About Us

The John H. Schnatter Institute for the Study of Free Enterprise is a research and teaching center in the Gatton College of Business and Economics at the University of Kentucky.

Our mission is to generate intellectually rigorous research and an open dialogue to discover and understand how free enterprise affects peoples’ lives and the well-being of society.

Free enterprise—as characterized by private ownership, economic freedom, choice, and competition—is one of the most important sources of human prosperity. Additionally, government institutions—for example legal systems, property rights, and civil rights—complement markets in enhancing people’s well-being.

The backbone of the Schnatter Institute, our academic research, encompasses the study of markets, market economies, and government intervention, to understand how greater human well-being is achieved with free enterprise and appropriate government institutions. We also engage in open, civil discussions with the university community and the public on the impact of markets and entrepreneurship.

The Schnatter Institute supports its mission with faculty research funding, open discussions with undergraduate and graduate students, and public events.


  • To gain a deep, accurate, and objective understanding of free enterprise and the role of governmental, legal, and political institutions that promote the well-being of society;
  • To be intellectually rigorous, using logic and evidence, to foster our understanding and appreciation for free enterprise and complementary institutions; and
  • To engage the academic and university communities, as well as the public, in an open discussion on free enterprise.

The Schnatter Institute was founded in December 2015 with a generous gift from the John H. Schnatter Family Foundation and the Charles Koch Foundation to the Gatton College of Business and Economics. View the story of our gift on UKNow.

Thanks to our major donor

In 1983, John Schnatter delivered his last college campus pizza, received his business degree from Ball State University, and headed home to Jeffersonville, IN. There, at age 22, he knocked down a broom closet in his father’s tavern, installed an oven, and began delivering pizza out of the back of the bar.

From day one, John believed he could make a better traditional pizza by using fresh dough and superior-quality ingredients. His goal: to make the same great-tasting pizza that locally owned shops offered, but didn’t deliver. Today, Papa John’s boasts more than 5,000 locations in 44 countries and territories around the world.

John believes that if you are curious, innovative, and work hard in America, you can get ahead—especially when you have the right ingredients.

UK center to unleash power, benefits of entrepreneurship

By John H. Schnatter

The University of Kentucky announced this month that it will soon open the John H. Schnatter Institute for the Study of Free Enterprise at its Gatton School of Business. This initiative, which I helped fund, offers UK students and scholars the opportunity to engage in classes and research that explore the role of free enterprise in advancing a free and prosperous society that benefits everyone.

This is a mission I deeply believe in. Free enterprise is the greatest mechanism mankind has ever created to eliminate poverty, enhance prosperity and enable the “pursuit of happiness” spoken of in the Declaration of Independence. The students who participate in this new center, as well as the professors who teach them and conduct research, will thus be contributing to a better world for everyone, especially the least fortunate.

I have seen the power of free enterprise firsthand. My father Robert L. Schnatter — a 1953 University of Kentucky graduate — taught me many lessons about taking risks and serving my community through entrepreneurship.

Thanks in large part to his influence, I set out on my own entrepreneurial adventure in my early 20s. After saving his bar in Jeffersonville, Ind., from bankruptcy, I took a sledge hammer to open up a broom closet, where I installed $1,600 worth of used pizza-making equipment. Within a year, I built enough credit to open my own stand-alone pizza store.

Today, three decades after making my first pizza in that broom closet, Papa John’s International Inc. is one of the largest pizza companies in the world.

As of September, we operated nearly 4,800 stores in all 50 states and 38 countries and territories, with nearly 100,000 team members at franchise stores and more than 20,000 team members at Papa John’s corporate stores, generating approximately $3.5 billion of annual global systemwide sales.

This is a testament to the power of free enterprise. I took an idea and turned it into something that created opportunities for my employees, my suppliers, my franchisees and others throughout the world.

This happened for one simple reason: I made a product that people valued and enjoyed. As I quickly learned, such entrepreneurship rewards not only the entrepreneur but customers and countless others. This mutually beneficial relationship is at the heart of free enterprise and a free society.

Students at UK now have the chance to learn about the principles that make such stories — and there are many — attainable. Anyone, regardless of his or her station in life, is blessed with gifts and talents that can be used to benefit others.

When people are free to apply their skills and pursue their dreams, they are capable of finding tremendous self-fulfillment, self-esteem and self-respect.

Not only that, but by taking risks and challenging the status quo, they can give others the opportunity to find similar satisfaction.

Students will also have the chance to learn about the obstacles that prevent free enterprise from taking root and flourishing. There are many examples. Thomas Jefferson warned, “The natural progress of things is for liberty to yield, and government to gain ground.” His prediction has been borne out in more ways than I can count.

Free enterprise is increasingly hamstrung by over-regulation, corporate welfare and growing government demands on employers and employees. The result is an economy where opportunities are harder and harder to come by.

A growing number of Americans, regardless of their political affiliation, recognize this sad fact. Only 26 percent of our fellow countrymen now think America is headed in the right direction.

Unleashing the power of entrepreneurship is a critical part of restoring Americans’ belief that the future will be better than the past. The Institute for Free Enterprise at the University of Kentucky will offer its students the chance to study how to advance the freedom and prosperity that benefit everyone, especially the least fortunate.

This is desperately needed. Our country’s well-being depends on people who understand and defend true free enterprise and practice principled entrepreneurship. College campuses like the University of Kentucky are the natural place to teach this to the next generation of business leaders.

Originally published in the Lexington Herald-Leader on December 28, 2015.