UQ alumnus Greg Flynn has leveraged his multidisciplinary tertiary background to build a billion-dollar food franchise empire in the US.
Mention to a person on the street that a UQ graduate in literary studies with a keen interest in history is now the largest restaurant franchisee in the US and you may be met with a mixture of raised eyebrows and disbelief.
Yet for Greg Flynn (Master of Literary Studies ’87), the Founder, Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of a franchise empire boasting more than 850 restaurants (including Applebee’s, Taco Bell and Panera Bread franchises), 42,000 employees and annual sales topping US$1.9 billion, the lessons learned from an education in humanities have been invaluable.
“I think in some ways reading history has helped with business,” Flynn said.
“In a sense, my entire life has been guided by historical figures – for example, Scottish-American industrialist Andrew Carnegie. Carnegie was a 19th century self-made steel tycoon who lived his life by the maxim of ‘learn, earn and return’.
Scottish-American industrialist Andrew Carnegie, who lived by the philosophy of 'learn, earn and return'.
Flynn has studied at many universities, including Brown, Yale and Stanford in the US. While at Brown, he won a Rotary Foundation scholarship to study at UQ and spent time living at International House.
He said UQ was one of the world-class universities with the resources and collections he needed to complete high-calibre research in the humanities.
“The fact that UQ possessed the collective works of American founding father Alexander Hamilton and his three great treasury bills appealed to me,” he said.
Greg Flynn enjoyed reading the collective works of American founding father Alexander Hamilton while studying at UQ.
“I had unbelievably great times with my friends at International House – that year was by far the most fun of my life. Many of the people I met at UQ have become lifelong friends.”
Flynn said the advice he would give to current students is to travel and stay in school.
"Travel the world. You'll never have a better opportunity to take one or two years off and see the world before you are burdened with opportunity. Travel will be enjoyable and will educate you in ways nothing else can,” he said.
“Most importantly, don't drop out. Everyone looks at (Facebook founder) Mark Zuckerberg and thinks they need to drop out of a program to be successful, but I think that's ridiculous.”
Now based in San Francisco, Flynn founded Flynn Restaurant Group in 1998 and oversees a business that runs more than 480 Applebee’s restaurants (25 per cent of all stores in the US), 250 Taco Bell franchises, and more than 90 Panera Bread bakeries. He also runs Flynn Properties Inc., a firm that deals in commercial property and North American luxury hotels.
Flynn said it was his family who inspired him to get involved in franchising.
“My father owned two Burger Kings and my uncle, at one point, owned three McDonald’s restaurants.”
“I observed in these big franchise models how the performance was so steady. Notwithstanding the fact that my father paid no attention to them, they weren’t going through various economic cycles and just kept performing.”
Flynn – who managed to maintain and grow a successful business even during the global financial crisis of 2007–08 – attributes his success to a decentralised business structure and focus on staff empowerment.
“Our brands are run independently and the only place they come together is within the senior leadership team. For example, we have no operators that are expected to run both Panera Bread bakeries and Taco Bells. We let our operators focus on their areas of strength and don’t stretch them too thin.”
To learn more about the Flynn Restaurant Group, visit flynnrestaurantgroup.com.