MBA Alumnus, Potbelly CEO Offers Advice to Bauer Grads

Published on June 1, 2015

Aylwin Lewis Delivers Keynote at Bauer MBA/MS Finance Graduation Celebration Dinner


Potbelly CEO Aylwin Lewis (MBA ’90) speaks during a dinner honoring new graduates of the MBA and MS Finance programs. See more photos at

As an alumnus of the Bauer MBA program, Potbelly CEO Aylwin Lewis (MBA ’90) had a particularly impactful message to share with new graduates of the MBA and MS Finance programs at the C. T. Bauer College of Business.

Lewis served as the keynote speaker during a recognition dinner in May for the newest class of alumni from the program. He described his journey, starting with his early days growing up in Houston’s Third Ward, as he passed the University of Houston campus on his way to church every Sunday.

“I decided early on that you can learn from everybody, and you can learn from every situation,” Lewis said.

That mentality has served him well in both his personal life and his professional career. He took on his role at Potbelly Corporation in 2008, with nearly three decades in the restaurant industry, including experience as president, chief multi-branding and operating officer of YUM! Brands, Inc. (the parent of KFC, Taco Bell and Pizza Hut) and as chief operating officer of Pizza Hut.

In his remarks to Bauer graduates, Lewis recounted an anecdote from the previous day — he was searching for a new CEO for a company he advises. He described walking into the interview and seeing a familiar face.

“He said, ‘Aylwin Lewis, do you recognize me?’” Lewis recalled, adding that the candidate was someone he’d met during his tenure with Pizza Hut. Though the two had interacted just once, he said, the man made quite an impression back then.

“He automatically goes to the top of my list when we talk about who can get this job because of what he taught me and the time we spent. I walked away literally with a whole briefcase of information and plans that I instilled and brought back to Pizza Hut. It impacted my whole career,” Lewis said. “So, be generous with your time, and be generous with people.”

Lewis, who also serves as as a director on the board at the Walt Disney Company and on the Bauer College Board, advised graduates to search for ways to use what they’d learned in the program to make a difference in the lives of others.

“Everybody is smart once you get to (a certain point) — that’s the price of admission,” he said. “But recognizing how to use your smarts (and) how to use the world outside of you, it’s so important to seek knowledge and to consult with folks who you admire and who have done it before.”

Lewis congratulated the graduates for their accomplishments and encouraged them to be ethical and conscientious, repeating an axiom his mother taught him at a young age.

“There are no shortcuts in life,” Lewis said. “It is a small world, and treating people well just really pays.”

By Trey Strange