Louisville-based Yum Brands traces its corporate roots to one of the world’s most-recognized entrepreneurs: Col. Harland Sanders. He launched his iconic Kentucky Fried Chicken chain in 1930 from his roadside restaurant in Corbin, Ky., during the Great Depression.
It grew into a business giant. In 1964, at age 73, Sanders sold the chain for $2 million ($15 million in 2016 dollars) to a partnership led by Kentucky businessman John Y. Brown Jr. (a lawyer and future governor of the state) and Jack C. Massey, a venture capitalist.
In the 1970s and 80s, KFC passed through a series of owners, ultimately getting acquired by PepsiCo.
The beverage giant added Pizza Hut in 1977, and Mexican fast-food chain Taco Bell in 1978 — and then it spun off all three into Tricon Global Restaurants in 1997. Tricon made Louisville its corporate headquarters, and then adopted the name Yum! Brands. (Boulevard doesn’t use the exclamation mark because it looks like a typo to readers who aren’t familiar with the brand!)
With nearly 43,000 restaurants in more than 130 countries and territories, Yum is now one of the biggest restaurant chains in the world. Its marquee brands — KFC, Pizza Hut and Taco Bell — are one of the biggest private employers, with a combined 505,000 employees; a majority of them work part-time. Revenues in 2015 exceeded $13 billion. It ranked No 218 in the Fortune 500 in June 2016.
But it’s headed for big change
The company is now trying to spin off its massive China Division to appease activist investors including Corvex Management founder Keith Meister, who joined Yum’s board of directors in October 2015. Based in Shanghai, the division comprises 7,176 restaurants, mostly company-owned KFCs and Pizza Huts. In 2015, China accounted for 61% of Yum’s $11.1 billion in revenue and 39% of $1.9 billion in profits.
In Louisville, Yum employs 1,000 at the corporate headquarters as well as KFC’s U.S. division offices. In early 2016, however, CEO Greg Creed and the four other top executives shifted to Plano north of Dallas, where the company’s biggest two divisions, KFC Global and Pizza Hut, are headquartered. Allaying concerns that Yum’s corporate headquarters might move, too, a spokesman told WDRB in February 2016 the executives would work from Louisville one or two weeks per month. Taco Bell is based in southern California’s Irvine.
Sanders’ affiliation with KFC hasn’t entirely ended. He continued as a spokesman for many years after he sold the chain to Brown and Massey. He died in 1980 at Jewish Hospital and was buried in Cave Hill Cemetery before a monument designed to look like the KFC-Yum headquarters, at 1441 Gardiner Lane. For many years, his grave has been the most-visited there.
Last year, Yum resurrected the colonel — actually, former Saturday Night Live comedian Darrell Hammond — to boost sales. But the new series of commercials that followed have gotten mixed reviews. Here’s one:
Some key Yum links: