Fred DeLuca was 18 when he approached a family friend, nuclear engineer Peter Buck, for a loan. Buck lent him $1,000 which DeLuca used to found a sandwich shop in 1965.

The store nosedived, so he opened another, which struggled too. But these experiences laid the groundwork for a business empire that made both DeLuca and Buck multi-billionaires.

DeLuca was the chief executive of Subway, who was born in the Bronx to Italian-American parents and who died of leukaemia last year. He hit upon the key to success in 1974, when he adopted a franchise model to drive growth. In the next four years Subway opened over 80 stores, reaching 100 in 1978. In 1987 it opened its thousandth.

Subway now has more than 44,000 franchises in 110 countries, surpassing KFC (18,000) and McDonald’s (36,000).

Key achievements

  • From modest beginnings – his father was a factory worker and he grew up in the Bronx – DeLuca built a business empire with a revenue of $18bn.
  • Carved a niche in the fast-food market by offering a healthier alternative to McDonald’s and KFC.
  • By the year of his death, new stores were opening at a rate of 1,500 a year.

Lessons for your store

  1. Don’t give up – DeLuca’s first sandwich store flopped but he had sufficient faith in his vision to try again.
  2. Get a little help from your friends – as well as an initial $1,000 loaned by a family friend, DeLuca’s mother became a company director and his sister vice president of research and development.
  3. Get hands on – DeLuca travelled the country in an old car, dropping incognito into stores to sample the food and chat with staff and customers.