From operating casinos and marketing hotels to now running some of America’s most beloved food brands, UofL alumnus Jim Holthouser ’81, ’83, ’85 is a transformative leader with a successful record of building brand loyalty and staying at the forefront of innovation.
UofL students heard directly from the Focus Brands CEO during a “Focus on Franchising” event hosted by the College of Business in partnership with the Yum! Center for Global Franchise Excellence. The conversation with Holthouser was followed by an audience Q&A.
Holthouser is responsible for a global portfolio of well-recognized food service and restaurant brands. He leads the parent company of favorites including Auntie Anne’s, Carvel, Cinnabon, Jamba, Moe’s Southwest Grill, McAlister’s Deli, Schlotzsky’s and Seattle’s Best Coffee.
Holthouser earned three UofL degrees and credits his time at UofL for helping shape him into the person he is today. He likened his university experience to a kaleidoscope, with individual encounters, lessons learned and lots of memories that added up.
“I’ve always had this love of all things international. By the time I left Louisville, I had my [bachelor’s] degrees in German and French and my master’s in political science. Louisville became my springboard to the international school,” Holthouser said.
Holthouser’s energy and vision set the tone for the culture of Focus Brands’ 6,000 locations worldwide. He creates innovative and customer-focused solutions to grow and reinvigorate brands, improve loyalty, create cost savings and drive revenue and unit growth.
“The beauty of this job is there’s never one day like the next, and I love that diversity,” Holthouser said.
Prior to his work at Focus Brands, Holthouser served as a senior executive at Hilton Hotels, where he was responsible for a $36 billion international portfolio of 15 leading hotel brands. He covered more than 5,000 locations across 105 countries and directed worldwide brand marketing, product and brand development, owner relations and the 75 million-member Hilton Honors guest loyalty program.
“I think what is most gratifying to me is when I think back to the number of people I’ve promoted and the number of people I’ve hired and who’ve gone on to do bigger and better things,” he said. “And you’ve helped them financially and given their families different lives and given them different optionalities and opportunities, right? That’s kind of cool.”
Though his Atlanta-based work keeps him quite busy, Holthouser does find time to relax with a good book. A modern-day Renaissance man, Holthouser loves to travel and is fluent in German and conversant in French. He also is a trained pianist with several recordings to his credit.
“[College] is the one time in your life where you really get to explore and play,” he said. “That’s the other thing that Louisville gave me — it gave this little Kentucky boy a lot of exposure to the world.”