The University of Kentucky announced this month that it will soon open the John H. Schnatter Institute for the Study of Free Enterprise at its Gatton School of Business. This initiative, which I helped fund, offers UK students and scholars the opportunity to engage in classes and research that explore the role of free enterprise in advancing a free and prosperous society that benefits everyone.
This is a mission I deeply believe in. Free enterprise is the greatest mechanism mankind has ever created to eliminate poverty, enhance prosperity and enable the “pursuit of happiness” spoken of in the Declaration of Independence. The students who participate in this new center, as well as the professors who teach them and conduct research, will thus be contributing to a better world for everyone, especially the least fortunate.
I have seen the power of free enterprise firsthand. My father Robert L. Schnatter — a 1953 University of Kentucky graduate — taught me many lessons about taking risks and serving my community through entrepreneurship.
Thanks in large part to his influence, I set out on my own entrepreneurial adventure in my early 20s. After saving his bar in Jeffersonville, Ind., from bankruptcy, I took a sledge hammer to open up a broom closet, where I installed $1,600 worth of used pizza-making equipment. Within a year, I built enough credit to open my own stand-alone pizza store.
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Today, three decades after making my first pizza in that broom closet, Papa John’s International Inc. is one of the largest pizza companies in the world.
As of September, we operated nearly 4,800 stores in all 50 states and 38 countries and territories, with nearly 100,000 team members at franchise stores and more than20,000 team members at Papa John’s corporate stores, generating approximately $3.5 billion of annual global systemwide sales.
This is a testament to the power of free enterprise. I took an idea and turned it into something that created opportunities for my employees, my suppliers, my franchisees and others throughout the world.
This happened for one simple reason: I made a product that people valued and enjoyed. As I quickly learned, such entrepreneurship rewards not only the entrepreneur but customers and countless others. This mutually beneficial relationship is at the heart of free enterprise and a free society.
Students at UK now have the chance to learn about the principles that make such stories — and there are many — attainable. Anyone, regardless of his or her station in life, is blessed with gifts and talents that can be used to benefit others.
When people are free to apply their skills and pursue their dreams, they are capable of finding tremendous self-fulfillment, self-esteem and self-respect.
Not only that, but by taking risks and challenging the status quo, they can give others the opportunity to find similar satisfaction.
Students will also have the chance to learn about the obstacles that prevent free enterprise from taking root and flourishing. There are many examples. Thomas Jefferson warned, “The natural progress of things is for liberty to yield, and government to gain ground.” His prediction has been borne out in more ways than I can count.
Free enterprise is increasingly hamstrung by over-regulation, corporate welfare and growing government demands on employers and employees. The result is an economy where opportunities are harder and harder to come by.
A growing number of Americans, regardless of their political affiliation, recognize this sad fact. Only 26 percent of our fellow countrymen now think America is headed in the right direction.
Unleashing the power of entrepreneurship is a critical part of restoring Americans’ belief that the future will be better than the past. The Institute for Free Enterprise at the University of Kentucky will offer its students the chance to study how to advance the freedom and prosperity that benefit everyone, especially the least fortunate.
This is desperately needed. Our country’s well-being depends on people who understand and defend true free enterprise and practice principled entrepreneurship. College campuses like the University of Kentucky are the natural place to teach this to the next generation of business leaders.
John H. Schnatter of Louisville, founder and CEO of Papa John’s International, Inc., is the primary supporter of the John H. Schnatter Institute for the Study of Free Enterprise at the University of Kentucky.