I was very sad to recently learn that the greatest entrepreneur I’ve ever known had passed away.
Curt Kennington believed in me; I know that because he told me. When he told me, it was the one message I needed to hear most. Recently married to my high school / college sweetheart, I was just 24 and flat broke. My first business, which was started while still attending college, had just died with a whimper. I found myself with nothing but a $7000 bank note. At that time in my life, $7000 was a mountain of money. Worse than that, all of the principal was due in just a few days. Yet, just when things seemed bleakest, the most faithful, yet serendipitous moment in my business life occurred – I met Curt.
Indeed, that spirit in me already had a vision for my next new venture.
It was the fall of 1989, with no money and a recently departed startup business, yet my entrepreneurial spirit, which some would call an affliction, was not dead. Indeed, that spirit in me already had a vision for my next new venture: a new software business that would help retailers automate by utilizing the power of the microprocessor (PC), along with my recently developed POS and inventory software. It’s easy to forget how far the PC has come since 1989. At that time, PCs were underpowered, and underutilized, within the retail store. Just connecting / networking multiple PCs was rare, unreliable, expensive and way too complicated.
As I mentioned, Curt and I met serendipitously. It happened when I was literally cold calling, trying to drum up business for my newly developed retail software applications. Using the phone book, I searched for a store named Independence Pharmacy, located on Independence Boulevard in Charlotte. While thumbing through the “I”s, I stumbled across the name Independent Cash Register Dealers Association (ICRDA), which now is called RSPA (Retail Solutions Provider Association).
At that moment it occurred to me that connecting a PC to a Cash Register might be a more reliable and less expensive way to bring PC automation into retail stores. I thought, “what the heck,” and called the number to find out more about what was known then as an ECR (Electronic Cash Register).
I thought, “what the heck,” and called the number to find out more about what was known then as an ECR.
The number rang directly to Curt’s secretary and when I told her why I was calling, she patched me directly through to him. It turns out that Curt was the owner of Cash Register Systems of Charlotte and was also the Secretary of ICRDA. At that time, all calls to the association went directly to Curt’s business. RSPA is still located in Charlotte to this day, but it’s now managed by paid staff. Curt listened to my idea of connecting a PC to cash registers. He informed me that this was not a new concept, but that there was still room for good solution providers, he suggested that we meet.
To make a very long story short, when Curt and I met that following day, I told him about my failed recent venture, my pending due bank debt, and about my new retail software company. We both formed an instant understanding of one another, as kindred entrepreneurs; something that only a fellow entrepreneur can understand, it’s not the same as friendship. I offered him 50% of my new company if he would provide me with guidance, contacts, and perhaps even introduce me to some retailers. I also asked him for a $7000 loan, which he granted me, to pay back my pending debts. He accepted my business offer, and oddly enough, no money was ever directly invested in our company, which I had already decided to call ECR Software Corporation or (ECRS).
Between his wisdom and my ambition, we built ECRS from the ground up, completely self-funded, as it remains to this day.
It was at that moment when my real business education started.
So here I was, a 24-year-old recently failed entrepreneur sitting across from a 61-year-old accomplished entrepreneur, who I just met two hours earlier and who was now my new business partner. At the end of the meeting, Curt stood up and shook my hand so hard I felt it would break. He hands me a $7000 check, looks me straight in the eye and said, “I’m investing in you because I believe in you.” It was at that moment when my real business education started.
Over the next several years I learned a good deal more from this great man. The most important of his lessons came by watching him run his own business. He demonstrated that building a rewarding business career could only come from integrity. He taught me the importance of only making commitments that I was willing and capable of meeting. He was also the the toughest negotiator I’ve ever known; he drew a hard bargain, yet always followed through on his half of the deal, no matter what. More importantly, he demonstrated to me that a business leader is always responsible to his or her customers and employees, a responsibility he took very seriously.
I learned how to be a business executive, not by what Curt said, but by what he did, each and everyday.
Many years later, after ECRS started to grow by leaps and bounds, he did one more kind favor for that kid in his office. Curt sold all of his share back to me, simply because I asked. Though he was known as the toughest of negotiators, he took my first offer with a smile. There’s no doubt that he made a good return on that $7000 check, something I’m very proud of. However, Curt didn’t need the money nor did he have to sell those shares back to me. Most of all, no matter how much I paid him, I would never be able to repay him for believing in me, at the very moment when I doubted myself most. And while it’s true that I founded ECRS, it was Curt Kennington who founded me.
Thank you, Curt, for teaching me the true art of business. Thank you for leaving me, and so many others, much better than how you found us. Godspeed.
Curtis Harold Kennington (1928 – 2016)
Curtis Harold Kennington died peacefully at his home surrounded by his loved ones on Thursday, April 14th, 2016, in Matthews, NC at the age of 88 after a courageous battle with cancer.
Curt was born on February 7, 1928 in Lancaster, SC to Charlie Harry and Corrie Howell Kennington. He graduated from Charlotte’s Tech High School in 1947 and attended King’s College. Curt married his high school sweetheart and love of his life, Loretta, “Lorry” in 1950. The couple welcomed 3 daughters into their home and Mr. Kennington set about teaching them his love of sports and all things competitive as he was quite an athlete in his youth, playing baseball, basketball and football in high school. His children will always remember him as a kind, patient, supportive, fair and loving father in all things and will greatly miss that twinkle in his eyes that meant he was up to mischief!
Curt began working for Burroughs Corporation after graduating high school. He also served in the US Air Force during the Korean War before returning to Charlotte to continue his career in business machines. He founded Cash Register Systems in 1960 and successfully ran the company until his retirement in 1999. He was a member of Independent Cash Register Dealers Association and held office in the association for more than 30 years. He was the only 2 term president to ever serve ICRDA. As Secretary-Treasurer of the association he coordinated national and international conventions for 25 years. Mr. Kennington also served as president of the East Mecklenburg Men’s Optimist Club as well as serving many other local, state and national organizations.
Mr. Kennington had a love of real estate development. He was instrumental in the development of businesses in Charlotte, townhomes in Matthews, Morganton, and in a labor of love with business partners Billy Packer and Dr. Reed Gaskin, Olde Beau Golf and Country Club in Roaring Gap, NC.
Curt was a member of Belmont Park United Methodist Church and a charter member of University City UMC as well as an active member of Matthew’s United Methodist Church until recently.
Curt and Loretta had a great love for travelling throughout the world, visiting Asia many times as well as Europe, Northern Africa, Australia, South and Central America. They enjoyed cruising and made many lifelong friends through their journeys. And though they were world travelers, he was never more at peace than when he was at the beach with family and friends enjoying puzzles and board games. He enjoyed collecting coins and antique cash registers, playing ping pong and many games of “Horse.” He loved playing with the grandkids by speaking “duck-talk” and counting ribs. Laugh and he had to start over!
Mr. Kennington is survived by his beloved wife of 66 years, Loretta Freeman Kennington; children, Sherri (Bob) Fagan, Kathy (Russell) Davis and Kristi (Brian) Hall all of the greater Charlotte area. Mr. Kennington is also survived by his 7 grandchildren, Lindsay (Ryan) Schalles, Erin (Will) Hoffarth, Brianne, Hayley, and Logan Davis, and Nicholas and Nathan Hall as well has one great-granddaughter, his namesake, Kennington Claire Schalles. He is preceded in death by his parents and his six dear siblings.