When John Dasburg (JD 73) was cooking up burgers as a short order chef at the now-defunct Burger Bill’s restaurant on Gainesville’s University Avenue in the 1960s, he never dreamed his future would revolve around beef patties.
After all, Dasburg, a charismatic overachiever who had grown up in Miami, was an industrial engineering student at the University of Florida, and he had big dreams for his future.
“I was inspired by Sputnik, and all the things going on at that time made engineering seem like an exciting and lucrative field,” he says.
Soon after graduating, the Vietnam War took hold of the country, and Dasburg went off to serve three years in the Navy. By the time he got out, his engineering degree had lost value.
“Engineers everywhere were being laid off,” he says. “There was just no postwar need for them.”
So Dasburg, an avid Gator fan who enjoyed his UF undergraduate years, used the GI bill to return to his alma mater. In a year, he earned his MBA, and then — deviating even further from his original engineering path — earned a UF law degree.
Almost three decades later, he’s back where he started — in the burger business, though a bit higher up on the chain than at Burger Bill’s. After serving as president of the Marriott Lodging Group and CEO of Northwest Airlines, Dasburg was hired in 2001 as chairman, president and CEO of Burger King Corp.
Under his direction, Burger King has begun to change its image and increase its market share. With the help of a Shaquille O’Neal advertising campaign, Burger King has become hipper, and the food has improved, Dasburg says. Since he’s taken the reins, the chain has introduced a milkshake made from real ice cream, a “Chicken Whopper,” improved fries and onion rings, a chicken Caesar salad, low-fat mayonnaise and better garnishes for the Whopper burger.
And thanks to earlier Dasburg business connections when he headed Northwest Airlines — with Texas Pacific Group, a private investment firm — security analysts and BK franchises who own 92 percent of the company’s restaurants now see an even brighter financial future for the world’s second-largest fastfood chain. Texas Pacific this July outbid six other entities and paid $2.26 billion to buy Burger King from Diageo P.L.C., the British liquor giant that had owned BK since 1997.
Analysts indicate the Texas Pacific ownership, which plans to keep Dasburg and BK’s current management team, “will go along way toward stabilizing the company and reinvigorating its business.”
Dasburg credits much of his success to his days at the University of Florida.
“You learn a lot about how to think in undergraduate school, since so many of the subjects are quantitative, cause and effect, relationship driven, which helps one think that way in his/her career. And in business school, you learn the foundations and fundamentals of business.
“In law school, you learn another type of thinking,” he says. “You learn to have deductive and inferential skills. You learn precise and inferential thinking. Not a day goes by that I do not benefit from my time at UF’s law school.”
A member of UF’s Board of Trustees, Dasburg remains attached to his alma mater and enjoys rooting for the Gators.
Wife Mary Lou (JD 80) is also a graduate, so being a Gator is a family affair. Mary Lou worked and helped put her husband through law school in the early 70s; when he got out, he helped put her through school.
They have had three children, Meredith Anne, John Peter and Kathryn Anne. Meredith Anne, born in 1982, was killed in a schoolbus accident when she was just six.
“Everyone carries a bag of cement,” Dasburg says. “Some are just heavier than others. That was a long year. It was a nightmare.”
The Dasburgs live in Key Biscayne, and in his spare time Dasburg enjoys all types of fishing and high-altitude mountainand ice-climbing, and has climbed Africa’s Mt. Kilimanjaro twice. He is, however, adamant about the value of work and insists he’s only taking time off for leisure now because he’s worked so hard for years.
“My view has been that at first, you work as hard as you can, and play is for losers,” he laughs. “But when you get older, play as hard as you can. Work is for losers.”