The man who built Kentucky Fried Chicken from a small chain of restaurants into a multinational company spoke at the first session of the NFU’s Poultry Industry Programme (PIP).

John Y Brown Jr assembled investors to buy KFC from Colonel Sanders in 1964 and is recognised as a pioneer of the fast-food model. In the seven years he ran the company, KFC grew into one of the largest restaurant chains in the world.

Since then he has continually invested and built businesses, and served as the governor of Kentucky from 1979-83. Harvard business school named him one of America’s top business leaders of the 20th century.

He spoke to the 19 PIP delegates at their first two-day session, part of the NFU’s seven-month scheme to train and inspire new poultry industry leaders.

The session featured a number of talks on a wide range of subjects, from getting more from feed producers to using social media to promote a business.

Mr Brown Jr said that effective marketing was the real key to his success, and a large part of that was keeping the Colonel – with his distinctive mannerisms and the fact that he only wore a white suit – a part of the business. “That’s what you call branding, that’s our integrity, who we are and what the public thinks of us.”

Over the time that Mr Brown Jr owned KFC, the business expanded into 37 countries. In contrast to the way other fast-food businesses expanded abroad, he ran a limited risk operation: “I would send someone over and say build one restaurant and, if it works, build two.”

This laissez-faire approach led to menus being altered to suit different markets – KFCs in China, of which today there are over 4,000, sell noodles and rice cakes instead of fries.

He called the food business “the greatest industry in the world,” and said that, as 50% of the protein Britain eats comes from chicken, the PIP participants were in the right place to succeed.