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Au Bon Pain Chair Shares Secrets of His Success


Louis I. Kane '53, co-chair of Au Bon Pain Co., Inc., shared the secrets of his success last night at an intimate gathering of the Harvard Entrepreneurs Club (HEC).

Just as they do with his company's baked goods, the more than 30 students at the two-hour event consumed his life story and gobbled up his business tips.

Kane said he jumped into the world of venture capitalism after doing a tour during the Korean War with the Marine Corps.

At the gathering, Kane told students interested in becoming entrepreneurs to look beyond the kinds of employers who recruit Harvard undergraduates before applying to business school.

"Don't go to work for investment banks before business school but get management experience by working at a place like McDonald's or Au Bon Pain," he said.

Kane, who said he learned business basics by taking courses at Bentley College, first invested in the family-owned yogurt operation Columbo. He entered into this venture with partner John H. Davison '52.

Throughout the course of his career, Kane said he has translated connections made at Harvard into business opportunities.

Kane told the crowd about one associate he first met on campus when they were both dating the same girl. This former rival suitor later became instrumental in the expansion of Au Bon Pain into Cambridge, he said.

Kane used his University ties to negotiate and secure the lease for Au Bon Pain's most successful unit-located in Harvard Square.

In order for Kane to develop this site, the Cambridge Board of Planning had to approve his plans, but the board has historically discouraged fast-food chains from operating in the area.

Au Bon Pain avoided this stumbling block by presenting itself as a quick food server, not a fast-food restaurant.

Kane said his time spent overseas during his Marine Corps service convinced him of the potential demand in America for both yogurt and French baked goods. He shared his vision with students last night, who said they gained much from the evening.

"I learned a great deal about determining and exploiting market opportunities," said Matthew C. Ebbel '01.

Thomas Y. Wu '98, president of the HEC, said he appreciated Kane's discussion of "the kinds of difficulties you run into when you start a business."

After his speech, Kane answered questions from the audience. Many of those who attended said they emerged grateful for the educational experience.

"He brought a lot of experience and firsthand knowledge," said McComma Grayson '00. "It was practical stuff that entrepreneurs need to know to get started.

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