John Young Brown Jr. is an American politician, entrepreneur, and businessman from the U.S. state of Kentucky. He served as the 55th governor of Kentucky from 1979 to 1983, although he may be best known for building Kentucky Fried Chicken (KFC) into a multimillion-dollar restaurant chain.
The son of a U.S. congressman, Brown’s talent for business became evident in college, where he made a substantial amount of money selling Encyclopedia Britannica sets. After briefly practicing law with his father, he purchased Kentucky Fried Chicken from founder Harland Sanders in 1964. Brown turned the company into a world-wide success, and sold his interest in the company for a huge profit in 1971. He then invested in several other restaurant ventures, but none matched the success of KFC. During the 1970s, he also owned, at various times, three professional basketball teams – the American Basketball Association’s Kentucky Colonels, and the National Basketball Association’s Boston Celtics and Buffalo Braves (currently the Los Angeles Clippers).
Despite having previously shown little inclination toward politics, Brown surprised political observers by declaring his candidacy for governor in 1979. With the state and nation facing difficult economic times, Brown promised to run the state government like a business. A strong media campaign funded by his personal fortune allowed him to win the Democratic primary and go on to defeat former Republican governor Louie B. Nunn in the general election.
Brown appointed many successful business people to state posts instead of making political appointments. Following through on his campaign promise to make more diverse appointments, he named a woman and an African-American to his cabinet.
Brown briefly considered a run for the U.S. Senate after his gubernatorial term, but withdrew from the race after only three weeks, citing health issues. He has continued to invest in business ventures, the most high profile of which was Kenny Rogers Roasters, a wood-roasted chicken restaurant he founded with country music star Kenny Rogers.