Jimmy John's CEO shares insights to success as a young entrepreneur

 

Freshman Tim Coulter didn't take his uncle too seriously when he said he knew "Jimmy John Liautaud," founder and CEO of Jimmy John's Gourmet Sandwiches.

"When my uncle told me last summer he was a personal friend of Jimmy John's, I thought he was joking," Coulter said. "I really thought it was funny when he told me, 'You should get Jimmy to come speak at Bowling Green.'"

Coulter, whose uncle Jamie is the CEO of Lone Star Steakhouse and Saloon, worked to bring Liautaud to the University.

And Monday night, more than 375 audience members gathered in the Union Ballroom to listen to Liautaud's story of self-made entrepreneurship.

"At age 19, I was given $25,000 to start a business and decided to open a sandwich shop," Liautaud said. "Within a year, the first 'Jimmy John's' opened in Charleston, Ill. in 1983. When I turned 30, I had more than 20 stores opened in Chicago and I made my first million."

The event, titled "From Student to CEO: An Entrepreneur Story," was part of the 2010 lecture series and hosted by the Collegiate Entrepreneurship Organization.

"Our organization is open to students of all majors to share their ideas and creative endeavors," said senior Hannah Simon, president of CEO. "Every semester, students in CEO recruit successful entrepreneurs to speak at the University so students can hear firsthand what it takes to be a good businessman."

"It wasn't always easy," Liautaud said. "I rented a building that was basically a garage for $14,000," Liautaud said. "The first day the shop opened, no one came in. So I started passing out samples and suddenly, I'm feeding every student at [Eastern] Illinois University. After that, you could say things started to look up."

In 27 years, Jimmy John's has grown to occupy 38 states at 1,100 different locations nationwide. It was also recognized as the fourth fastest growing business in the sandwich sector. Compared to other sandwich shops, Jimmy John's has several unique features that set them apart from the competition.

"The best idea I ever had was delivery," Liautaud said. "Between that and adding a drive-through window, profits increased over $40,000 a year. It's all about being creative and finding something that works for your business."

Coulter said he hopes the lecture helped inspire students who are interested in owning a business.

"Overall, the event exceeded my expectations," Coulter said. "I hope students who are interested in starting a business took something useful away from Jimmy's speech. I would like to thank my uncle Jaime for making this event a reality. Without him none of this would have been possible."

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