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Cornell McBride, Sr.

Cornell McBride, Sr., a pioneer in the black hair care industry, was born on August 14, 1943 in Savannah, Georgia. He is founder, president and CEO of McBride Research Laboratories, Inc. (MRL), which manufactures and distributes hair care products to international markets. McBride was raised in the poor community surrounding a sugar refinery in Savannah where his father worked. After graduating from high school in 1961, he migrated north and worked briefly for a pharmaceutical company. McBride married his high school sweetheart and joined the U.S. Air Force in 1962 and served until 1967. That same year McBride, his wife Harriet and their baby daughter moved back to Georgia. He attended Fort Valley University for three years then transferred to Mercer University in Macon where he earned a B.S. degree from the School of Pharmacy in 1973.

While at Mercer, he and his fellow classmate Therman McKenzie established M&M Products Company, developing a formula that eventually became Sta-Sof-Fro, the first product to actually soften natural black hair. By the mid-1980s, M&M Products had four national brands: Sta-Sof-Fro, Sof-N-Free, Moxie and Curly Perm. The company’s annual revenues exceeded $40 million making it one of the top Black hair care companies in the world. In 1989, after a series of business troubles, McBride and his partner sold M&M Products to Johnson Products.

McBride bounced back from financial decline in 1990 when he established McBride Research Laboratories, headquartered in Decatur, Georgia. McBride has used his talents as a registered pharmacist to develop lines of innovative products called Wave by Design and Design Essentials. His distribution network includes the utilization of product distributors as independent entrepreneurs to take the products directly to beauty salons in the United States, the Caribbean and the United Kingdom

McBride also masterminded the 24-hour beauty salon for athletes during the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta. He was a founder of the American Health and Beauty Aids Institute (AHBAI) in 1982 and served as chairman of the organization from 1984 to 1986. He is a member of the Atlanta Business League, International Business Club, the National Association of Chain Drug Stores, and the Society of Cosmetic Chemists. McBride recently authored A Cut Above: How Cornell McBride Made Millions in the Hair Care Biz. The book offers readers a road map for building wealth and stresses the importance of determination, family values, perseverance, goal setting and “giving back” as key components of one’s life.

McBride and his family live in Decatur, Georgia

Accession Number

A2004.034

Sex

Male

Interview Date

3/24/2004

Last Name

McBride

Maker Category
Marital Status

Married

Organizations
Schools

Woodville-Tompkins Technical & Career Institute

Fort Valley State University

Mercer University

First Name

Cornell

Birth City, State, Country

Savannah

HM ID

MCB02

Favorite Season

Summer

Sponsor

Sophisticate's Black Hair

State

Georgia

Favorite Vacation Destination

Caribbean

Favorite Quote

If there's a will, there's a way.

Bio Photo
Speakers Bureau Region State

Georgia

Birth Date

8/14/1943

Birth Place Term
Speakers Bureau Region City

Atlanta

Country

United States

Favorite Food

Seafood

Short Description

Corporate chief executive and personal care chief executive Cornell McBride, Sr. (1943 - ) started his own hair care product company and co-established M&M Products Company, developing a formula that eventually became Sta-Sof-Fro, the first product to actually soften natural black hair. He later founded McBride Research Laboratories, Inc.

Employment

United States Air Force

M&M Products Company

McBride Research Laboratories

Main Sponsor
Favorite Color

Blue

Timing Pairs
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DAStories

Tape: 1 Story: 1 - Slating of Cornell McBride, Sr.'s interview

Tape: 1 Story: 2 - Cornell McBride, Sr. lists his favorites

Tape: 1 Story: 3 - Cornell McBride, Sr. describes his maternal family history

Tape: 1 Story: 4 - Cornell McBride, Sr. describes his paternal family history

Tape: 1 Story: 5 - Cornell McBride, Sr. talks about growing up in a mill town in Savannah, Georgia

Tape: 1 Story: 6 - Cornell McBride, Sr. recalls his parents' jobs

Tape: 1 Story: 7 - Cornell McBride, Sr. talks about his seven siblings

Tape: 1 Story: 8 - Cornell McBride, Sr. talks about playing sports and creating games with his playmates

Tape: 1 Story: 9 - Cornell McBride, Sr. talks about racial tensions between children in his neighborhood

Tape: 1 Story: 10 - Cornell McBride, Sr. describes his father's transformation from a family man into an alcoholic

Tape: 1 Story: 11 - Cornell McBride, Sr. describes how his father lost his job after a confrontation with the police

Tape: 2 Story: 1 - Cornell McBride, Sr. talks about the impact of his father's job loss on his family

Tape: 2 Story: 2 - Cornell McBride, Sr. recalls his elementary school years

Tape: 2 Story: 3 - Cornell McBride, Sr. describes why he decided to focus on his studies after a rebellious phase

Tape: 2 Story: 4 - Cornell McBride, Sr. recalls his high school teachers

Tape: 2 Story: 5 - Cornell McBride, Sr. describes his early determination to become an entrepreneur

Tape: 2 Story: 6 - Cornell McBride, Sr. remembers playing baseball and football in high school

Tape: 2 Story: 7 - Cornell McBride, Sr. recalls his admiration for his entrepreneurial uncle

Tape: 2 Story: 8 - Cornell McBride, Sr. describes his exposure to the Christian church

Tape: 2 Story: 9 - Cornell McBride, Sr. recalls leaving Savannah, Georgia for New York City, New York after graduating from high school

Tape: 2 Story: 10 - Cornell McBride, Sr. describes his first year in New York City, New York

Tape: 3 Story: 1 - Cornell McBride, Sr. describes working in a pharmaceutical company, pt.1

Tape: 3 Story: 2 - Cornell McBride, Sr. describes working in a pharmaceutical company, pt.2

Tape: 3 Story: 3 - Cornell McBride, Sr. talks about joining the U.S. Air Force and encouraging his siblings to take their education seriously

Tape: 3 Story: 4 - Cornell McBride, Sr. talks about serving in the U.S. Air Force as a physical training instructor at Plattsburgh Air Force Base

Tape: 3 Story: 5 - Cornell McBride, Sr. describes the challenges of his early years of marriage

Tape: 3 Story: 6 - Cornell McBride, Sr. recalls his experience with housing discrimination in New York

Tape: 3 Story: 7 - Cornell McBride, Sr. talks about his military service in the U.S. Air Force

Tape: 3 Story: 8 - Cornell McBride, Sr. describes his decision to attend Fort Valley State College in Fort Valley, Georgia

Tape: 3 Story: 9 - Cornell McBride, Sr. describes supporting his family while he was enrolled at Fort Valley State College in Fort Valley, Georgia

Tape: 4 Story: 1 - Cornell McBride, Sr. describes his decision to attend pharmacy school at Mercer University

Tape: 4 Story: 2 - Cornell McBride, Sr. recalls the development of Sta-Sof-Fro and the founding of M&M Products Company

Tape: 4 Story: 3 - Cornell McBride, Sr. talks about early mentors and learning to market Sta-Sof-Fro

Tape: 4 Story: 4 - Cornell McBride, Sr. describes the rapid growth of M&M Products Company

Tape: 4 Story: 5 - Cornell McBride, Sr. talks about the growth and challenges of M&M Products Company

Tape: 4 Story: 6 - Cornell McBride, Sr. talks about M&M Products Company's expansion into Africa

Tape: 4 Story: 7 - Cornell McBride, Sr. talks about the boycott of M&M Products Company in South Africa

Tape: 5 Story: 1 - Cornell McBride, Sr. talks about M&M Products Company at its peak

Tape: 5 Story: 2 - Cornell McBride, Sr. remembers the challenges of navigating M&M Products Company's financial woes

Tape: 5 Story: 3 - Cornell McBride, Sr. talks about selling M&M Products Company to Johnson Products Company in 1990

Tape: 5 Story: 4 - Cornell McBride, Sr. talks about the launch of Design Essentials and Wave By Design in 1991

Tape: 5 Story: 5 - Cornell McBride, Sr. talks about the launch of Design Essentials and its distribution system

Tape: 5 Story: 6 - Cornell McBride, Sr. describes his business model, pt.1

Tape: 5 Story: 7 - Cornell McBride, Sr. describes his business model, pt.2

Tape: 5 Story: 8 - Cornell McBride, Sr. talks about working with family members

Tape: 5 Story: 9 - Cornell McBride, Sr. describes fulfilling his dream of building his mother a house

Tape: 5 Story: 10 - Cornell McBride, Sr. talks about his desire to help others succeed

Tape: 6 Story: 1 - Cornell McBride, Sr. describes his hopes and concerns for the African American community

Tape: 6 Story: 2 - Cornell McBride, Sr. talks about how he would like to be remembered

Tape: 6 Story: 3 - Cornell McBride, Sr. describes the importance of knowing history

Tape: 6 Story: 4 - Cornell McBride, Sr. reflects upon his legacy

Tape: 6 Story: 5 - Cornell McBride, Sr. narrates his photographs

DASession

1$1

DATape

1$4

DAStory

9$2

DATitle
Cornell McBride, Sr. talks about racial tensions between children in his neighborhood
Cornell McBride, Sr. recalls the development of Sta-Sof-Fro and the founding of M&M Products Company
Transcript
Now, during the time that you were growing up in the late 40s [1940s], 50s [1950s], time of the Jim Crow South segregation, you mentioned that on the one side of the sugar refinery community were blacks, on the other side of the track were whites. Were there ever any altercations--$$Oh, yeah.$$-- any tensions?$$Oh, yeah.$$What kinds of things do you recall --$$(laughter).$$--about that period?$$You know, we, you know, as we, as we were growing up we knew of kids on other sides of the track that was about our age, you know. And, you know, occasionally there would be something that would happen. We also occasionally got together and actually played ball, you know. But in terms of the altercations, I could remember, and I'm not sure, what, what, what caused it, but I remember we used to go for these walks during the summer and there was a long drive coming down into the sugar refinery, I guess, it was maybe a quarter of a mile long. And out to the highway was, you know, Highway 17 and for whatever reason as kids, we used to together as a group and walk out to Highway 17. That was something we did, just a walk, you know. And you remember--by that time, I guess, the little white kids were driving, because we were all about thirteen, fourteen, fourteen; somewhere around there. And I could remember them driving their cars and then throwing nails out of the cars on us. And of course, you know, we would yell obscenities and stuff like that. They would yell some back, for no reason. But for me, it was, it was, it was an act that was unforgivable, you know. And I could remember getting with my brother, Garfield--and these same kids used to come into the neighborhoods to deliver the paper, and I knew that. So, you know, and there was this train track between us, and so--and it would come in the afternoon and that train would be switching back and forth, and there was a fence and then you had the track. And so one day, we caught them in--right there where that train track was where they couldn't go forward, and they couldn't come back to us and they were on their little motor bike and we had a bucket of rocks. And so we just tried--we pelted them with the rocks, you know, and of course we were trying to, you know, knock their heads off, so to speak. But I think of all of the kids in my neighborhood, I think my brother and I was the only one that took some action against them, and that didn't turn out to be good because as a result of that, you know, you live in company housing. So the word got back that my father [Edward McBride], they called him chick (ph.), chick children who had attacked these white boys. Now, they don't know why we attacked these white boys, but we attacked these white boys, and we were told that because we attacked these white boys, we did this terrible thing that we had to be moved. So they threw us out. They wanted to throw us out of the quarters, and someone, and I don't remember who, before it was time for us to move, which was a terrible thing, reversed it. Someone in the hierarchy of the sugar refinery; some official, somehow they got to the bottom of it and realized what happened. They threw the nails on us first, and we were getting them back. And so I went from what was a sad period to a very happy period, because we were given a reprieve. But, of course, my father warned me that we shouldn't do things like that. But I think that coming up as a kid, you know, even though it was segregated south, I didn't have fear of what was going to happen to me. My, my father kind of taught us that you didn't pick at anyone, but if anyone messed with you, you had a right to do something back to them. And that's the way he lived his life, you know, and so we were--we were just fulfilling that, you know. Because we didn't start the fight, but it wasn't something that we could run away from because it happened to be white kids, you see. So I didn't have that fear growing up, and I think a lot of it comes from my father, because he didn't have that fear, you know, he wasn't afraid of anyone. He wasn't even, he wasn't the person that was out there leading the charges as far as integration was concerned, but certainly he didn't back away from any fights, you know.$While you were still at Fort Valley [State College, now Fort Valley State University, Fort Valley, Georgia], you met someone who would become important in your life and career; could you tell me about that?$$Yeah, I, I met--actually, I met Therman McKenzie, and another guy by the name of Johnnie Early (ph.). We were all in agriculture together, you know. Actually, Johnnie was in school to be a biologist, or something, and Thurman was gonna be an agronomist, and I was gonna be animal science, but we were taking classes together. And so when they came to--Mercer [University, Atlanta, Georgia] came to Fort Valley to, to talk about pharmacy, we all went to that lecture, and I concluded I was gonna go to pharmacy school and they did too. And so after our junior year, you know, I came on up to Atlanta to go to school, only to find out that they didn't come, you know. And so September, I, I entered pharmacy school in September of 1970, and they stayed down in Fort Valley. Well, I went back down to Fort Valley with one of the professors from Mercer and recruited them to come up to Mercer, and they came in January of 1971. And so then you had the three of us, Therman McKenzie, who I met when we were in agriculture; John Early, and myself. So we all finished Mercer School of Pharmacy in the top 10, by the way, at Mercer. And then we were going to start this company called M&M Products--MEM Products; McBride, Early, McKenzie, or whatever. And Johnnie decided along the way that he wanted to go to graduate school, so he decided to go and get his Ph.D. in pharmacology at Purdue [University, West Lafayette, Indiana], and so he got accepted. He went off to Purdue, and Thurman and myself started M&M Products Company.$$And what year is this?$$That was 1973. And, of course, the way that happened was Therman actually had the idea. He was making--using this product for his afro, where he had simply mixed glycerin and water together, and it was--had some negatives because it would beat up on your hair and stuff. And when he introduced it to me, and I used it, I saw this negative; I wanted to solve this negative. So I went to one of my instructors and started talking to him about what I needed to do, and he advised me to use a surfactant, and do some other things. And so I like tinkering, so I started messing around with the formulation and actually made it better. So we were able to make this thing better, that--and we started giving it away in the hospital; by then, we were all working at Grady Hospital. And as a result of giving it away, people encouraged us to put it on the market. And we had people coming back-and-forth who wanted, you know, more samples. And my rationale at the time or reasoning was if you give someone something that they don't like, they may take it, but they won't come back and ask you again; if you give someone something that they really like, they're gonna come back and ask you for some more, and that's what happened. And so that was like our market research, you know. And because people were coming back, and they weren't just asking, they were insistent upon getting some more, and we would make it up because we were using the ingredients from the hospital. You know, we weren't paying for any ingr--any of the ingredients, you know. So we saw that as, as an opportunity to put this product on the market. Well, Therman, at the time, had concluded or decided that he was gonna go to dental school. I had been married for eleven years by then, five years of military service, six years of college, and I was ready to go to work. And so I convinced Therman that he and I should go into business together, and that, you know, he shouldn't go to dental school. So he forego--he decided not to go to dental school, and, and went into business with me and we created M&M Products Company. Of course, like I said, Sta-Sof-Fro was the, was the first product. And we had to learn all about what do you do to put this product on the market? We, we knew nothing about putting the product on the market. And, you know, there was some initial trials and tribulations, you know, to, to go with that, but once we got focused on the fact that people liked this stuff, and we had something that was unique, you know, then we just wanted to get it out there and put it in people's hands.