Jack A. Laughery grew up in the small town of Guthrie Center, Iowa. He studied business at the University of Iowa, graduating in 1957 and later joined the regional fast-food chain Sandy’s as a manager in 1962. Immediately showcasing an incredible talent for the restaurant business and for managing people, Laughery quickly rose to the position of president and chief executive officer by 1971. Shortly thereafter, Laughery helped negotiate a key merger between Sandy’s and Hardee’s Food Systems, which proved to be an important strategic move for both companies. During that time, he relocated to Rocky Mount, North Carolina and became executive vice president of Hardee’s. Under his leadership, Hardee’s expanded from 909 to 3,291 units and earnings rose 22 percent annually.
After leaving Hardee’s in 1990, Laughery worked with Papa John’s pizza chain as a director and a partner. His awards are numerous and include recognition as the North Carolina Restaurateur of the Year. As an active figure in politics (locally and nationally), he served in many capacities including a position on the North Carolina State Advisory Budget Commission. The depth of his philanthropic endeavors lives on in events like the annual Jack Laughery Ride for Knowledge, which helps sponsor continuing education scholarships. Before his death in 2006, Laughery explained his success in his retirement statement: "Projects and events don’t happen because some executive sends out a memo. They happen because people are dedicated to making their company the best."