Many entrepreneurs consider Aziz Hashim the evangelist for the $1.5 trillion U.S. franchising industry. A successful multi-unit franchise owner who's worked in the industry from the age of 14, Hashim is now chairman of the International Franchise Association. He spends most of his time helping ordinary folks launch and grow franchises in the United States and Canada through his management company and his $50 million private equity fund, NRD Partners. His goal: to pay it forward.
"Franchising is a great way to attain the American dream," Hashim said.
He learned this firsthand. A Pakistani immigrant, Hashim worked his way through the University of California-Irvine and earned an electrical engineering degree while working part-time at his uncle's Burger King in Los Angeles. But after landing a job at Rockwell International, he quickly realized he didn't like the corporate world and being an entrepreneur was what he really wanted to do.
So in 1996 his parents mortgaged their house and gave him their life savings so he could buy a Kentucky Fried Chicken franchise. As he recalls, "I made a cold call to KFC, and at first they said no, but then they changed their minds. When they called me back and offered me a one-store license for downtown Atlanta, I had no idea how I'd do it, but I jumped on it."
"I love the pace of the quick-service food business but realized if I opened 'Aziz Fried Chicken' that would have been a very risky proposition. Having the backing of a big-name brand makes a big difference for a start-up."
From that humble beginning, Hashim built an 80-unit franchise empire composed of 14 brands — including KFC, Domino's Pizza, Taco Bell, Moe's Southwest Grill, Pizza Hut and Popeye's, as well as PetValu in Canada. Two years ago he decided to pivot, reduce his holdings and launch NRD Partners to invest in franchise companies.
Forty other multi-unit franchise owners are limited partners in the fund that invests in emerging franchise brands and public companies. As Hashim explained, "The investors don't just provide capital. Many want to be developers and buy franchise stores, build and expand their operations."
To date, the fund has purchased Frisch's Restaurants for $175 million, a family restaurant chain famous for its signature Big Boy burgers. It has also invested an undisclosed sum for a 70 percent stake in Fuzzy's Taco Shop, a fast-casual Mexican chain based in Fort Worth, Texas.
As he pointed out, there are more than 300 different lines of business in franchising — from auto-service shops to hotels to restaurants — so it gives an entrepreneur a wide variety of fields to choose from.
The most important advice he gives entrepreneurs: "First, know where your passion lies, make sure you have a dream team of advisors you trust, and have a detailed plan to manage risks."
To help others achieve their dreams, Hashim started a program at his own company, called Own It!, which lets hourly workers ascend the ladder of success and buy a franchise. "Once they become a manager and express interest in ownership, I will sell one of my units to them and often help finance it, he said. "It's a way I can give back." Ten employees have already gone through the program.
And he's also endowed a chair in franchise entrepreneurship at Georgia State University.
"The best advice I ever got is to think big and don't create self-imposed obstacles," he said. "In business you have to follow the brain, not the heart."