In Memorium: Entrepreneurs Who Died in 2009

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19 of 30

Troy Smith Sr., Founder of the Sonic Corporation

Smith was proof of the fact that you don’t need a stellar idea to be a successful entrepreneur; you can just popularize somebody else’s. The Oklahoma native was driving along one day when saw a greasy spoon with a car-to-kitchen intercom, which he reproduced and made the focal point of the root beer stand he ran at the time, called the Top Hat. The Top Hat turned a consistent profit, but in 1959, Smith started to think bigger, launching the first of his drive-in establishments under the name Sonic Burger. The chain became known for waiters on rollerskates and for pumping radio hits into the parking lots via speakers. Smith retired from the daily grind in 1983 but he sat on the company’s board until his death. Today it runs 3,600 locations in 42 states.