The managing director of MSA Worldwide tells Global Franchise about how he came to be running “the leading advisory firm in franchising”
Describe your route to your present position
My first real job was at the age of six working in my family’s business. That is where I learned that growth in business comes from ethics and careful planning. I began college a bit younger than most and turned 16 during my freshman year. I spent some time in the military gaining an understanding of discipline and the importance of a team and began my professional career as a CPA and management consultant in a public accounting firm.
Many of our clients were franchisors at the time. I left to become COO of a major British Fine Art Auctioneer and was later recruited to become a senior officer of a large franchisor. From there I was recruited to become the CEO of another franchise system but I declinedthat offer. As an alternative, the company asked me to consult for them, and they became MSA’s first client. MSA was founded in 1987.
Several of our early clients were Fortune 100 companies exploring licensing, franchising and other methods of non-traditional down-stream distribution. We quickly expanded our practice to companies looking to become franchisors and also to established franchisors wanting to improve the performance of their domestic and international systems. MSA is now considered, in most quarters, as the leading advisory firm in franchising.
What first drew you to franchising?
I was not drawn to franchising; franchising actually found me. While working in the fine art industry, a headhunter asked me to meet with one of their clients and help them
to complete their contract. Surprisingly I became so impressed with the concept and its management team that I left the fine art industry and joined them.
What is MSA’s mission?
MSA built its practice on understanding the dynamics of business from an economic,operational and human dynamic vantage. My background in accounting and finance, coupled with the rigors of dealing in the world of fine art, provided MSA with a solid foundation. Our purpose is to improve franchise system performance in several ways. For emerging franchisors – companies looking to become franchisors – we initially act as a gatekeeper of sorts. For all emerging franchisor clients that approach us – whether they be very small or very large companies – we conduct a proper threshold analysis to determine if they are ready to grow and then we determine with them whether franchising or an alternative growth strategy is appropriate.
While most of our clients are in franchising, many who came to us to become franchisors were expanded using another method of down-stream distribution, and most use several. We are known for developing franchise systems based on strategies and tactics that result in sustainable and replicable systems.
For established franchisors we generally are brought in when either a problem has arisen or an opportunity has presented itself. We do quite a bit of work in improving
franchisor/franchise relations and also in restructuring franchise offerings as systems mature and markets change. We work with companies in improving their management of their systems, and also in domestic and international expansion and in tactical areas including manuals and training programs. Our practice is quite diverse, both in size of clients and our services.
How useful has being both a franchisor and a franchisee been?
It has given us a perspective from multiple sides. The dynamics of the franchise relationship is complex and it has evolved over time from single unit to several classes of multi-unit franchisees. Understanding these different classes of franchisees has enabled us to help our clients make the right decisions in designing their systems and in executing the appropriate change strategies when changes are required.
What has been your involvement with the IFA?
I have been in a leadership position at the IFA for more than 20 years. As a member I became active in many committees and began to speak at many IFA and related programs. I was elected as Chairman of the IFA’s Supplier Forum and because of a major issue facing the association at the time, my term was extended from 12 months to 18 months. Because of my relationship with many of the IFA’s board members, I was the first Supplier Chairman to be appointed to the IFA’s Executive Committee. The IFA soon after changed its by-laws and I became the first supplier directly elected to the board, and served for six years.After a few years away from the board, I was re-elected to the board and in total I will have served over 13 years by the end of my term this coming February. I currently chair a few IFA committees or task forces, and am a member of others. As an ‘insider’ I have grown to appreciate the importance the IFA has played in improving franchising and how franchise systems are today managed.
What are the challenges facing the franchising industry today?
We have done too good a job in creating systems that the public view as a chain. Often in discussing franchising, especially when I am meeting with legislators or speaking at a legislative hearing, people mistake the ability of franchise systems to deliver to brand standards and think that the franchisor controls the day-to-day management of locally-owned franchises. This is truly not the case but it has led to significant challenges in legislation, claims of joint employment and vicarious liability, and opened the door for unions to view all employees in a franchise system as working for one company and therefore available for union organizing. The biggest challenge facing franchising is educating the public about what it really is – independent companies sharing a brand.