Catherine Monson Named One of the Franchising Industry’s Top Leaders by Franchise Business Review
Catherine Monson Named One of the Franchising Industry’s Top Leaders by Franchise Business Review

The CEO behind FASTSIGNS tells 1851 Franchise why she firmly believes that leaders in the franchising industry need to challenge themselves to learn new things in order to be successful.

The success of franchise brands ultimately comes down to the team that’s behind it. That starts with the leadership within an organization—executives determine their brands’ environments and cultures from the top down. That’s why Franchise Business Review, an independent market research firm, has released its list of the Top Franchise Leaders for 2017.

Earning a spot on this coveted list isn’t an easy feat for leaders in the franchising industry. To create it and identify the best of the best, Franchise Business Review analyzed 18 months’ worth of data from approximately 30,000 franchisees representing 334 brands across various segments. Each local owner provided feedback on their brand’s leadership and culture. Franchise Business Review also took data surrounding a brand’s overall franchisee satisfaction and their likeliness to recommend the brand to other aspiring entrepreneurs into account when putting its list together.

To shine a light on some of the top leaders as chosen by their franchisees, Franchise Business Review teamed up with 1851 Franchise. One of those leaders is Catherine Monson, the CEO behind FASTSIGNS. In her Q&A with 1851, she explains the qualities that she believes makes a great leader, including the commitment to learning new things and striving for excellence.

1. What do you think are the traits or skills you possess that make your franchisees believe you are a top leader?

I have always been able to quickly assimilate information and determine the best path for a situation or opportunity. I am also extremely knowledgeable and well-versed in franchising’s best practices. As an active member of the IFA, I attend all of the events such as conventions and regional meetings, which has allowed me to continue learning more about the franchising industry. I’m a student of the signage and visual graphics industry, and prioritize attending shows, reading industry trade magazines and spending one-on-one time with key vendors and leaders. Additionally, I’m always looking ahead to the future, and do my best to not only learn about the technology that’s impacting the signage space today, but also what advancements may affect this segment in the future. Lastly, I firmly believe that all successful franchise leaders need to be of above average intelligence, and also possess strong emotional intelligence. They need to truly care about their team and their franchisees, which I do. I believe that I’m a good communicator, whether it’s through keynote speeches or Connect with Catherine calls or written communication, and I work hard to communicate well and transparently.

2. What is your leadership approach?

There are a few different facets or components to my leadership approach. The first is vision and strategic focus. I think it’s truly important for the CEO of any company, and particularly for a franchise concept, to have a clear vision of where they want to take the brand. Part of that is to make sure you communicate the vision in a compelling way for your team and your franchisees, and then find ways to align the franchisee’s and company’s goals. The next component would be driving for results. I truly believe that it’s the CEO’s job to take charge to produce results, and I always make sure to hold myself accountable for my commitments. I believe in casting a large “leadership shadow;” by leading by example—in all areas—whether it is commitment to franchisee satisfaction or holding myself accountable to complete my parts of a project, I am casting a leadership shadow that my team can see, follow and understand how to incorporate those same characteristics in what they do. It’s important to me that I inspire my team through my own actions, which is why you’ll rarely find me leaving the office early or coming in late; I am working in the evenings and on weekends. Ultimately, I never ask anyone on my team to work more than I do.

Another component of my leadership approach is building high-performance teams and hiring great people. We are extremely selective about who we bring on to the team; we “hire slow” and then, when someone does not fit our culture or the position, we “fire fast.” I know how important it is to give my people the training, tools and resources they need to succeed in their roles. We also set challenging goals and hold the team accountable. Once you acquire great talent, you should train and develop them to become even better. I also believe in the importance of leading and managing change. If something in the business needs to be improved or evolved, I need to be the catalyst and make it happen. Too often the reason a brand or company does not reach its full potential is because the leadership team is stuck in the mentality of “this is how we’ve always done it.” The last facet of my leadership approach is leading through personal excellence. I strive each and every day to be excellent in all I do, and hope I inspire others to do the same.

3. To other founders, CEOs or Presidents leading franchise brands into the future, what advice do you have to give?

Focus on being a dynamic leader; continue to work on developing your leadership skills. Always remember to be a student of the industry. Prioritize learning about best practices and make sure that you train your teams to do the same. Additionally, it’s important to understand that differentiating your brand from your competition is key to your company’s success. And I am truly a believer that “success is a function of superb execution of the basic fundamentals;” my team looks to execute with excellence.

4. Who is the person in franchising who has most influenced or inspired you over the course of your career?

If I had to pick just one person, it would be Don Lowe. Don became the president of Sir Speedy, Inc. in 1981, which I had joined the year before. For more than three decades, he has been an invaluable mentor to me. I worked for him for 27 years, during which time he taught me the importance of being committed to outstanding franchise support, providing world-class leadership to the franchise network, truly making a difference and implementing best practices. Today, Don is the CEO of Franchise Services, Inc., a multi-brand franchisor that owns Sir Speedy, PIP, Signal Graphics, Multicopy and TeamLogicIT. In addition to Don, there are several people in the franchising industry who have been—and continue to be—mentors, including Shelly Sun, the CEO of BrightStar Care; Dina Dwyer-Owens, the co-chair of The Dwyer Group; David Barr, the chairman of PMTD Restaurants and Steve Rominello, the chairman of FOCUS Brands Inc. and managing director of Roark Capital.

5. What does your typical day look like?

Because I’m traveling 40-50 percent of the time, there is truly no typical day for me. I believe it’s important to spend a significant amount of time in the field interacting with our franchisees. Meeting with franchisees face-to-face is essential to building those relationships, understanding what is important to their end customer and also gives you an opportunity to find out firsthand how the work your team is doing is impacting the franchise network. I also spend a lot of time attending industry conferences, both for the signage and visual graphics industry and for the franchising industry. Some of the most valuable shows I make sure to attend each year include the IFA Convention, the Franchise Development and Leadership Conference, the ISA International Sign Expo, the SGIA Expo and many more. As a CEO of a franchise brand, it’s very important to make sure I am always learning, and these shows offer an excellent chance to learn more about my industry, as well as to visit with key vendors. When I’m not traveling, I’m in the office dedicating my time to coaching and counseling my team, as well as doing a bit of “management by wandering around” the workspace and checking on how people are doing. A huge component of my job is being the chief cheerleader, and I take that responsibility seriously.

6. Where do you see yourself in the future?

I see myself leading FASTSIGNS to generating more than $2 billion a year in annual system-wide sales and growing to over 1,500 locations.