$2 billion man lives the dream

STEVE Layt has come a long way since his days of serving hot chips and chicken at Grafton's KFC restaurant.

Nineteen years on, Mr Layt, 35, was this year made chief operating officer of a $1.9 billion American restaurant company.

It's the ultimate rags to riches story.

Mr Layt started at the Grafton KFC in 1988, and over 13 years, relished being handed increasing levels of responsibility within KFC throughout Australia, and still managed to complete a bachelor of business degree at Southern Cross University while working full-time.

That was a big achievement, as Mr Layt was unable to complete Year 12 at Grafton High School.

At the age of 16 he endured two major spinal operations to treat a serious condition, Scheuermann's disease. In January 2003 he received an offer he couldn't refuse and made a crucial career move taking up a position with fast-food giant Yum Brands' international division, the world's largest restaurant company with entities including KFC, Pizza Hut and Taco Bell. Based in Dallas, Texas, he served as a Yum Brands global director of restaurant excellence for three years and travelled the world rolling-out new operating initiatives through their division in countries including Spain, France, China and the UK.

In January this year, the boy from Grafton was recognised once again when promoted to head coach of franchise operations for Yum Brands Pizza Hut division in Dallas, where he was responsible for overseeing 2300 restaurants throughout eastern United States.

But a few months ago, he was offered the job of a lifetime.

With around 19 years of restaurant industry experience under his belt, it was hardly surprising he was head-hunted by an American executive recruitment firm and was offered his current position as chief operation officer for Buffets Inc in Minnesota, the largest steak-buffet restaurant company in the US, with 626 restaurants in 39 states.

The company employs around 37,000 team members and serves about 200 million customers across America each year. Mr Layt has lived in Dallas with his wife of 13 years, Nikki, and their three children Emily, 8, Lachlan, 7, Chelsea, 18-months for almost five years.

"I just thought this was a great success story for a former Grafton boy," Nikki said in an email to The Daily Examiner.

"Steve also gained his FAA Pilots Licence in America in 2004, which was no easy accomplishment for a 'resident-alien' since September 11."

Mr Layt's family was originally from Grafton; his mother Kristine passed away from cancer in 1997 and his father Syd was the assistant superintendent of Grafton Jail prior to retiring in 1993. He moved back to Penrith so his wife could be closer to her family and cancer treatment.



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