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All in the family business for entrepreneurs

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Jimmy John Liautaud

Jimmy John Liautaud accepts the 2011 Leadership Award from the Family Business Council. “Leadership is about being effective in tough situations,” he said.

Photo: Julie Jaidinger

Two father-son entrepreneurs talked about life before, during and after a business career at Family Business Day, hosted last week by UIC’s Family Business Council.

James P. Liautaud, who launched a series of successful start-up companies before retiring at age 54, and Jimmy John Liautaud, founder and CEO of Jimmy John’s Gourmet Sandwich Shops, spoke to business leaders, faculty, staff and students at the 17th annual event in the UIC Forum, where the younger Liautaud received the 2011 Leadership Award.

The event, presented by Crain’s Chicago Business, ended with a reception featuring Jimmy John’s sandwiches.

There is life after leaving your business, said James Liautaud, founder of the Family Business Council.

“I sold everything because I felt there was a whole new world out there, and I was going to discover another career,” he said.  

That career was at UIC, where Liautaud is a clinical professor whose research focuses on business behavior and implementing positive behavior change.

“This is just one example of how CEOs can apply their skills to social endeavors that make a strong contribution to others,” said Liautaud.

“My gift was research, and why I’ve enjoyed my clinical professorship at UIC, allowing me the credentials and credibility to make this all happen.”

Liautaud led a panel discussion on “life after business” with four retired businessmen, all active in nonprofit organizations and other activities: Anthony DiTommaso, whose business start-ups include Innerpac Inc. and Ecvall; Jim Foley, chair of Dickson Unigage Corp. when he is not sailing around the world; Jack Karp, retired CEO of a food products company; and Richard Walsh, former CEO of Taft Contracting.

“We’re all pioneering a brand new fourth season for other CEOs that may wish to follow us, knowing these may be better, more exciting options to fishing, golf and general retirement,” Liautaud said.

Liautaud, who has been awarded 65 patents, founded four small high-tech manufacturing companies and acquired another.

The Liautauds gave an endowment for UIC’s MBA program that became the Liautaud Graduate School of Business. They continue to support other entrepreneurial programs.

“Although lower on the totem pole, Jimmy and I have been gifted no differently than Jobs, Gates, Buffet and all those like them,” Liautaud said. “All we can do is pay it all back, in the many things we can do for others.”

Liautaud was a founding investor in his son’s business. The younger Liautaud started the sandwich company in 1983 at age 19 with a $25,000 loan; it has locations in 38 states, with 1,100-and-counting corporate and franchised locations.

“Leadership is about being effective in tough situations,” Jimmy Liautaud said.

“You have to create a vision, organize a team, meet often, remove obstacles, then sit back and watch the business grow.
“Leadership has to be continually re-earned. It means not being right all the time.”

He selects employees and franchise owners for their potential and productivity, Liautaud said, adding that the willingness to “work 70-80-90-100 hours a week and love it” is what business is all about.

“Lead your team by example. Know your numbers. Outwork everyone if you want to rock!” he said. As CEO, “it’s my job to help my leaders go above and beyond.”

Success means never becoming complacent, he said.

“When you take your foot off the gas or celebrate, that’s when you start losing it. The theme that I live by is simple — I don’t want to be the biggest, I want to be the best.

“I’m a maniac about customer service,” he added. “The better I treat my customers, the more they want to visit me.”

Family Business Day is held annually in conjunction with Entrepreneurship Week, organized by the Institute for Entrepreneurial Studies.


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