TIPS FOR FRANCHISEES CONSIDERING A MOVE TO THE EXECUTIVE LEVEL

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Kevin Lathrop

Deciding to own and operate a business can be an empowering and rewarding experience. If you find the franchise opportunity that matches your goals, expertise and ambitions, ownership can open doors into realms you never thought were possible.

The transition from franchisee to executive isn’t a straight and narrow path and there is no magic formula to get you there.

As I moved from franchisee, to Chief Information Officer (CIO) and then to my current role as President at Unishippers, I found that the basic principles that I applied to running a successful business – passion, innovation, and determination – remained the same.

Find a Franchise That Values You

Did I know when I started with Unishippers in 1992 that they were a franchise company that valued the strategic input of their franchisees and then identified talent in the franchise system and promoted from within?

The short answer is no. As I dedicated myself to franchise ownership, and had the opportunity to meet with current executives who were former franchisees and became more familiar with company operations, I saw that the Unishippers franchisor searched for talent within their network before they looked outside of it. It took a few years as a franchisee, familiarizing myself with the business model, before I was ready to commit to the franchisor. I saw firsthand that the executives communicated regularly with the franchisees and valued their opinion.

In 1995, I left my job in aerospace behind and fully committed to my franchise as a full-time owner and four years later I was named CIO and was made President in 2011. Is this possible with every franchise or even of interest to every franchisee?

Probably not, but for those who have a desire to add value to a company on a greater scope and scale, executive leadership just might be the ticket for you.

Know What You Bring to the Table

Whether as a franchise owner or executive, if you want to be someone that contributes a unique perspective, my advice is to start nurturing your unique passion now. I had a background working in technology in the aeronautical sector, and as a full-time owner I started finding innovative solutions using technology for the problems that our franchise faced.

It was these technological solutions that helped my franchises grow to become the second largest multi-unit franchise group in the company. At that time, technology advancements in the logistics sector were especially important to the future of the franchise and still are today.

Use Your Relationships

Understand and leverage the connections that are important to your success and the franchisor’s goals. The relationships that I built as a franchisee are still valuable today, but in a different capacity. Franchisees form connections with clients, company partners and the community.

These connections are also important for solving problems that affect the company as a whole. For example, the mutual respect that I built with our carrier partners as a franchisee still carries over to the negotiating table at the corporate level.

As I started growing my franchise, the relationships that I formed with the franchisor proved valuable in opening the door to the executive level. One such relationship was with the President at the time, who recognized the success I was having based on some technology tools I created. He took the time to reach out to me and study what I was doing so that he could share these innovations with the system.

Based on this interaction, when the opportunity presented itself, he recruited me to come to the franchisor and serve as the company’s first CIO.

Stay True to Entrepreneurial Spirit

When I made the transition to franchise executive, I worried that I would lose the independence and decision making authority that I enjoyed as a franchise owner. Sure, being an independent operator means a certain degree of freedom, but ultimately I still had to answer to my clients, the franchisor and my partners in the business. And, while it took some time to transition into my role as corporate executive, I was still my own boss in the sense that I was leading a team that would shape the strategic direction of the entire company.

That kind of scope and responsibility has its own rewards and you are still the “boss” just with a new set of constituents to serve.

Patience is a Virtue

The last piece of advice I’d give to every franchisee considering a move up the corporate ladder is to understand that the franchisor’s growth is dependent upon a lot of moving parts and you have to be patient but determined. While an individual franchise may be able to essentially turn on a dime, the franchisor is more like a cruise ship. Making course corrections requires a greater commitment to the process as well as flexibility, but the rewards and satisfaction for success can be a lot greater.

In closing, the connection between franchisee and franchisor is integral to the success of any company. Franchisees should focus on being the best at what they do while proving that the unique perspective they provide a company is indispensable.

The rest will fall into place.

Kevin Lathrop has served as President of Unishippers Global Logistics, LLC since January of 2011. Lathrop began his Unishippers career as a franchise owner, initially purchasing the Unishippers of Orange County North franchise in 1992. In September of 1999, he joined the Unishippers corporate office, serving as Executive Vice President and CIO. Prior to joining Unishippers, he worked for Hughes Aircraft Company in a variety of  engineering and management positions including Section Head of the Advanced Technology Section where he was responsible for all aspects of the Surface Acoustic Wave Product Line.

For more information visit: www.unishippers.com