In 1997 Greg Flynn, an over-educated 33-year-old commercial real estate investor based in San Francisco, got a phone call from his father. Donald Flynn was on the Greek island of Corfu and had decided to buy a villa, a fixer-upper. He needed his son to send him $2 million ASAP.
The elder Flynn, a lawyer, had been funding a retirement of world travel out of the cash thrown off by two Burger Kings he owned in San Francisco. Greg kept an eye on them while his father gallivanted. One was a gold mine, a drive-through on busy Van Ness Avenue that generated $2.5 million in annual sales. “That one restaurant paid for the rest of his life,” Flynn says. Including the villa. At the time financial firms were happy to give successful franchisees loans against their receivables. Flynn quickly got $2 million at a then-low 8% and sent the money to Greece.
Flynn had known there was money in franchising, but until his dad’s Corfu purchase he hadn’t realized how much. Now 51, he says, “It’s one of the things that opened my eyes to the opportunity.” Since then, with backing first from Goldman Sachs and then from the Ontario Teachers’ Pension Plan, he’s built Flynn Restaurant Group into the U.S.’ largest restaurant franchisee. The company owns 800 Applebee’s, Taco Bell and Panera Bread outlets and expects revenue of $1.9 billion this year. FORBES estimates the company is worth about $1.5 billion and that Flynn’s stake is worth roughly $200 million.