“If you look at business history in the United States, it is entrepreneurs that made this country,” said Walton Gresham, UM business school alumnus (B.B.A 71). “Henry Ford, Cornelius Vanderbilt, Bill Gates, and on and on.
“These men started with an idea and grew it. This is what we need more of today.”
Hardworking, dedicated, and kind of mischievous are just a few of the words his sister, Gayle Gresham Henry, would use to describe her older brother,
“Walton, he would give you the shirt off of his back,” said Henry. “If something goes wrong, he’s the first one to help.” She emphasized Gresham’s commitment to his family and longing to succeed in every endeavor.
Gresham graduated from the university with a general business degree and has been a long-time supporter of Ole Miss. Gresham was recently inducted into the alumni hall of fame in 2017, has served on the board of the alumni association, and the Gresham family have endowed numerous scholarships to the university.
Love at First Football Game
“Ole Miss has been dear to my heart since I was a little boy and went to my first football game,” Gresham said. “I have loved the school ever since the first time I stepped on campus.”
Since leaving Ole Miss, Gresham has continued to have a lasting impact on those around him.
He grew up in the Mississippi Delta in Sunflower county–the oldest of four children, with two younger sisters and a younger brother. He began involvement with his family’s business at an early age and continues running the petroleum division of Gresham Petroleum today.
“The Mississippi Delta has been my home for 70 years,” he said. “It was a great place to grow up, and it has a wonderful history and people.”
His grandfather, William Walton Gresham, Sr., who built the first gasoline service station in Sunflower county, would eventually expand to build several more. With little electricity in the rural areas of Sunflower County, his grandfather recognized the need for fuel for stoves and lights.
Gas Pumps for Everyone
Gresham Sr. began to include kerosene in his distribution plant and would have trucks disperse the kerosene to every house in the county. In 1920, Indianola had roughly 4,000 residents, and more than 80,000 residents occupied Sunflower county.
In time, the Gresham’s business would evolve into tractor (diesel) fuel, and kerosene would be replaced by electricity in the 1940’s. During this time, Gresham Sr. put gasoline pumps at every store in the county with the hope of making gasoline readily available for everyone.
“The Mississippi Delta has been my home for 70 years. It was a great place to grow up, and it has a wonderful history and people.”
Flash forward to the early 1980s, Gresham, along with his brother, Tom, and his first cousin, Bill, decided they were going to embark in the convenience store business. Gresham leased a store in Greenville from Murphy Oil in 1982 and also bought an old Billups store in Ruleville from Charter Oil Co.
Two years later, in 1984, Tom, Bill and Walton had the opportunity to buy 17 more stores from SuperValu.
The Birth of Double Quick
“I have to give my dad and Uncle John all the credit, because they borrowed the money. In doing so, they were showing their belief in us by their willingness to finance Double Quick,” Gresham said. “They paid around two million dollars at the time to purchase these stations.”
Following the purchase, Gresham would go on to work with his father William Walton Gresham, Jr., and brother for 30 more years. (Gresham, Jr. received his B.A. in mathematics from Ole Miss in 1948.)
“Dad was a classic entrepreneur as he used the petroleum company as his base to try other ventures,” Gresham said.
While Gresham’s father and uncle felt confident about the investment, Gresham’s mother wasn’t so sure.
“My momma almost had a stroke, because I mean two million dollars? Think about all the trips they could’ve gone on or the things they could have done,” sister Gayle Henry said.
Despite his mother’s uneasiness, Gresham credits his mother as the person who was the biggest influence on his life.
“She was a rock, full of witty sayings, and a true Christian lady,” he said.
Keeping the Delta Going
Although this was a large investment, it was also a huge opportunity to help build Sunflower county up in the midst of financial trouble for the rural Delta region.
“Walton and Tom worked so hard to keep Sunflower county and Indianola going,” Henry said.
Today, there are more than 50 convenience stores, branded as Double Quick, including one in Oxford and additional stations in the Mississippi and Arkansas Delta areas.
“The Delta has trainable people that just need the opportunity to prove themselves,” Gresham said. “It has the richest land in America.
“This area of four million acres will always be farmed. There are people that want to work, and we have the facilities to train them. The Delta just needs companies to come to our area and give us the chance to prove this to them.”
A Lot of Trial and Error
Despite Gresham’s success today, he says it was no easy journey professionally. There was a lot of trial and error to figure out his strengths and weaknesses in business
When his grandfather passed away, he left the family with a 50 percent interest in a Ford-Lincoln-Mercury dealership in Indianola. The family bought the other 50 percent and hired a veteran car dealership manager from St. Louis to run the business for them.
In less than a year, they were losing money monthly. In order to compensate for these losses, the family bought the Buick-Chrysler dealership in town. Then, they bought the Chevy dealership.
“My momma almost had a stroke, because I mean two million dollars?” said his Henry. “Think about all the trips they could’ve gone on or the things they could have done.”
“Even with the additional purchase, our family was continuing to lose money and this wasn’t a successful endeavor for our family,” he said. “I decided to stick with what I know and that is petroleum marketing.”
Although, the car attempt was unsuccessful, Gresham did not allow the experience to undermine his efforts in his family’s enterprise.
“Every day there is a different challenge, but most are worked out or settled. I want to say that not every venture we attempted was successful, but it’s important not to get too discouraged when something doesn’t work.”
Gresham still lives in the Mississippi Delta with his wife, Laura. His second daughter, Elizabeth Veazey, and her husband, Rod, are there too with their three girls, Fran, Anna Gresham and Mary Charles.
His oldest daughter, Lenore Livingston, lives in San Mateo, California, with her children Henry and Laura Beth. When Gresham was asked if he had anything left on his bucket list to complete, he responded regarding his family and his professional journey.
“I have done everything that I want to do,” he said. “God has truly blessed Laura and me.
“The one thing all granddaddies might say is ‘I would like to see my five grandchildren grow up and have happy and productive lives,’ and I believe my wish will come true.”
By Karsyn King