A King Among Burgers

If there were ever an All-American entrepreneur, it's got to be La-Van Hawkins.

He may not be what Horatio Alger had in mind in his portrait of the American success story, but La-Van Hawkins, profiled by correspondent Marjorie Coeyman, embodies the modern-day American dream as much as the hippest, richest software developer navigating the Web.

He started life in one of the country's toughest housing projects, lost his father at a young age, got caught up with drugs and gangs, and then took a job swabbing toilets at a Chicago-area McDonald's - the sort of career prospect that turns a lot of inner-city kids to drugs and gangs.

But Mr. Hawkins turned to his own drive, talent, and religious values and brought them to the job.

Now he's a king in the fast food business, worth a bunch of millions of dollars and determined to promote the opportunities his UrbanCityFoods company brings back to the inner city.

He seems to have a talent, as well, for promoting himself, but even so, what's not to like about this guy?

He writes checks to charities and acts as a role model to kids who see only illusion in the American dream.

There is so much to like about this story, not just Hawkins' rags-to-riches saga, but the response from corporate America as well.

How often do we hear about American companies that trap employees within the rigid boundaries of The Rule Book, tucked away in some corner office.

Here's a story about the system that let him open his own doors - the McDonald's system that allows a troubled kid without a high school diploma to go from pushing a broom to managing one of its busiest restaurants, the Water Tower unit in Chicago; the Burger King system that let him break just about every rule in the book.

Most Burger Kings look like a suburban, ranch-house design somehow synonymous with white sandwich bread, crusts removed. But Hawkins apparently flame-broiled that concept in a big hurry and produced something entirely interesting.

On the broader business front, look at Jim Tyson's profile of mutual-fund manager James Seddon. His T. Rowe Price European Stocks fund ranks high among the better European funds, although not at the top in the year-to-date category. But, more to the point, Mr. Seddon's comments and Jim's research offer a trim, concise analysis of one of the great potential investments of this decade and next.

The United States has a strong economy, some of the best business minds, and the world's hotbed of technological innovation. And that should keep the lights burning here for a long time to come.

But it's essentially a "more of the same" picture.

In Europe, however, the fundamentals are about to change dramatically. When a group of European countries switch to a single currency and drop trade restrictions among them, they will spur new markets, new growth, and new profits for companies that can exploit the change. This is the time to find the fund managers who know which companies can do that.

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