Greg Flynn: Founder, CEO of America's Largest Franchisee

Applebee's at nightGreg Flynn, 51, son of a lawyer, says he didn’t realize the opportunity in franchise ownership until he was 33 and his father, off on one of his frequent post-retirement trips, asked Greg to send him $2 million right away so that he could buy a villa on the Greek island of Corfu.

Greg quickly obtained a loan on one of the two Burger Kings that his father owned in San Francisco and sent the money to him.

In commercial real estate at the time, a business with which he has continued and prospered as Flynn Properties Inc., the villa purchase brought home to Greg that his father had a good thing going with his Burger Kings, especially the one at a great location on Van Ness Avenue, which generated $2.5 million in annual sales. It had enabled the quick loan for the villa purchase.

Today Greg is the founder, chair and CEO of the largest franchisee in the U.S., Flynn Restaurant Group LP. It operates 477 Applebee’s, 275 Taco Bell and 131 Panera Bread restaurants—883 all together—generating $1.9 billion in sales and directly employing almost 40,000 people in 30 states.

Flynn began that footprint in 1999 with the purchase of eight Applebee’s in Seattle. Today Dan Krebsbach is vice president under Flynn, but at the time he was running operations for the eight Washington restaurants. He said the contrast between Flynn’s management and the previous owners was striking.

“It was clear right away that Greg was willing to give (employees) more control running his business compared to the past ownership I worked with, and right away, it led to early success with our restaurants and with the company,” Krebsbach said. “Greg allows you to make decisions quickly. That empowerment and knowing that your ideas will be heard took us from being a slowly growing business to a rapidly growing one. It’s what gives us that competitive edge.” — Katie Burke, San Francisco Business Times