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Keep Things Simple:
Jimmy John Liautaud Discusses His Success
during Seventh V. Dale Cozad Lecture

In January of 1983, 19-year-old Jimmy John Liautaud opened his first gourmet sandwich shop, Jimmy John's, on the Eastern Illinois University campus. More than two decades later, he has been rewarded several times for his entrepreneurial success, and his chain of restaurants has spread across the country with more than 275 stores.

Jimmy John Liautaud.On October 18th, Liautaud spoke about his journey and his success in front of an audience of more than 200 students, faculty, and community guests at the seventh V. Dale Cozad Lecture, sponsored by the College of Business.

"What I'd like to share with you today is a little bit of my journey. I want to share with you some of the obstacles and some of the things that I've learned along the way," said Liautaud.

His father lent him the money to open his first shop. But he was able to pay his father back two years later and become full-share owner of Jimmy John's. Liautaud went into the business with the idea that he had special privileges being the owner and could delegate the difficult or less desirable tasks to his employees. A friend worked five days a week, while another worked five nights. On the other hand, Liautaud only worked two days and two nights - with the weekends off.

Liautaud learned the hard way that he was going about things all wrong. Both of his friends ended up quitting and left him with no choice but to work seven days a week from 8:30 a.m. to 2:30 a.m. This went on for three months, teaching Liautaud everything he needed to know about his sandwich shop.

"I kept a bank balance everyday, and I learned what made the balance go up and what made the balance go down. But, what was most important was that I only depended on myself. I was totally in control of my destiny," said Liautaud.

From then on, he knew that he should try to take on the difficult tasks himself and delegate the easier tasks. His leadership became respectable, and people began to enjoy working for him. "I honestly believe I don't have one victim employed by my company," said Liautaud.

Liautaud applies his "keep it simple; do it well" philosophy to almost everything in his business. His menu consists of a combination of six meats, one cheese, and two breads. He has a small number of top executives, which he said makes things work more efficiently.

"You've go to think outside of the box. My friends will tell you I don't do things the normal way," explained Liautaud.

Liautaud spends his time dealing with the most important issues. He said that dealing with the top three issues is 80% of solving the problem. "I solve today's issues today, because tomorrow has new issues. I have clarity, audit, and feedback. I don't wait for results; I control my results," Liautaud said.

Liautaud uses a witty humor to market his Jimmy John stores. He says his humor pushes it to the edge, but is never vulgar. He believes that political correctness is not profitable and should be separated from business.

"I want to make people remember us. I want to make people smile," Liautaud said.

About the Lecture

The V. Dale Cozad Lecture Series in Entrepreneurship was established through the efforts of Peter and Kim Fox and endowed by gifts from the family and friends of Dale Cozad. The lecture series honors the memory of Dale Cozad and the hard work, dedication, and entrepreneurial spirit that lead to his success. The Center for Entrepreneurial Development, a unit of the College of Business that offers business assistance to entrepreneurs, is the co-host of the Cozad Lecture.

--Kara McFarland
October 2004

For more information on Jimmy John Liautaud's lecture, see the story published in the News-Gazette on October 19, 2004