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After Fast Success in Fast Food, Aziz Hashim Spreads the Entrepreneurial Spirit

For Georgia State students and employees, Broad Street is a convenient lunch spot featuring dozens of diverse restaurants and cafés. For Aziz Hashim, though, it was the start of something huge.

A single fast-food franchise, which Hashim opened in anticipation of the Summer Olympics in 1996, turned into several. That cluster grew into a network of dozens, spread across multiple states. Eventually that network became NRD Holdings, one of the largest franchise operators in the United States. And Hashim has even bigger plans on the horizon.

But he hasn’t forgotten about the Georgia State community whose business fueled his early success. To give back, he’s endowed a faculty position designed to educate Robinson College of Business students about franchising and foster an energetic, entrepreneurial spirit to drive their careers.

“Entrepreneurism is a way of thinking. It’s not just an activity,” Hashim explains. “In fact, when we hire at our company, one of the things we try to focus on is how entrepreneurial a person is. It involves a degree of critical analysis and a way of looking at things creatively, of challenging assumptions — that’s entrepreneurism to me. I think Georgia State will take one of the lead positions in that area, and I’m really excited.”

Success Starts on the Ground Floor

Hashim was born in Pakistan, raised in London, and moved with his family to Los Angeles when he was 13 — the kind of globe-crossing youth many of today’s CEOs and power brokers certainly share. But Hashim’s formative experiences happened not at country clubs or luxury hotels but at the Burger King franchise owned by his uncle.

“One of my dad’s brothers had purchased a Burger King, and I started helping on the weekends as a part-time job when I was 14, mopping the floors and wiping down the tables, doing everything an entry-level employee would do,” he remembers. “That developed into an eight-year stint where, all through high school and all through college, I moved up through the ranks at Burger King.”

By the time Hashim earned his electrical engineering degree from UC-Irvine, he’d become a manager with a comprehensive knowledge of how a fast-food franchise worked and what it took to make one successful. So comprehensive, in fact, that only a few months into his engineering career, he knew he could find greater success elsewhere. “I realized that after all those years in fast food, I had a better shot at achieving my goals in franchising than engineering.”

Hashim soon moved to Atlanta, where his sister lived, and “just fell in love with the city.” Though Atlanta wasn’t quite the global hub it is today, Olympic fever was building, and there was a general sense that a breakthrough moment wasn’t far off. For Hashim, it was the perfect time and place to start a business of his own. Seeing every fast-food chain represented downtown except for KFC, he cold-called the company seeking a franchise opportunity — and though Atlanta was a corporate market for KFC as opposed to a franchise market, the company granted him a single-store license.

“61 Broad Street is where my first-ever business was, my franchise,” Hashim says. “The business school was right there, and Georgia State students were all around. So a lot of my customers were Georgia State students and staff, and many of my employees were Georgia State students as well. I had a really strong affinity for Georgia State right from the get-go.”

With the Georgia State community and downtown office workers providing a ready-made customer base, the KFC franchise succeeded quickly. The construction of the Helen M. Aderhold Learning Center at the corner of Broad and Luckie streets swelled that base even further. Soon Hashim was able to open a Subway across the street, at 68 Broad; then came a Taco Bell next door to the KFC, and a Pizza Hut next door to that. He even opened a Moe’s Southwest Grill on the side of the block facing Peachtree Street.

“At one time I had five establishments on Broad Street,” Hashim says. “That’s where I got my start, and from there we were able to become one of the largest restaurant operators in the U.S.”

‘You’re in Business For Yourself, but Not By Yourself’

Franchising remains “one of the most misunderstood enterprises in America, despite being a $2.1 trillion industry and a huge part of the U.S. GDP,” Hashim asserts. “Part of the reason for sponsoring this position at GSU is to educate students about that. They should not look at franchising as some kind of dead-end job where you’re just trying to save up for your first car — it is in fact a very, very big business.”

Even before he began discussing an endowment with RCB, Hashim was lecturing to business students at Georgia State and elsewhere about the benefits of franchising, and he says students are consistently surprised at what a “viable post-college career option” it can be. “You know, I was a franchisee almost right out of college. I only had my engineering job for about 90 days,” he says with a chuckle. “I was really just a student who was able to graduate and go right into business, and I think a lot of students underestimate their ability to do that. They think, ‘Oh, I don’t have any capital or experience,’ but they need to understand there actually are opportunities for college graduates and other qualified people to go into the business world directly.”

Because franchisees are backed by the marketing power and name recognition of established corporate brands, Hashim adds that the failure rate of franchise restaurants is “minuscule” compared to establishments starting from scratch.

“It is so difficult to get the menu architecture right, to get the supply chains right, to get site selection right, to get construction right. I admire those who build their own restaurants, but the failure rates are tremendously high,” he says. “One of the benefits of franchising is you’re dealing with national names — one thing I didn’t have to do when I opened my KFC was prove to people what the food was going to be like.

“You’re in business for yourself, but not by yourself. You have the name recognition and product development of a huge company behind you. The risks for franchise businesses are considerably less than independent businesses — you don’t have that fear of, ‘Oh my god, what if people don’t come into my restaurant?’”

As a member of Robinson’s Board of Advisors, Hashim says he’s observed a concerted emphasis on real-world skills and innovative ideas at the school — a big factor in his decision to invest so generously in it. “Part of Georgia State’s mission is to produce students who are employable upon graduation, and while that is, on the surface, supposed to be a goal of every institution, at the end of the day I don’t know whether every institution has that in mind. So I really like the pragmatism with which Georgia State approaches education: We’re going to train you in a skill, but we’re also going to make sure you’re employable. And the two are not necessarily the same.”

As he judges the résumés of new college graduates applying for jobs at NRD, Hashim says many of them “come from good institutions with good grades, but they don’t really have some of the skills you need to be employable right away. I think Georgia State has recognized that, they are addressing that, and they are giving their students additional skills beyond their core educational training. There’s also this big push toward entrepreneurism, and I think that’s going to set Georgia State apart. That’s my vision for this faculty position — let’s create entrepreneurs.”

Despite having risen to the top of his industry, Hashim’s own entrepreneurial spirit remains active indeed: He’s begun selling off many of his franchises and moving to the other side of the equation. “Last year I made the transition to becoming a holder of a private equity company that is going to be purchasing brands,” he explains. “So rather than just being a franchisee, we will actually become a franchisor, buying small regional chains and perhaps national chains as well. That’s a very important story, because it’s the first private equity fund owned by franchisees, and there’s lots of good reasons to do it.”

But he hasn’t abandoned the franchising industry — or downtown Atlanta — entirely. There’s just too much business there. “One of my restaurants, a Subway on Edgewood Avenue, is right next to where they built university housing,” he says with pride. “That’s one of my best performing locations.”