherever they were based. Needless to say Hyde was not having that. That’s why today he sits as Chairman of Memphis BioWorks.

Hyde has undoubtedly had major entrepreneurial success in his lifetime. At a time in his life when some CEO’s choose to retire, Hyde still runs a variety of companies and sits on several boards. But it’s entrepreneurship and startups that Hyde is particularly passionate about.

At one point in his talk Hyde mentioned that many cities “economic development committees” chose to court existing companies to open branches, locations or warehouses in their cities. Some EDC’s even try to lure data centers and car plants. Hyde said that these companies won’t be as vested in the communities as companies that emerge from the city.

The audience at the New Memphis Institute Luncheon was a mix of startup/entrepreneurial community stake holders along with several tables of students in entrepreneurship from the FedEx Institute of Technology and entrepreneurial programs on the campus of the University of Memphis.

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