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Born to Lead: How Catherine Monson Worked Her Way to the Top of the Franchise Industry
Catherine Monson has always dreamed of leading a business. Today, as the CEO of FASTSIGNS, she's learned an important lesson along the way: never stop learning.

When Catherine Monson was just a teenager, she had dreams of one day being a CEO.

Growing up in California, Monson started working at a young age. Her family owned a small mom-and-pop preschool business, and at 10-years-old, she was helping her father with everyday janitorial tasks—things like cleaning the company kitchen and mowing the lawn. As she got older, Monson took on bigger responsibilities. She recalls a time in her life when both of her parents landed in the hospital, leaving them unable to manage the day-to-day operations of the family business. Monson took it upon herself to fill in. For an entire week she ran the company—greeting parents and their children by morning and taking care of bills by night. That’s when Monson first fell in love with the business of business.

“That’s when I knew that I wanted to lead a company. From that moment on, I would work hard every single day to bring value and a vision to every business I had the pleasure of being a part of,” Monson said.

Monson’s franchising career began in 1980 with Sir Speedy, Inc., where she served as the western region operations manager. In 1984, she was promoted to assistant vice president of franchise development and later vice president of franchise development, where she was responsible for opening over 400 Sir Speedy locations. In 1991, Monson was promoted once again to group vice president of marketing and communications, playing an integral role in Sir Speedy developing and becoming the first printing franchise to launch a website. In 1996, she became vice president of business development of Franchise Services, Inc., the parent company of Sir Speedy. From January 1997 until April 1999, she led the turnaround of MultiCopy Europe, FSI’s European subsidiary.

Then, in 1999, Monson’s vision of one day leading a company was fulfilled---she became the president of PIP Printing & Document Services. In that role, she successfully reorganized the company and changed the strategic marketing direction, increasing franchisee satisfaction and profits after six years of decline.

That journey eventually led Monson to FASTSIGNS, where she currently serves as the CEO—a role she has held since 2009. Despite the fact that she joined the company during an economic downturn, under her leadership, the company has seen record growth in every metric—number of countries, number of locations, system-wide sales, franchisee unit level economics and franchisee satisfaction. Today, the company boasts more than 650 franchised locations worldwide.

“Over the years, I fell in love with franchising. This is an industry that provides significant value to people and their families—it’s helping them to truly achieve the American Dream,” Monson said. “We’re helping people own their own business, and we’re giving them the resources they need to create a future for themselves and their family. I would never consider another job outside of franchising—that’s how much this industry means to me.”

Monson’s impact in the industry reaches far beyond FASTSIGNS. She’s a past recipient of the International Franchise Association’s prestigious Bonny LeVine Award. In 2015, she received the inaugural Franchise Action Network FAN of the Year award for her advocacy work in the franchising community. She serves on the Board of Directors of the IFA. And most recently, she was elected to serve as the secretary of the IFA.   

Driving Monson over the years is her strong faith in her own abilities. Without that self-confidence and drive to always be the best version of herself, Monson believes that she wouldn’t be where she is today.

“I always took personal responsibility to develop my management, leadership and communication skills. If you want to get ahead, find ways to create value for your employer. It’s up to you to enhance your skills and impart that on your team,” Monson said. “Don’t be the one to hold yourself back—take the time to invest in yourself and in your career. Learn something new every day and be the one to make a difference every day. Yes, it takes time. And it certainly isn’t easy. But it is so worth it. You truly are in charge of your own destiny.”

Monson believes strongly in paying it forward, too. Over the years, she’s found great inspiration in women like Ann Mulcahy and Ursula Burns, two important CEOs for Xerox, Meg Whitman, Carly Fiorina, Julia Stewart and Shelly Sun. Now, she’s aiming to fulfill that same role for countless other women hoping to follow in her footsteps. And for Monson, that starts with encouraging others to know their worth—even when the odds are against you.

“It’s so important to understand that life isn’t always fair. I certainly encountered some gender-related challenges along the way--I remember one of my first male employees quit because he refused to work for a woman. But instead of letting yourself become the victim, fight back stronger and harder than ever before,” Monson said. “I firmly believe that the key to overcoming any challenge is hard work and personal responsibility. If you are providing value in some way, you will get the recognition you deserve.”

Monson has another piece of advice for young business people—never stop learning. It’s what led her into the important role that she holds today, and it’s what will continue to drive her forward in the many years ahead, too.

“The best advice I can give for people who one-day dream of leading a company is this: make sure you have a positive mental attitude; exhibit goal-directed behavior; be self-motivated; understand the importance of perseverance; and never stop learning,” Monson said. “To this day, I am still reading books on management, leadership and innovation. And I believe that if you have the same dream that I did as a teenager to one day become a CEO, embrace these characteristics. Great things will come your way.” 

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