In truth, the problems with Denny's went far deeper than its contemptuous treatment of minority customers. It was a company that had recently gone through a hostile takeover and was reeling from its crushing debt. Into that morass stepped Jim Adamson, who at the time was heading Burger King. He also had experience turning around a struggling drugstore chain. Equally crucial was his experience as a military kid--he lived around the world and learned to appreciate and get along with people of different cultures. As a basketball player in Washington, D.C., and Hawaii, he'd often been the only white kid on the playground. So, although no white person can really know what it's like to be black in America, he at least knew what it felt like to be different.
All those experiences--business and personal--came into play as he took over at Denny's in 1995. Today the restaurant chain is not only profitable, for two years running it has been named by Fortune magazine as one of the 10 best companies for minorities to work for. Almost a fifth of its supplies are provided by minority contractors, and more than a third of its franchised restaurants are owned by people of color. The Denny's Story is a fascinating read, both for its recounting of financial tactics and the bigger lessons it holds for racially sensitive business practices. --Lou Schuler