Mark Hoffman/USA TODAY

Ricky Jean Francois Builds an Empire, One Doughnut at a Time

Inspired by a former All-Pro teammate and the wizards of Silicon Valley, Green Bay Packers defensive tackle Ricky Jean Francois is a self-taught businessman who owns 25 Dunkin' Donuts shops. That, he said, is only the start.

Friday was National Doughnut Day.

It was probably a good day for Ricky Jean Francois’ bank account.

Jean Francois, the veteran defensive lineman that the Green Bay Packers signed on March 23, owns 25 Dunkin’ Donuts in Hilton Head, S.C., and Savannah, Ga. While some athletes are focused on giant houses, fleets of fancy cars and closets full of bling and sneakers, Jean Francois is focused on building an empire.

One jelly-filled doughnut at a time.

“By the time I hit 45 or 50, I want to be at least $500 million in,” Jean Francois said after Thursday’s practice.

Jean Francois entered the NFL as a seventh-round pick by San Francisco in 2009. He wasn’t a business major at LSU. Rather, his business acumen was self-taught, and inspired by former teammate Justin Smith and the technology wizards of the Silicon Valley.

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“He’s a Midwest guy, off the ranch,” Jean Francois said of the former All-Pro Smith, a native of Jefferson City, Mo. “Every day he walked into work, he had a torn-up T-shirt, some torn-up jeans and some thong slide (sandals). Every day, he drove a BMW. I’m thinking, this dude never changes. He’s walking around with the same luggage for so many years. I’m like, ‘There ain’t no way in hell this dude can walk around like this.’”

One day, Jean Francois got his reality check when he stopped by Smith’s house. His neighbor, according to Jean Francois, was the owner of Facebook.

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“When I saw his house,” Jean Francois said, “I said, ‘Damn.’ He’s like, ‘I don’t have to wear this. I don’t have to do that. All of that’s for show. Where I live at is what I need to invest in. Friends who I talk to are who I need to invest in. The people around my circle is who I need to invest in.’ If you just looked at him, you wouldn’t think he had that. But when you got a chance to meet him and see all the other guys who were his neighbors, that’s when it started clicking in my head. I’ve got to start making better financial decisions. The jewelry, that’s going to lose value. The cars, when you roll off the lot, the value’s going to drop. Anything I touch has to be an investment.”

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While with the 49ers, Jean Francois did an internship with Apple. The genius and foresight of the late Apple co-founder Steve Jobs further fueled his interest in business.

Following the 2012 season, Jean Francois signed a four-year, $22 million contract with the Indianapolis Colts that included $5.5 million guaranteed.

“When I got to Indy,” Jean Francois recalled, “I was with a banker and I told the banker, ‘I’m going to run into a large amount of money.’ He showed me a financial adviser and this financial adviser, I was putting him through hell and back just to see what he could do, just to see the people he could put around. I hate guys that just talk. Talk don’t do nothing. Talk is cheap. Talk don’t make you nothing. It don’t get you nowhere. But I put him through so many different things. When I saw how genuine he was and what he wanted to show, he wanted to teach you it. ‘Before I do this, I want to teach you this. I want you to know this number. I want you to know what’s the gross, what’s the income, what’s the this and that. What’s going on in the NASDAQ, what’s going on in the Dow Jones. Why do you invest in this area and not this area.’”

Their relationship grew, and the adviser eventually set up Jean Francois with the CEO of Dunkin’ Donuts, Nigel Travis. From there, Jean Francois did “research, research, research” on the business. One day, Jean Francois was offered the Savannah region and eight Dunkin’ Donuts shops. He couldn’t pass up the possibility of sweet success.

“Doughnuts, ain’t nobody passing them up,” Jean Francois said. “Coffee is the No. 1 drug in the world. I’m like, I’m not losing with this.”

A doughnut tycoon was born.

“What we were supposed to do (for profit) at the end of the year, we were in the middle of the year when we did it,” Jean Francois said.

Jean Francois’ success meant he was given more territory and more shops. The guy with all the questions now was the guy with the answers.

“As more territory came, more businesspeople from different ventures started coming to me and started asking me for my advice. It’s like, ‘People are asking me now!’”

Despite his success, his thirst for knowledge never ends. It’s all about “feeding your mind.” When he’s not diving into the Packers’ playbook, he’s reading books or Forbes magazine. That business knowledge not only helps him run his Dunkin shops, but it helps him when he’s in the same arena as other movers and shakers of the business world. “What type of conversation can you hold? Their attention span is real short if it’s nothing that keeps their attention,” he explained.

Those conversations and relationships have given him some huge goals. He’s got 25 Dunkin Donuts; he’d like to build that empire to 50. Eventually, he’d like to explore other business franchises. And maybe, just maybe, buy one high-profile type of franchise.

“I got around different guys who were in the business,” he said. “I was around guys who wanted to be in the Forbes Top 100 and billionaires. They wanted to be on the top. ‘Why can I not be like them? I need to figure it out.’ One of my favorite authors is Napoleon (Hill). I was reading things like ‘Think and Grow Rich’ and seeing what’s going on in the world and seeing how the stock market works. I just got curious and I’m like, ‘This is where money’s being made, so why not make it?’ There’s money out here to be made. Why not be that person to go and do it? Why not be the NFL player and, ‘Let’s get a team together. Let’s buy an NFL team.’ You’ve never seen an NFL player do that.”

When he was a young player in the league, Jean Francois felt himself gravitate toward the veteran players. Now, at age 30, he is the veteran player. He wants to impart his wisdom on the younger generation of players, who might not understand that those $300,000 weekly game checks won’t be coming in forever. The huge house and fancy car are great, but what happens when you tear up your knee and you’re unceremoniously dumped from the roster? What if there’s labor unrest when the collective bargaining agreement expires after the 2020 season?

“We can’t play this game forever,” Jean Francois said. “Knock on wood that it don’t happen, but just in one play, your career can end. Your career ends, your football-playing identity is gone, what are you going to do now? What are you going to fall back on? The NFL, that money ain’t going to be made forever. What are you going to do? In my case, I don’t want to keep looking at my account and see withdrawals. I want to see large amounts of deposits. As long as I keep seeing those deposits, I’m going to keep expanding, expanding, expanding. I’m happy but I’m not satisfied yet.”

Jean Francois, who will battle the likes of Letroy Guion, Christian Ringo and Brian Price for a roster spot or two behind Mike Daniels, Kenny Clark, Dean Lowry and third-round pick Montravius Adams, is entering his ninth season. He’d like to play 13 seasons. Not because he has to, like some past-their-prime athletes who are hungry for one final payday to fill a bank account that has seen too many withdrawals over the years, but because he loves the game.

“You know the difference between a check that you have to get from football and a check that comes in the mailbox? You’ve got to come here and work for it everyday. The mailbox, you just see it come in, open it and, ‘I made another six figures today.’ I want both checks to keep coming. When it’s time for me to walk away, I still have this other income coming in. I’m not trying to spend it. All I’m trying to do is grow it as large as it can go.

Bill Huber is publisher of PackerReport.com and has written for Packer Report since 1997. E-mail him at packwriter2002@yahoo.com or leave him a question in Packer Report’s subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Find Bill on Twitter at www.twitter.com/PackerReport.


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