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Jackie’s International founder goes from poverty to prosperity

When Dr. S.L. “Doc” Sethi came to the U.S. in 1968 to take a job at Mississippi Valley State University, he had just $50 in his pocket. He had been a refugee of the internal civil war between Punjab and India when only five years old, and helped his family escape Punjab safely by befriending soldiers. His Hindu family of 10 lived in one 12’ by 14’ room. Sethi had no shoes or sweater in the winter, and washed dishes and worked as a train station caddy to help his family survive.

That early experience with poverty made Sethi determined to get an education. And now although he is still known as “Doc,” the business started by Sethi and his wife, Raksha, in 1973, Jackie’s International, owns dozens of businesses — hotels, restaurant, convenience stores and construction companies.

Sethi left India because he couldn’t find a good job. Now the Sethi family company is providing employment to more than 1,800 people. And the family-owned business that is one of the top 100 private companies in Mississippi continues to grow. Sethi’s philosophy is built on the Napoleon Hill quote, “What the mind of man can believe and conceive, it can achieve.” He believes nothing is impossible, and that philosophy has fueled his desire to grow the company along with much hard work and determination.

“When I came to Mississippi, I came to heaven on earth,” Sethi said. “If I were ever to die and be born again, I’d want to be born in Mississippi. We as a company love the South and believe firmly in Southern hospitality and good people. That is why we continue to grow our operations in Mississippi, Louisiana, Arkansas and Tennessee.”

Today, the company spans the four states with more than 70 properties including Bumpers Drive-In, Western Sizzlin and numerous hotel properties such as Hilton Garden Inn and Hampton Inn. A new venture with partner Grant Nooe is in Pan-Asia and Fresh Market Cafe, and its Super Saver convenience store division.

Sethi’s daughter, Monica Harrigill, vice president, Jackie’s International, said a great deal of growth is planned for their hotel division over the next three years. Upcoming hotel projects include Hyatt Place, Hilton Garden Inn, Hampton Inn & Suites, Holiday Inn Express Hotel & Suites and more.

“We will be adding a Fresh Market Café at Crossgates Brandon along with our new Pan-Asia restaurant on Old Canton Road in Ridgeland,” Harrigill said. “The new Pan-Asia is part of a large development in Ridgeland called Harbour Crossing, which will connect Northpark Drive to Old Canton Road. We also plan growth of five new Bumpers Drive-Ins over the next 18 months.”

Harrigill said the company is also investing in the continual growth and development of their employees.

“Our people are our number one asset,” she said. “We will put all management and corporate staff through Franklin Covey’s FOCUS, 7 Habits of Highly Effective People and 4 Disciplines of Execution, over the next 12 months. As my dad always says, our people are the backbone of our company. Without them, we would not be where we are today or be able to continue our growth over the next five years.”

While there have been concerns about a slowdown in the national economy, sales at Jackie’s International are doing well. Harrigill said they haven’t seen a decline in business.

“We believe people always look for great food and great service and will continue to travel for business and pleasure,” Harrigill said. “We’ll continue to grow by meeting our guests’ needs and exceeding their expectations. We have tremendous plans for growth and are very excited about our direction. Over the next five years, we will double our volume and value.”

Diversification is absolutely critical to their business. Harrigill said they believe in diversification all the way around from their people to their concepts.

“It is all of those pieces of the puzzle that come together and make our company what it is today,” she says.

In addition to Harrigill, Sunny Sethi, Monica’s brother, has just become vice president of operations for their hotel division. Their mother, Raksha, is involved in accounting for the company. Monica’s husband, Ray, has his own company, but is also a Bumpers Drive-In franchisee and involved in the company through development, planning, operations and more.

The family atmosphere extends to the company’s employees, who are held in high regard.

“Our people are the backbone of our company and have made us what we are today,” Harrigill said. “We currently employ over 1,800 team members. As my dad loves to say and as we all feel, we would be nothing without the hard work of our team.”

For more information, visit www.jackiesinternation

Contact MBJ contributing writer Becky Gillette at bgillette4@cox.net.al.net.

About Becky Gillette

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