One of the top executives who helped develop Pizza Hut of Fort Wayne died Monday after a long fight with cancer.
Rick Oliphant, 65, had been in business with the company’s founder, the late Dick Freeland, from the company’s start in Fort Wayne and managed the first Pizza Hut restaurant in Fort Wayne, beginning in 1972.
The connection ran even deeper than that implies, said David Bobilya, president of Pizza Hut of Fort Wayne.
“Rick drove the second family car for the Freelands as they relocated to Fort Wayne, and they both rented apartments at Canterbury Green,” Bobilya said Wednesday.
That wasn’t Oliphant’s first experience with the restaurant chain. He began working for Pizza Hut in Waterloo, Iowa, in 1966, interrupted his employment for a two-year stint in the Marine Corps in Vietnam, then moved to Australia and managed the first Pizza Hut in that country in 1970.
“His whole career was focused on Pizza Hut, from high school to the end of his life,” Bobilya said.
During his time with Pizza Hut of Fort Wayne, he rose to the position of vice president of operations and chief operating officer. He supervised the 49 Pizza Hut restaurants in the company. In 1999, his responsibilities were expanded to include supervising the Freelands’ KFC business, with the opening of their first KFC restaurant on Covington Road, and later expanded to include four KFC restaurants.
Bobilya said that Oliphant’s success as a manager, from the level of individual stores to the entire company, came from two traits: His meticulous attention to detail and the emphasis he placed on identifying and guiding employees, from the level of crew members to top managers.
That dedication to bringing along the next generation of managers remained a key part of what made Oliphant a great part of the team, nearly until the end of this life. Bobilya said that after Oliphant was diagnosed with cancer 2 1/2 years ago, he brought a succession plan into play. He identified Todd Hollman as a prospective replacement and guided him into his job. Hollman was named vice president and chief operating officer Jan. 1.
Even after Jan. 1, Olipant continued contributing his expertise and experience to the company and quit coming into the office only about a week before he died, Bobilya said.
He is survived by his two sons, Chase (Samantha) Oliphant and Blake Oliphant, both of Fort Wayne; and brother Robert Oliphant of Waterloo, Iowa. Funeral services are 11 a.m. Saturday at The Chapel, 2505 W. Hamilton Road, with calling one hour prior.
Calling also from 3-5 and 7-9 p.m. Friday at The Chapel. Memorials may be made to The Chapel, 2505 West Hamilton Road, Fort Wayne, IN 46814 or Ducks Unlimited, 1220 Eisenhower Place, Ann Arbor, MI 48108.