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Inspiration from Outback Steakhouse

by Alizeria Chimuco & Michael Connor

On Thursday, Feb. 20, The University of Tampa’s Sykes College of Business welcomed accomplished businessman Chris T. Sullivan, founder of Outback Steakhouse and former Chairman and CEO of Outback Steakhouse, Inc. (OSI), as the guest presenter in the 2020 Sykes Hall of Fame Business Speaker Series event. 

Sullivan, along with Bob Basham, Tim Gannon, and Trudy Cooper, founded the iconic Australian themed steakhouse in 1988. As Outback gained popularity, it developed into a household name chain with locations all around the world, with over a thousand current restaurants. 

OSI went public in 1991, and was sold in 2007 to Bain Capital Partners, Catterton Partners, and the OSI founders. The newly-organized company, Bloomin’ Brands, Inc., went public in 2012. 

Outback’s parent company grew substantially as it partnered with and eventually acquired well-known chains such as Carrabba’s Italian Grill, Bonefish Grill, and Fleming’s Prime Steakhouse & Wine Bar. 

The Series event was composed of a conversation with Sullivan highlighting entrepreneurship and globalization, a question and answer period, and then the Hall of Fame Business Speaker Series award presentation. 

Throughout the conversation, Sullivan encouraged students to take risks with caution and find dedicated mentors who can help along the journey. Sullivan spoke of how important mentors were in his own life. 

“Mentors really helped me understand what I’m supposed to learn and I learned a lot,” said Sullivan. With respect to mentorship and experience building, Sullivan suggested that students “go find a job at a great company, and find some mentors for about five years and really learn how to run a business, versus trying to start on your own and hope you can make it because [at UT] you have a lot of great resources already, a lot of people know what the game is.”

Sullivan, throughout his career, has demonstrated a strong sense of passion, drive, and perseverance. Sullivan also offered the following advice to students: “There are all kinds of fun activities out here in the world, just get the knowledge and experience you need and do it, and if you fail, do it again.” 

Throughout Sullivan’s conversation and his discussions with The Minaret, his drive and enthusiasm were clearly seen. When asked about his Outback experience, Sullivan said “the whole thing was such a thrill.” 

Sullivan also discussed how crucial globalization is in today’s business environment. He emphasized to students the importance of culture and how companies must adapt in different countries. He cautioned students about the relationship of restaurant performance based on location. An example Sullivan offered was Hong Kong, which was a more successful venture for Outback in comparison to mainland China.

“[Sullivan] had really good advice for anyone that wanted to do business, as far as having a great mindset and how to mentally check into this field,” said Khali Hazel, sophomore international business and finance major. “I wasn’t really sure of my expectations, because I’m not in the restaurant field and with finance as my major, I wasn’t expecting anything, but I did learn a lot.” 

Sullivan’s journey has undoubtedly been challenging, but incredibly rewarding. It can teach UT students many important qualities not only in business but in life. Sullivan exemplifies passion, dedication, drive, perseverance, hard work, and risk-taking. 

“Chris candidly chronicled how he and his co-founders came to establish one of the most successful global restaurant chains, including their failures and setbacks that Chris said were their most important learning experiences,” said John Caslione, lecturer of management and entrepreneurship. “Chris’ authenticity and his humility came across loudly as he advised UT’s business students to relentlessly follow their passions and to identify mentors to guide them along their paths to success.” 

Alizeria Chimuco can be reached at alizeria.chimuco@spartans.ut.edu
Michael Connor can be reached at michael.connor@spartans.ut.edu

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