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Top Women in Franchising: Catherine Monson, CFE, IFA Immediate Past Chair and CEO of Propelled Brands

The award-winning franchise veteran, speaker and author, who has nearly four decades of franchising experience, shares the five keys to success she has learned over her career.

Catherine Monson is often considered one of the most influential people in the franchise space, having held important positions at some of the top systems and organizations in the industry. She currently serves as CEO of Propelled Brands, parent company for FASTSIGNS InternationalNerdsToGoMy Salon Suite and Salon Plaza, and as the Immediate Past Chair for the International Franchise Association (IFA). As a woman who has been in this business since 1984, she has seen the marketplace shift and expand over time, an ever-dynamic arena.

Monson grew up in Southern California with entrepreneur parents who taught her to dream big about business and to have a solid work ethic. After going to Pepperdine University, she started her franchising career with Sir Speedy, a printing brand, in 1984. There, she served as Vice President of Marketing and Communications and Vice President of Franchise Development, where she was responsible for opening over 400 units. 

Afterward, she moved to work at the corporate office for Sir Speedy’s parent company, Franchise Services, Inc. There, she started out as Vice President of Business Development and then became President of PIP Printing & Document Services, another brand under that umbrella, for nearly a decade. 

“I loved franchising because I got to make a difference and fulfill that dream of business ownership while creating generational wealth for families,” Monson said. “The franchise model also works so magnificently no matter your color, your gender, your area. Ever since I got that first taste of franchising in 1980, I’ve never considered leaving the industry.”

In 2009, Monson was named CEO of FASTSIGNS, a top printing and signage company. In 2021, FASTSIGNS, its Australian subsidiary SIGNWAVE, IT franchise NerdsToGo and salon companies MY SALON Suite and Salon Plaza all emerged under the Propelled Brands name, a newly formed entity of which Monson also serves as chief executive. The five brands have close to 1,000 combined units around the world which she oversees.

She has also served on various boards and committees over the years, a respected voice of reason in franchising. Most notably, Monson served as Chair of the IFA from 2020 to 2022. She has held a number of positions on the board since 2008 and is currently recognized as the Immediate Past Chair. She is also a board member for Big Blue Swim School and Brain Balance Achievement Centers, and was in the past for The Learning ExperienceMultiCopy and the Pi Sigma Epsilon National Education Foundation.

In addition, Monson has had a decorated career in franchising regarding awards. The IFA has given her the Bonnie LeVine Award, which is dedicated to female franchise powerhouses, as well as the first Franchise Action Network “FAN of the Year” award for her advocacy work. She often appears on lists of influential people in the business: Franchise Dictionary Magazine’s 50 Women of Wonder and SeoSamba and 1851 Franchise's Top 100 Franchise Influencers List. Monson has also been named a top Women Industry Leader and Most Admired CEO by the Dallas Business Journal.

Throughout her illustrious career, Monson says she has amassed the five keys to being successful in any endeavor:

  1. Have a positive mental attitude. 
  2. Take goal-directed behavior. 
  3. Prioritize self motivation. 
  4. Maintain a sense of urgency. 
  5. Never stopping learning.

“Whether you are an executive, a franchisee, a preacher, a doctor or a parent — there are all learned skills that can allow you to thrive in your pursuit,” Monson said.

And when it comes to how her experience as a woman has impacted her career in franchising and the advice she would give other businesswomen, Monson says it is important to always aim to be a victor, not a victim. 

“When I first started in the 80s, there were some times where male franchisees didn’t have as much confidence in me because I was a woman,” said Monson. “So, I worked harder and built more value. I wanted to prove them wrong. I remember I once had a warehouseman quit because I was a woman. I could go complain about it, or I could hire a new warehouseman. No matter who you are, if you can provide more value than your competitor, you are always going to win.”