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Name that Business Tycoon! - May 23, 2014

Q: As a young man, he worked for Goodyear Tire in Topeka. Then, he sold life insurance. In the early 1960s, he bought a pizza restaurant in Pittsburg and another one in Joplin, Missouri. In time, he acquired 500 of them, becoming the world’s largest franchisee of Pizza Huts. What’s the name of this legendary entrepreneur and multi-millionaire?

(Flickr Photo by Mark Hillary)


A: O. Gene Bicknell (or just Gene Bicknell)


(Photo Courtesy of themansionentertainment.com)

O. Gene Bicknell was born into poverty in Picher, Oklahoma. His family’s meager circumstances didn’t improve much when they moved to Baxter Springs, Kansas, where Bicknell grew up. In the early 1950s, he served in the army. In 1955, he went to work for the Goodyear Tire Company in Topeka. Bicknell left Goodyear and started selling insurance for New York Life. In 1962, he bought his first Pizza Hut franchise in Pittsburg and another store in Joplin, Missouri. As the years went on, this Pittsburg State graduate started collecting Pizza Huts like some people collect baseball cards. Before you knew it, he had 500 of them.
The empire he built, NPC International (National Pizza Company), became the world's largest Pizza Hut franchisee. Bicknell also held stakes in numerous other restaurants and business ventures (including Pittsburg radio station KKOW AM-FM, where KPR’s J. Schafer worked for his in the early 1990s.) Not content with simply being a successful businessman, Bicknell became mayor of Pittsburg and ran twice (unsuccessfully) for Kansas governor. Along the way, he’s raised a whole lot of money for hospitals, universities and dozens of charitable causes. He also wrote a book and produced (and appeared in) a number of movies. These days, he owns a couple theaters and runs an entertainment business in Branson, Missouri. Kind of makes you wonder what you’ve been doing with YOUR life, doesn’t it?