THE EARLY YEARS
Brady Keys, Jr. was born in Austin , Texas May 19,1937 .
Success did not live next door to him in his poor neighborhood.
But he had the power to dream, when everything around
him suggested that he shouldn't. He chased the picture of
success in his mind, and pursued the vision he had as an eight
year old boy that led him to boldly tell his mother: "I
want to be a professional football player and a businessman."
Says Keys, "It wasn't a dream to me, it was a commission-
something I was going to commission myself to do." Keys
is one of those men who dared to dream with his eyes wide
"Growing up in Austin , Texas , I did not feel that
my condition of extreme poverty was permanent. I was brought
up on soup, bread, beans and rice. I didn't receive my first
pair of dress pants or hard shoes until I was going into high
school. But, I felt that sooner or later things that I had
dreamed would come true. When the soles of my shoes wore out,
I learned to put cardboard in the bottoms of them. I had three
pair of jeans, and we patched and patched and patched them." Keys
credits his mother, A.C. Franklin, for his determination,
because she never told he couldn't do what he wanted. He also
never accepted poverty.
In spite of, and most likely, because of his environment,
Brady Keys, Jr. was determined to excel. Early on, he demonstrated
athletic ability. While attending Kealing Jr. High School
in Austin , he attracted the attention of a varsity football
coach who predicted a future for him in football. After ninth
grade, Keys' family moved to Los Angeles , California .
THE ROAD TO COLLEGE
In California , he attended Polytechnic High and was involved
in football, baseball, track and field. By the time he was a
senior in high school, he was recruited by several colleges
and universities. He was offered the opportunity to play baseball
for the Brooklyn Dodgers. But, he was more interested in football.
A scholarship offer from UCLA sparked his interest. However,
he did not have the grades to attend. So he enrolled at East
Los Angeles Jr. College in order to improve his grades. His
stay at the junior college was brief: "I was kicked out," Keys
says. "I was hanging around the mess hall telling jokes
with a guy by the name of Richard Pryer. He didn't get his grades
and neither did I". Expelled from junior college, Keys
began working menial jobs for $1.65 an hour. The dream of playing
football stayed with him, however.
ON THE FOOTBALL FIELD
He returned to football, playing for Eagle Rock Athletic Club,
a semi pro unit. During a game played at the Rose Bowl, Keys
captured the attention of Fido Murphy, a Pittsburgh Steelers
scout. Murphy offered Keys a contract to be a member of the
taxi squad. Keys, insulted by the offer, rejected it. Murphy
later offered him a chance to attend Colorado State University
until he could legally be drafted as a free agent.
Keys attended Colorado State and his football prowess on the
Colorado State team was impressive. In his third year at Colorado
State , he was drafted
by the Pittsburgh Steelers. Keys played six productive years
for the Steelers and was chosen to start in the 1967 Pro Bowl.
It was during this year, he began seriously to consider his
dream of becoming a businessman.
FROM FOOTBALL TO FINANCE
At this juncture, Keys was ready to make the transition from
football to finance. Though Keys was a successful athlete, he
was rejected by many banks when he applied for business loans
to start his All-Pro restaurants.
was told by bankers, "You have an excellent
franchising idea, but we're afraid to risk the money on Negro management." He
was denied loans from greater than ten banks, all for this
Not one to give up, Keys approached Steelers' owner, Art Rooney, Sr.
who had been very supportive of his efforts both on and off the playing
field. Rooney loaned Keys the seed money to start All Pro Fried Chicken
on nothing but his word that he would repay the loan. Says Keys, "he
(Rooney) was sent from God." Rooney never accepted repayment of
Keys eventually left the Steelers in 1967 and went on to play for
the Minnesota Vikings and later, the St. Louis Cardinals. Altogether,
he spent eight seasons in the National Football League.
He opened the first All Pro Fried Chicken in San Diego , California
in January 1967. Keys left his mother in law and brother in law in
charge of the store and he returned to the football field. He was then
able to approach the banks from a position of strength. The tenacity
and doggedness Keys developed on the football field served him well
in the business arena.
"I want to be a model for black people who want to go into business
for themselves," Keys said in a 1969 interview in the Christian
Science Monitor. He became the role model he hoped to be, and attracted
the attention of the nation. Scores of articles on the "Negro
athlete turned businessman" appeared in newspapers across the
The All Pro Fried Chicken franchisees proved successful. They were
turnkey operations buttressed by Urban Talent Development, a training
center that provided continuous marketing, accounting, and food preparation
advice. Keys understood the importance of training and support, as
this was the first business venture for the majority of the new franchisees.
The franchise deals were structured so that each of the franchise holders
would eventually have equity participation in the company.
LIFE AFTER FOOTBALL
Keys realized that he would need a career after football. He was now
married and had a family to support. So, he tried his hand at business.
He bought 50 percent of an existing business that a bank told him was
lucrative. The business, Keys Auto Detail, cleaned car motors for automobile
dealers. The venture failed miserably.
I promised myself that the next business venture I involved myself
with would be one I started from scratch. I was bent on not letting
that failure cause me any further problems," he said.
During the football off-season, Keys lived in Los Angeles , California
. There, he met Bill Stennis, who was very successful in the chicken
business. "I used to sit in my car in his parking lot for hours
at a time, watching the number of people who went into his restaurant
to buy chicken. It was then I decided, that was the business for me.
I went to work at one of his restaurants for free, just so I could
learn the business"
After he learned all that was involved in the purchasing, preparation,
management and marketing of the restaurant, Keys began experimenting
with different batters for his own fried chicken that he would later
serve at his All-Pro restaurants. He went to his wife and relatives and
asked them for their fried chicken recipes. He pulled the best from all
of the recipes and took the resulting mixture to a chemist to have it
made in restaurant quantities. The rest is history, as they say.
All Pro Fried Chicken, became the launching pad for Keys' franchising
career. He established over 50 All Pro franchises throughout the East
and West coasts. In 1970, Keys made history when he entered a joint
venture with Kentucky Fried Chicken.
"BLACK ENTERPRISE MUST COME TO PASS IF OUR COUNTRY IS TO CONTINUE
Brady Keys, Jr. 1970
Keys wrote those words in the epilogue of his book, From Football
to Finance. Although there are any number of black owned enterprises
in 1997, there is still much to be done. According to Keys, few African
Americans are able to maximize the potential of their own businesses
because they start and remain undercapitalized. "Don't get me
started on bankers," he says. "They deliberately keep Blacks
from borrowing significant amounts of money to go into business." However,
Keys uses his success to demonstrate to bankers the need to become
more receptive to loaning money to other minorities. He urges them
to recognize that minority ownership of businesses is critical to the
survival of urban communities.
The Keys Group Company has been ranked by Black Enterprise magazine
as one of the nation's 100 owned black businesses over several years.
Even as The Keys Group Company's sales hovered above $15.5 million,
Keys insisted, "It's not how much money I can make. It's how much
business I can do, how many young people I can hire, and how many can
IMPACT OF THE KEYS GROUP CO.
During the thirty years of The Keys Group Company's operation, over
150,000 youth have been employed; giving many their first jobs.
Keys' entrepreneurial savvy is internationally recognized. When African
National Congress leader, Nelson Mandela and the Bophuthatswana National
Development Corporation asked an Atlanta business consultant to identify
a black entrepreneur who could offer good advice to the people in South
Africa as they started independent self-owned businesses, he chose
Keys. Keys spent two weeks in South Africa as part of the Entrepreneur
Training Convention. "I was glad that I could make a difference."
Reflecting on the success of The Keys Group Company, there has been
an undercurrent of "making a difference." Keys has demonstrated
the knack for recognizing and filling natural voids in the marketplace,
all the while, lifting others as he climbed. He has been instrumental
in helping other minority business owners get their start.
Today, The Keys Group Company includes eleven (11)Kentucky Fried Chicken
Restaurants in Southwest Georgia; Keys News & Gift Shop, the largest
minority owned airport concession in the country, located in the Orlando
International Airport; WJIZ 96.3 FM and. WJYZ 960 AM radio stations
in Albany, Georgia; Ramsey & Ramsey Hair Styling Salon in Detroit,
Michigan; the Black Business Directory and Resource Guide of Southwest
Georgia; and All Pro Ostrich Ranch.
Keys' relentless drive and ambition burn as strongly today as ever.
When asked what his plans are for the coming millennium, he says, "I
want to get involved in more businesses. I'm heavily involved in All
Pro Ostrich Ranch. I plan to do more in Orlando ."
Says Keys of his success: "When you can create and multiply yourself
in the community and you can make a difference, that's community involvement
and at the same time, community power."
In 1996, The Keys Group companies contributed over $40 million
to the economies of Georgia , Florida and Michigan .