The success of any franchise brand begins with its executive team. Corporate leaders ultimately set the tone for all franchisees and employees working alongside them, making their actions and attitudes critical components of the franchising process. In order to determine which leaders are paving a strong road for their franchisees, Franchise Business Review analyzed data from brands and surveys from their local owners to name the Top Franchise Leaders for 2017.
The list that the independent market research firm compiled is far from random—Franchise Business Review analyzed 18 months’ worth of data from approximately 30,000 franchisees. These local owners—that represented 334 brands—provided feedback on their brand’s leadership and culture. Franchise Business Review also took data surrounding franchisee satisfaction into account when compiling their annual ranking of the industry’s top leaders, as well as how likely they’d be to recommend their brand to other aspiring entrepreneurs.
To shine a spotlight on some of the executives whose leadership styles are resonating with their franchisees, Franchise Business Review teamed up with 1851 Franchise. 1851 spoke with David Mattson, CEO of Sandler Training, to learn more about the traits and skills that helped him earn a place on this coveted list. And according to Mattson, experiencing success as a leader in franchising comes down to creating an environment that’s focused on trust congruency.
1. What do you think are the traits or skills you possess that make your franchisees believe you are a top leader?
I would say that for us, it’s trust. I think trust isn’t necessarily always there between the franchisee and the franchisor. But we’re very open with them, and they trust that I have their best interest at heart, even if we’re trying to change something that’s uncomfortable or unusual. The other trait that we value is being accessible. Franchisees can reach me anytime that they want to and they like that. Even as we get larger and larger, we’re bringing in good people and we ultimately want those connections. I even had two calls with franchisees before the work day started this morning before this interview.
There also needs to be congruency in a franchise system in order for it to work. We don’t ask our franchisees to do anything that we don’t already do ourselves. Our franchisees know that anything we’ve asked them to do, we’ve done it 10 times over. That’s something that they respect. Another trait that’s important is being future looking. Franchisees are looking down at their own businesses, and they’re thinking maybe six or so months ahead. I’m looking for what’s coming down the pike. Our job as a franchisor is to anticipate how technology is changing the workforce, how the workforce is aging and what companies will be our competitors in the future who weren’t competitors two years ago. We need to anticipate what’s to come in a changing environment and landscape.
2. What is your leadership approach?
The number one thing for me is empowerment. I’ll help you out as much as you want. We set the vision, pathways and goals, and then let you do your thing. I don’t micromanage—we want our team to be self-sufficient so that they can think outside of the box without permission or fear. I know that people will make mistakes, but I operate by two P’s: permission and protection. I give them permission to do whatever they think is necessary within the guardrails of our path. And because no one makes the right decision 100 percent of the time, I’ll protect them if in fact a bad decision is made. The best thing that I can do is make my team feel safe—you’re never fearful that you’re going to lose your job if you have the brand’s best interests at heart.
The second approach to leadership for me is to be inclusive, which means that we talk about things rather than saying, “Here’s what’s going to happen.” I want people to feel comfortable giving me honest feedback. Fearless leaders don’t get that feedback if people are afraid. I want them to tell me why something is a bad idea. That’s much different than being a yes person—I want you to pole holes because the marketplace is going to find holes anyway. If there’s a better way that we can do something, great, otherwise we can scrap it. That’s not something that happens at most companies, but it’s a big part of who we are.
3. To other founders, CEOs or Presidents leading franchise brands into the future, what advice do you have to give?
Listen to the field. If you treat those employees as partners, the best suggestions and advice will come from them because they’re in the field doing it every single day. Never lose sight of that—you can’t be in an ivory tower. Listen to the trends that they see coming. We have seven different committees that we’ve set up that correlate to seven big topics we wanted feedback on, and that’s helped us an awful lot. This way, we have a narrow, small group providing insight on what they’re interested in instead of a ton of people trying to yell over one another.
Also, it’s important to keep in mind that for franchisors, being good at their profession may not be good enough. We see so many brands going into business who want us to train them, and even though they’re great at what they do in their industry, they’re not great franchises. Their ticket to enter the industry is being good in their industries, but then they have to figure out how to scale their business and how to inspire franchisees who don’t have their background, passion and conviction to grow.
4. Who is the person in franchising who has most influenced or inspired you over the course of your career?
It’s not so much one individual, but rather groups of individuals and companies that have done something I really wish I had done. One thing I admire is companies that are involved with multiple franchise brands. Even if they’re not in the same space, companies like The Dwyer Group and United Franchise Group are replicating their back-office operations and scaling it. Many people are fearful of it, but I’ve always admired those companies that have gone beyond that first franchise brand.
5. What does your typical day look like?
If I’m not giving a keynote speech, I get up early and answer all of my emails first thing in the morning when it’s still dark out. When I get to work, I have quick meetings with team leaders on issues and things that they want to get done for the week. From there I attend management meetings, do field calls and talk to franchisees. Each department gives me someone that they want me to touch base with, whether it’s to help them out and deal with an issue or congratulate them on a major milestone. I also introduce myself to candidates before discovery day and follow up with them after discovery day, which is rare for a CEO, and I handle client calls. Beyond that, I spend a lot of time prepping for all of my upcoming meetings. If I’m going into a meeting, I’m going to be prepared—I’m not going to wing it. That comes back to congruency—I’m showing up with notes and I don’t want the other side to be unprepared either. Lastly, I’ll attend—and host—podcasts and webinars. And I don’t do lunch—that’s not my thing.
6. Where do you see yourself in the future?
From a brand perspective, our industry is constantly changing when it comes to how people consume content. For example, we have 700 podcasts and about 500 videos that we show people. But those videos are 30 minutes long. Even though they’re rock solid, we shot 1,200 new videos since June that are three to four minutes long. The younger generation doesn’t want to watch 30 minute videos, so we’re going to make sure we’re serving up content in a different way. We’re putting more content into universities and colleges as well. It’s our responsibility—we’re doing them a great service by allowing them to learn sales and sales management in college so that they don’t spend 10 years banging their heads to find the path to become a salesperson. Another big thing for us is marketing to the end user. Sandler has never done that before, but starting in 2018 we’re going to be marketing to the end user. That’s a big deal for us considering in 35 years we’ve never done it.
For me personally, I think a shift will occur when a few companies roll into Sandler. We’re going to be expanding. We’re also going to be spending a lot more time in Europe. I want to expand Sandler by bringing in people who have run companies that are much larger than us so that they can pull us to the next level. If we want to do $50 million in one category, I want someone who’s done $300 million so that they can show us what they know. I’m personally going to help find these people and get it done. I’m also going to bring in a COO and president who can help me take the brand to the next level.