BY Abu Mubarik, 10:55am June 17, 2024,

Remembering Detroit’s first Black McDonald’s franchise owner Dr. William Pickard who also built a $500M company


Dr. William Pickard hailed from Detroit and became one of America’s most successful Black entrepreneurs. Pickard, 83, who passed away June 12 at his West Palm Beach, Florida home, made his mark in 1971, becoming one of the first Black franchise owners of a McDonald’s restaurant in Detroit.

Despite being known for his McDonald’s business, his fortune is mainly from the automotive industry. In 1989, he founded an automotive manufacturing company and grew it into Global Automotive Alliance (GAA), a conglomerate of logistics and manufacturing companies. He became the chairman of the $500 million logistics and manufacturing company and an investor in MGM Grand Detroit Casino.

As per his bio on GAA’s website, Pickard generated more than $5 billion in sales serving clients in the U.S. and Canada, including Ford, General Motors, Stellantis (formerly Chrysler), Starbucks, Home Depot, the U.S. Marine Corp and the city of Detroit. As a man with several businesses, he was also the CEO of Bearwood Management Co. and co-owner of five African-American newspapers including The Michigan Chronicle.

Pickard entered the automotive world in the 1950s when his family moved from Florida to Flint, Michigan, a city that was built on the car industry. His parents worked on the assembly line at General Motors but not being from Flint and being Black, Pickard was bullied a lot in school and this affected his grades. Thanks to his English teacher who became his mentor, he started doing well in academics and went on earn an associate’s degree at Flint Mott College in 1962 and a bachelor’s degree at Western Michigan University in 1964. Pickard further received a master’s degree in social work at the University of Michigan, inspiring him to become a social worker.

His first job was in social work at the Urban League in Cleveland where he was the director of education before joining the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People as executive director in 1967. Two years later, Pickard earned a PhD in psychology at Ohio State University in Columbus and worked in many professorial positions at various institutions in southeastern Michigan and northern Ohio while starting entrepreneurship. Following a meeting with a McDonald’s corporate executive, Pickard would come to own several McDonald’s franchises.

“I had an opportunity to earn my Ph.D. I thought I would get a Ph.D., become a professor and get a barbecue joint on the side. I knew I wouldn’t be poor all my life,” he told RollingOut. “My grandfather believed in two-armed living.”

He continued, “In other words, my uncles were school teachers. One was a wood shop teacher who on the side did cabinet making and walls. He had a side hustle. I thought I’d be a professor and have me a little business on the side. During that time, God stepped in and a McDonald’s became available to me. I was among the top 10 Blacks in America to have a McDonald’s franchise. That’s God. That’s Grace, that’s all it is.”

While doing his McDonald’s business, Pickard was also investing in car dealerships but was not being successful with it until he moved from dealerships to the automotive supply industry after a lunch with Ford Motor Company’s Henry Ford II who told him that Black suppliers are needed, Detroit News reported.

Pickard soon began investing in minority firms that produced automotive parts and this ultimately resulted in the establishment of the Global Automotive Alliance.

Before his death, Pickard donated millions of dollars to his alma mater WSU, the National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington D.C., and the Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History in Detroit, CBS reported. He also donated to the Motown Historical Museum, the Detroit Symphony Orchestra and the Wayne County Community College District.

In 2019, he was awarded the Michigan Lifetime Humanitarian Award and Michiganian of the Year.

Last Edited by:Mildred Europa Taylor Updated: June 17, 2024


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