Herman Cain’s Rise From Godfather’s Pizza CEO to Politics

Herman Cain

Getty Republican presidential candidate former CEO of Godfather's Pizza Herman Cain is introduced prior to a debate at Constitution Hall November 22, 2011 in Washington, DC. The debate, hosted by CNN and in partnership with the Heritage Foundation and the American Enterprise Institute, was expected to focus on national security, foreign policy and the economy.

Herman Cain died Thursday at the age of 74 of complications from COVID-19. He was a man whose intelligence and hard work lifted him from humble beginnings to finding success along a long career path that culminated in a presidential run for the 2012 Republican nomination.

Born in Memphis, Tennessee on Dec. 13, 1945, to a father who worked as a janitor, a barber and a chauffeur and a mother who worked as a maid, Cain grew up in Atlanta and earned his Bachelor’s Degree in Mathematics from Morehouse College in 1967 before continuing his education at Purdue University where he added a Master’s Degree in Computer Science to his resume in 1971, according to Encyclopedia Britannica.

Over the next 25 years Cain moved up the corporate ladder working briefly as a civilian systems analyst for the Navy, and a business analyst for Coca-Cola until 1997 when he was hired by the Pillsbury Company as a manager of an analysis group. By 1981 Cain was promoted to vice president of corporate systems and services.

But that only lasted a year before he was dispatched to Philadelphia to revive Pillsbury’s Burger King franchises, which were not doing well. Cain is credited with saving those franchised due to his implementation of customer service and employee morale initiatives.

Shortly after, in 1986 Cain brought his skill set to another of Pillsbury’s fledging franchises — Godfather’s Pizza, where his savvy rescued the chain of restaurants and he became Chairman and CEO of the company.

According to Encyclopedia Britannica, “He aggressively streamlined its menu and closed unproductive restaurants, rescuing the chain from bankruptcy in a little over a year. In 1988 Cain led a buyout of the company. He served as chief executive officer and president of Godfather’s until 1996, when he assumed a parallel position with the National Restaurant Association.”

Cain was the president and CEO of the National Restaurant Association from 1996 to 1999.


In 1994 Cain Challenged President Bill Clinton During a Town Hall Meeting, Catching the Eye of Conservatives Who Tapped Cain to Be Part of a Flat-Tax Study Group

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Cain’s parlay into politics is credited to his calling out of President Clinton during a town hall meeting in 1994. At the time, Clinton was proposing his new health care reform plan, and Cain challenged him on it, saying the numbers didn’t add up for businesses.

Cain asked Clinton, “On behalf of all of those business owners that are in a situation similar to mine, my question is, quite simply, if I’m forced to do this what will I tell those people whose jobs I will have to eliminate?”

After Clinton explained his version of the numbers to Cain, Cain replied, “First of all, Mr. President, with all due respect, your calculation on what the impact would do, quite honestly is incorrect.”

According to Slate, “Conservatives treated the Cain mutiny like a bootleg from a Bob Dylan/George Harrison jam session, passed from fan to fan. Rush Limbaugh played the clip on his short-lived TV show. Cain’s senator, Paul Coverdell, called him a “profile in courage.” Newt Gingrich praised Cain and, after Republicans won Congress in the fall, gave him a slot on a flat-tax study group.”

In 1996, Cain served as an advisor to Republican Jack Kemp, who was Bob Dole’s Vice Presidential running mate that year against the Clinton/Al Gore ticket, which won a second term.


Cain Lost a US Senate Run in 2004 for a Georgia GOP Seat Before His 2012 Presidential Bid in Which He Was Embraced by the Tea Party

Herman Cain

GettyFormer Republican presidential candidate Herman Cain speaks during an American For Prosperity rally on July 23, 2012 in Reno, Nevada. Hundreds of people attended an Americans For Prosperity rally to see former Republican presidential candidate speak.

After spending several years rubbing elbows in political circles Cain threw his hat into the ring, running for the U.S. Senate in 2004 to represent Georgia. He lost in the primary.

A few years later, Cain was embraced by the rising Tea Party, who were supporters of his 2012 election bid. According to The Atlantic in 2011, “The Tea Party loves him, which is interesting, given that another recent Tea Party favorite was Donald Trump.”

Cain told Slate in 2011 about why he thought he could win the presidency even though he couldn’t get past the primaries in his senate run.

“The political landscape has changed dramatically because of the citizens’ movement spurred by the Tea Party movement,” he said. “Based upon me being very active in that citizens movement, talking to dozens and dozens and dozens of Tea Party rallies, events, conferences all over this country, I believe that people have a better attitude for an unconventional candidate—someone who’s more of a problem-solver than a politician.”

But his run was short. Accusations of sexual misconduct and an ongoing 13-year- affair plagued his candidacy and he suspended his campaign in Dec. 2011, according to the New York Times.

He said in his announcement, “As of today, with a lot of prayer and soul-searching, I am suspending my presidential campaign because of the continued distractions, the continued hurt caused on me and my family, not because we are not fighters. Not because I’m not a fighter.”

Cain was married to Gloria (Etchison) Cain in 1963 and they remained married until his death.

According to a Timeline on CNN about Cain’s life, following his unsuccessful presidential run, in July 2012 Cain launched CainTV.com, then in February 2013, he became a Fox News contributor.

In January 2016, Cain published a book called, “The Right Problems: What the President, Congress, and Every Candidate Should Be Working On.

In April 2019 Trump announced that he’d recommended Cain for a seat on the Federal Reserve Board, but Cain withdrew himself from that possibility about three weeks later.

In Nov. 2019 Trump started an initiative to get Black voters support via the Black Voices for Trump effort. Cain co-chaired that group.

On July 2, 2020, an announcement that Cain tested positive for COVID-19 was posted to his Twitter page, which said, “there is no way of knowing for sure how or where Mr. Cain contracted the coronavirus…”

The news of Cain’s passing came on July 30. In part it said, “Herman Cain – our boss, our friend, like a father to so many of us – has passed away.”

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