Jeffery Keys (’96) is president of Diversity Food Brands LLC, a consolidator, operator and licensor of food service brands with a primary focus on concessions common to airports, motorways, college campuses and hospitals. DFB is minority-owned and ACDBE-certified in multiple states. Keys was a founding partner of United Enterprise Fund LP, a private equity fund that promoted and financed minority business ownership of franchise restaurant companies. Keys led and managed a number of investments and provided both financial and operational expertise to UEF’s portfolio companies and other businesses. Prior to UEF, he was a vice president of credit at FMAC, a specialty franchise lender, where he participated in over $2 billion in franchise transactions.
Read what other African-American alumni and students have to say about career and education in Black@Anderson's 5 Questions
Interview by Diamon Lockett (FEMBA ’18)
Q: How did you get started in your industry and why are you passionate about what you do?
I started in restaurant operations when I was very young, working in fast food places like Pizza Hut before getting my undergraduate degree in economics. It was when I was taking economics courses that I developed an affinity for finance. I became a commercial banker for Wells Fargo after leaving Berkeley and I worked my way through until I came across a company that did specialized lending for franchising, which gave me the opportunity to continue to do finance but also revisit some of my experiences in restaurant operations. I worked with this specialty company that gave me tremendous exposure to a number of different brands and operating systems and to being a lender. It gave me access to detailed financial information, so I was able to understand at a very, very detailed level what the opportunities were, the different brands and franchises.
I stayed in the Los Angeles area for several years after my MBA. Then I was lured out to New York to begin a career in private equity, putting together a first-of-its-kind private equity fund that was going to focus on increasing minority participation in some of the major franchise chains and brands. That was definitely something I wanted to do; it was finance, operations, and it gave me the opportunity to increase visibility within minority ownership. I had learned, at the time, that it was going to be a great wealth-generating system in franchising. It combined a lot of things that I believed in and was very passionate about. So, I packed up and left for New York, and we invested almost $50 million in these franchise concepts. I was one of the founding partners of this private equity fund, called United Enterprise Funds. It’s small in comparison to the billion-dollar funds that you have today but, at the time, it was considered a medium-sized fund, and it was the first to specialize in that space, with or without the minority component. We just didn’t have a lot of private equity in the franchise restaurant space.