Still hungry for success
AMONG the dancing and delicious food at the Helm Bar’s Jamaican Manor in Surfers Paradise, the billionaire founder of Hungry Jacks sips a Red Stripe beer and waits for Usain Bolt.
Jack Cowin, 75, is in this bar because of his connections to Canadian silver medallist, an Aussie wrestler, a Bond University student, a former Miss World and a Jamaican MP.
But he’s on the Gold Coast for one key reason: “the Games”.
The wrestling fan watched Steven Takahashik, the Canadian son of a friend, win a silver medal on Thursday.
Today he’ll watch Jayden Lawrence, the Aussie wrestler he sponsored for four years, take to the mat.
He’s also taken some time for business, visiting some of his 20,000 staff on the Coast and in Tweed Heads before embarking on a packed Games schedule.
Mr Cowin famously had the licence to start Burger King in Australia, but found the name already taken by a determined small businessman who wouldn’t let it go – so Hungry Jacks was born instead.
For the record, Mr Cowin did not name the chain after himself.
“I am not ‘Hungry Jack’, I’m very well fed as you can probably tell,” he says with a smile.
“There was brand of pancakes and mashed potatoes that sold under the name Hungry Jack’s in the US.
“So was I the founder of the name? No. But it could have been Hungry George’s, the fact it was Jack’s may have had something to do with the selection.”
Three years earlier, during a visit to some friends in Australia as young man, Mr Cowin saw the potential of fast food when he went for a Chinese takeaway and was stunned to see the line-up of 50 people waiting.
“You didn’t have to be Albert Einstein. At that stage of the game it was Chinese restaurants, fish and chip shops and white tablecloth restaurants – there was no fast food, convenience food industry,” he said.
“I didn’t have any money, I was married, had a six-monthold child, a mortgage – I was 25 years old.”
So Mr Cowin got himself the rights to launch 10 Kentucky Fried Chicken stores and did in 1969 what 25-year-olds in 2018 are doing when they need cash – he crowd-funded it.
Thirty Canadian friends tipped in $10,000 each to help Mr Cowin launch KFC in Western Australia, eventually starting what would become Competitive Foods Australia, a private company valued at more than $350 million, employing more than 20,000 people and operating more than 390 Hungry Jacks outlets Australia-wide.
Mr Cowin sold out of KFC for $55 million in 2013, but still owns Competitive Foods Australia, is a major shareholder and chairman of pizza chain Dominos and owns one of the largest meat processors, Consolidated Foods.
His net worth was estimated by Forbes at US$1.65 billion (A$2.12 billion) this week.
So how did he come to be in the Jamaican Manor at Helm Bar Surfers Paradise during the Commonwealth Games?
Mr Cowin enjoys a close friendship with Burger King’s Jamaican CEO Richard Lake and his wife, former Miss World and Jamaican Member of Parliament Lisa Hanna, a close friend of Usain Bolt and a regular visitor on the Cowins’ $50m yacht in the Carribbean.
“She knows him really well so she said she’s trying to set up for me to meet him – I don’t know whether it will happen or not, I’m sure he’s in demand and popular – we’ll see what happens.”
Along with wrestlers, Mr Cowin also sponsors Bond University student Celia Innerarity, who is studying dietetics in the hope of joining the Jamaican athletics team to help boost their nutrition and thereby their medal tally.
Mr Cowin said, if he was 25 years old with a million dollars on the Gold Coast, he’d invest it in our top industry.
“I’d do exactly what is already being done and get into the tourism business,” he said.
“We have a population of 24 million – there are 1.3 billion Chinese and we get one per cent of the tourism business.
“As the affluence of China increases, they’re going to travel more and more – we’re on the same time zone, the seasons are different.
“The Gold Coast is well-positioned for that.”
I AM NOT ‘HUNGRY JACK’, I’M VERY WELL FED AS YOU CAN PROBABLY TELL JACK COWIN