Top Influential Women in Franchising

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Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

In celebration of Women’s History Month, Entrepreneur is proud to share some of the most influential women working in the franchising industry today. Representing a wide cross-section of women who work among the brands, suppliers, and partnerships that fuel this industry, Entrepreneur has pulled together a list of admirable women, each of whom is making an individual impact on the industry as a whole. But aside from the contributions they’re providing to their respective businesses, each of these women has also demonstrated a willingness to share their expertise and insight with other women, uplifting them to experience franchising’s rich, diverse, and inclusive environment. The rise of women in franchising is the result of decades of hard work and deserves to be celebrated.

The preceding slideshow features who these women are, where they work, how they got into franchising, and their thoughts about working in this industry.

Please take a moment to read about these successful leaders and the individual advice they have to share with other women, in this inaugural edition of Entrepreneur’s Top Influential Women in Franchising:



Lisa Oak

Company Name: BIGGBY COFFEE

Title: Chief Development Officer

Years in Franchising: 35

How I got into franchising

It was actually quite accidental, but here’s the story: between my second and third year of law school, I took a summer job in real estate. Little did I know at the time the role was to negotiate leases for the growing Subway sandwiches brand, because I had not yet heard of the Subway franchise. Then and there I learned how much I loved helping people create their versions of the “American Dream”. That summer job evolved while I finished law school and was admitted to the Connecticut Bar Association. As the brand grew, so did my role and responsibilities, first in franchise development and later in acquisitions. During my tenure, we grew from 700 to over 44,000 sandwich shops in over 100 countries. By the time I left Subway (2015), franchising was in my blood. Therefore, when Bob Fish and Mike McFall (co-founders of BIGGBY COFFEE) offered me a position on their leadership team three years ago, I was excited for the opportunity to help grow their brand and achieve their audacious goal of improving workplace culture in America.

Advice for others starting their franchising journey

Love the life you live! Find a role where you can do you and be appreciated for the talent you bring to the organization. Do not settle for anything less!

Final thoughts on the franchising industry

The franchise industry “ecosystem” is filled with people ready, willing, and able to help. Perhaps it’s because the very role of a franchisor is to support franchise owners and that approach naturally emanates to others, including franchise executives. One of my favorite John Francis quotes is, “Franchising is a team sport!”

Related: 6 Intriguing Statistics About Women in the Franchising Industry

 



Nancy Bigley

Company Name: The Little Gym International

Title: CEO & President

Years in Franchising: 25+

How I got into franchising

I got into franchising completely by accident. Franchising was put in my path 25+ years ago and I’ve never looked back. Once I experienced it, I fell in love with the systems, processes, relationships with franchisees and the replication of successful ideas.

What empowers you to be successful?

Other female leaders in franchising have always inspired me to do great things and challenge myself. In turn, I’ve tried to inspire other female leaders to take risks to achieve their dreams. Early in my career, I saw the impact I could make at a local level with franchisees, then cascade those learnings to have an impact on an entire brand. Those wins get me fired up and are amazingly gratifying. I’ve continued to look for the biggest levers to make the greatest impact.

Final thoughts on the franchising industry

Franchising is all about collaboration and creating systems and processes. I feel these are natural traits of female leaders. Thus, it feels comfortable for us to sink our teeth into franchise roles and develop networks within the industry to encourage and help us continue to learn and grow. There are also so many franchise brands now that are designed to be at their best with female leadership. I love this. For me, female brand leaders partnering and encouraging female franchisee leaders is where the magic and gratification truly happen.



Susan Beth

Company Name: Team Up Advisory Services/Super Wash(r)

Title: Founder

Years in Franchising: 21

How I got into franchising

Super Wash(r) car washes was my families’ business from 1988 to 2002. The business operated as a licensor. About a year after I had graduated from college and went off to the big city (Chicago) to work at my first corporate job, my dad approached me to re-join the family business to lead the conversion of the system from a licensing business model to a franchise business model. That fateful conversation was in 2000; I say “fateful” because I found my people in franchising! My first IFA Convention was in 2001 at the ripe old age of 23.

Advice for others starting their franchising journey

Just say, “Hi!” Whenever you are at an event, or in a place to meet someone new, just say, “Hi!” What’s the worst that happens? The other person doesn’t make conversation? OK then, on to the next! You never know what role the other person might end up playing in your career or life. A vast network of trusted peers is one of the most wonderful gifts you can give yourself!

Final thoughts on the franchising industry

At its core, franchising is all about relationships. I believe fostering, building, maintaining, and supporting relationships of all kinds is a skill many women excel at; many of us stay a long time in franchising once we’re “in”. Nearly every day of my life for the last 20+ years, a woman I’ve met through franchising makes a positive impact on my day.



Dawn Abbamondi

Company Name: SMB Franchise Advisors

Title: VP of Marketing & Brand Development

Years in Franchising: 25+

How I got into franchising

I have always loved brands and design, but my career with Sunoco led me into franchising. In two key roles, one as a project manager for multiple 200+ unit acquisitions that involved re-branding and integrating into our programs; and the other as a category manager. I was responsible for the Brand Fund and a part of the Franchise Advisory Council (FAC). Through my years there, I helped the field operations teams bring on new franchised stores, evaluating franchisee candidates and then helping franchisees understand how to make the most of the brand.

Advice for others starting their franchising journey

Get involved to learn as much as you can – it is a process, so don’t try to get there too fast. Join the local Women’s Franchise Network Chapter, become a member of IFA and attend franchise business networks, conferences, and industry events.

Final thoughts on the franchising industry

If you have always wanted to be a leader, a business owner, an entrepreneur, then franchising is a great place for you. No one can tell you can’t own your own business. There are no limits except the ones you set for yourself – start as small as you want and grow as big as you choose. You have a support network to help you where you don’t have experience and a mentor to keep supporting you. In addition, I have always seen owning a business as something a little more personal, and women, maybe more than men, get personal in every facet of life, including business. Customers matter, the culture of the team you lead matters, and what you do everyday matters if you do it well. Franchising is limitless in the opportunities to build a business, continue to grow, create wealth, establish a legacy, and help others. I think this is pretty empowering for women and I am so excited to see franchising become an inspiration for more people entering the industry every single day.



Edith Wiseman

Company Name: FRANdata

Title: President

Years in Franchising: 21

How I got into franchising

In the beginning, it sort of fell in my lap. I applied for a research job then fell in love with the innovation, entrepreneurship, the company, and the industry.

Advice for others starting their franchising journey

Don’t be afraid to reach out to someone in franchising and ask for their help. Most people in the industry recognize that franchising is a niche business and want to share their knowledge and guide new people down the right path.

Final thoughts on the franchising industry

The franchising industry is a close-knit group of people who are bound together through their passion for franchising – the industry looks at results and dedication regardless of gender, and there are plenty of strong women in franchising to prove this. This industry is also unique since there is a shared interest in seeing others be successful and learning from each other- this sort of nurturing environment is ideal for women to thrive and grow.



Ruth Agbaji

Company Name: Code Wiz Franchising

Title: CEO & Nerd-in-Chief

Years in Franchising: 3

How I got into franchising

I started Code Wiz in 2017 and started franchising in 2019. Growing up in Nigeria, I was looking to escape the violence happening in Northern Nigeria, so I taught myself how to code. Learning to code opened an opportunity to get a scholarship here in the U.S. After graduating and working in the corporate world for a while, I realized that I needed to start my own business. Because coding had changed my life, I wanted to pay that forward and use coding as a tool to impact the next generation. Once I started Code Wiz, I realized that my vision was bigger than me. It was at that point that I decided to go down the path of franchising and realize my dream of reaching 1 billion kids around the world.

Advice for others starting their franchising journey

Starting on the journey of franchising is not easy but is extremely rewarding! You get to impact the lives of other aspiring entrepreneurs and build a community of like-minded individuals who are enriching their lives and others around them while simultaneously seeing your brand grow globally. It is extremely rewarding! With that being said, it can also be a journey fraught with many perils. My advice to budding franchisors is – don’t attempt to do this alone. This is not like growing your small business where you can afford to try different things, fail, and try again. In franchising, failures are expensive to recover from because other people’s investments are involved. You want to get it right from the beginning as much as you can. Find a mentor or advisor with franchising experience who is not just after a check but is really invested in seeing you succeed. Stay open and coachable!

Final thoughts on the franchising industry

For me, franchising has allowed me to take charge of my destiny and, in turn, has empowered me to build – on my own terms – an environment that empowers other females. Our home office team and franchisees are over 50% female with young families. For our franchisees, they get to be their own bosses with less risk. They get to decide what work-life balance means to them. There are funding opportunities specifically targeting women to help them start and grow their own businesses. Finally, the franchising community cannot be beaten. For our staff, we don’t have fixed working hours. We have a “schedule your work around your life” policy that enables them to bring their best selves to work because they are able to be available to their families and not have to choose between work and taking care of the ones they care about the most!

Related: 5 Reasons Why More Women Are Making the Choice to Become Franchisees



Michelle Rowan

Company Name: Franchise Business Review

Title: President & COO

Years in Franchising: 16

How I got into franchising

I was Franchise Business Review’s first full time hire as a sales consultant, brought in to help Eric Stites build awareness of the brand and service in 2005. I had a great job and was happy managing an inside sales team at a telecommunications company at the time, but it had me on the road a lot and I wanted to be back in the Portsmouth, NH area. I found Eric through our college (University of New Hampshire) alumni website. I didn’t know much about franchising, but LOVED working with small businesses, and my dad was becoming a franchisee at the same time, which seemed serendipitous!

Advice for others starting their franchising journey

Franchising is all about relationships- Show up, be curious about everyone around you- learn all you can and share all you can with others. Celebrate the people and brands who are doing things right!

Final thoughts on the franchising industry

Franchising creates amazing opportunities for women to be franchisees, suppliers, and work for franchisor corporate teams. There is so much variety to find what you love to do, and to do it with people you love to be around. There is a network of women and allies that want to help you succeed.



Cassidy Ford

Company Name: FRM Solutions

Title: Account Director

Years in Franchising: 10

How I got into franchising

I landed in franchising by accident, as so many others say (shout out to everyone working to make an entry into franchising more deliberate)! My first franchise, How Do You Roll? aired on ABC’s Shark Tank and desperately needed help to build a franchise development department. I was hired on the spot and the rest was history; I became obsessed with the franchise model. Since then, I helped create a resale program and unit performance task force at Huddle House and, four years ago, started a CSM program for FRM Solutions. I’m embarking on my 10th year in franchising and love it more and more every day.

Advice for others starting their franchising journey

Speak up, stand up, and show up. Know your own worth and fight for it. Demand equal pay. The only person you need to prove yourself to is you, not to others, and the people who matter will recognize the value you inherently bring to the table because of your confidence and your results. If they don’t, or if you’re not in an environment that allows you to perform your best, you need to find the right people who will support you and champion you.

Final thoughts on the franchising industry

Give credit where credit is due: The rise of women in franchising is the result of decades of hard work by incredibly determined women and groups like the IFA’s Women’s Franchise Committee, as well as our allies. We still have a long way to go. The fundamental concepts behind franchising help—the whole idea is that perseverance is rewarded, and we are here to work together, to give each other a leg up. That indelible spirit in franchising of creating community, sharing best practices, and building support systems is exactly what women and other underrepresented groups need to thrive in business and life. If we remain intentional, our future is unbelievably bright. Let’s go!



Debra Vilchis

Company Name: Fishman Public Relations

Title: President

Years in Franchising: 23

How I got into franchising

As a newspaper reporter and magazine editor for about 10 years, I had interviewed many business owners and company executives for my articles. I became fascinated with the stories they told me about the joys and challenges of running a business or larger corporation – and about the world of business in general. That’s when I decided to make the switch from reporting on business to proactively communicating business stories to the media. In 1999, when I learned that Fishman PR was a growing agency immersed in the world of franchising, I jumped at the opportunity to join their mission. Finally, I was “inside” the world that I was fascinated by, serving as the liaison between hundreds of franchise brands and the media. It has been an incredible journey to grow with the agency and be a part of the evolution of PR and franchising through the years.

Advice for others starting their franchising journey

Get connected and stay connected! By that, I mean you have to get out there physically to as many of the industry events as possible every year to meet people, build relationships and give back to the industry in some way. Get on committees at the International Franchise Association, become a mentor or be a mentee, get involved in projects – build a community! Whether you are a supplier or a franchisor, you can’t bury your head in your work at your own office (or now WFH) and expect to grow yourself, your people, and your business. There are tons of people in franchising who are brilliant with so much to offer. Get out there, people! Whoever you are, I want to meet you!

Final thoughts on the franchising industry

The franchising industry has countless opportunities for women to learn, grow and lead. Women can own their own business as franchisees, they can start their own franchise concept as a founder and become a franchisor. They can become leaders within a franchise organization or at a franchise supplier – there are dozens upon dozens of real-life examples. Heck, in the past few years we’ve seen several great women rise to the chair of the International Franchise Association. At Fishman PR (which was founded and is led by an amazing woman, by the way), we learn and tell stories every day about empowered women. There are committees like the Women’s Franchise Committee which focus on leadership and mentorship of women in franchising. At franchising events, you see women speaking on the main stage, on panels and roundtables, sharing their knowledge and stories. All of these women have personally inspired and empowered me. There are little bits of each of them in my head and heart as I go about my business.



Clarissa Windham-Bradstock

Company Name: Any Lab Test Now

Title: CEO

Years in Franchising: 15

How I got into franchising

My career in franchising started with Any Lab Test Now in 2007, and I quickly embraced the franchising model because it helps franchisees reach their personal and financial goals. I’m proud that Any Lab Test Now franchisees employ over 500 people and bring much needed healthcare services to our community.

Advice for others starting their franchising journey

Whether someone is starting the franchise journey as a franchisor or a franchisee, I recommend that they think of the core values and be firm in either building a business with strong core values or aligning themselves with a franchise system that lives by their core values.

Final thoughts on the franchising industry

The franchise industry is a supportive group sharing ideas and best practices, as well as mentorship programs, which makes it an ideal environment for female executives and entrepreneurs.

 



Patti Rother

Company Name: Frios Gourmet Pops

Title: President

Years in Franchising: 15

How I got into franchising

Like many others, franchising found me. I started working for a franchisee in PA while in college. That was over 15 years ago and even though I was pursuing a career as an art therapist for kids, I kept my restaurant jobs to pay my bills and started loving it more and more. After each promotion, I would wonder if I should do this full-time and eventually stopped asking! I love the opportunity that franchising presents for people who otherwise may not be in business for themselves.

Advice for others starting their franchising journey

Be BOLD and introduce yourself to as many people as you can. Network virtually when you can too and learn from others. You will find a very warm and welcoming community.

Final thoughts on the franchising industry

It’s been really encouraging to see the number of female franchise owners continue to increase over the years. I think in general, the corporate world still has work to do in terms of women in leadership roles, but franchising allows women to be their own boss. I love seeing women take ownership of their future and look to franchise ownership to do that. What I also see is the way so many women in franchising encourage and lift each other up. I love that we can all celebrate each other’s wins and lift each other’s voices up.

Related: Franchising Helped These Women Find Work-Life Balance for Themselves and Other Moms



Elizabeth Hawkins

Company Name: PuroClean

Title: Director of Franchise Development

Years in Franchising: 4

How I got into franchising

I am new to the franchise industry, with PuroClean being the first company I’ve worked for. I knew very little about franchising prior to my time here, but after learning more about the vision and culture at PuroClean, I realized I could help make an important impact and develop new skills for my own growth professionally.

Advice for others starting their franchising journey

One piece of advice I would offer someone just starting their franchise journey would be to meet as many people as you can, from bottom to top, but engage with them in ways that you learn about their passions and what they enjoy engaging in, and equally sharing your passions and what you enjoy engaging in (professionally and personally). This helps open up a mutual connection and builds confidence between parties. And ask questions several layers deep into a topic to help better understand where and why. You might be able to provide new solutions or take more information to make an impactful change for your organization or for yourself.

Final thoughts on the franchising industry

Franchising has a history, where things have been done a certain way for a long time, some with good reason. But there is a wide path moving forward into the future. Franchising isn’t about tearing others down or running over people to get to the top. Franchising lends itself to be a true community of people who are seeking a specific type of energy to invest in, and I believe that women who seek to work with their peers and not against them will be the ones who make impactful change happen. Change that is rooted in mutual benefit for their franchise owners, their company, and franchising as a whole. When women ignore the scarcity mentality, believing instead that someone else’s success does not negate, overshadow, or diminish their own, it creates a shared energy that reinforces trust. Empathy and admiration are superpowers in franchising, not weaknesses.



Mary Ann O’Connell

Company Name: O’Connell & Company, Inc. DBA FranWise

Title: President & Founder

Years in Franchising: 25

How I got into franchising

I started in franchising as a franchisee in late 1979 because the commercial real estate market (my former job) crashed, and my partner and I were looking for something new to do. I switched to the franchisor side in 1990.

Advice for others starting their franchising journey

Be patient. This is a real community, and it takes time and sincerity to gain access. If you are networking for business, it will show and get you nowhere. But if you really care about people, invest in their success (franchisees, prospects, franchisors, and suppliers), you will be accepted and mentored before you even ask for it.

Final thoughts on the franchising industry

For me, the main way is the Women’s Franchise Committee and its Women’s Franchise Networks. These women want to succeed and know for that to happen, they have to help others do it, too. And so, it happens almost effortlessly. It’s like a sorority: the women stay connected, and we now share generational support, wisdom, friendship, and real power. Secondly, I feel the Supplier Forum and franchises attract and support women-owned businesses.



Therese Thilgen

Company Name: Franchise Update Media

Title: Co-Founder & CEO

Years in Franchising: 34

How I got into franchising

Following college, my intention was to get a job and be able to buy a few suits to begin interviewing for Family and Marriage Counseling as a career. Forty-two years ago, I began my career in franchising as a head cashier for a new franchise organization. Over the course of seven years, I grew to the position of Franchise Sales Executive and was with them for seven years. I was the only female in a director’s role and quit when the CEO told me I was a Pollyanna for taking sides with franchisees on big issues. It was obvious to me that we could not recruit more franchisees when you have so many unhappy franchisees. I was five months pregnant at the time. My husband and I decided to pursue the American Dream of opening our own business and became franchisees with a short-lived franchise. The franchisees we spoke with for satisfaction references were a set-up. They shut down their company six months after we signed. We recognized the lack of information on every facet of franchising and decided to be the providers  – to build a business designed to educate, inform, and turn information into knowledge for franchisors, franchisees, and franchise opportunity seekers. And to do it with integrity.

Advice for others starting their franchising journey

Never stop learning because I’ve found that life never really stops teaching. Take advantage of being curious, where things lead you, and how you might take advantage of what’s in front of you.

Final thoughts on the franchising industry

The franchise business model is no longer a man’s game. More and more women are finding a business home in the franchise world – and liking it very much. Research and statistics confirm that women have been steadily rising in the ranks of business and franchise operators over the past three decades. Among these female entrepreneurs are numerous women who have found a professional home in the franchise industry. So just what is it about women and franchising that has spurred this marked growth? Skills, interests, and personality traits, among other things, seem to be playing a key role. Consider the following:

  • Women tend to be great organizers, can prioritize well, and have an eye for detail. Characteristics like these are a perfect match for operating a franchise.
  • Women often have the ability to think quickly, improvise, and adapt when necessary. Definite strengths when it comes to operating a franchise.
  • Women are known to have strong networking and communications skills. Music to a franchisor’s ears as communication with the franchisor, vendors, and customers is imperative.
  • Female business owners also tend to be more financially conservative and willing to start small on their way to growing big. This is the kind of business approach and philosophy that is perfect for opening, operating, and growing a franchise. Franchisors know it.
  • It’s also interesting to note that women today have more opportunities than ever to join in franchising. Organizations such as the International Franchise Association’s Women’s Franchise Network and other organizations have established workshops, seminars, mentoring programs, and funding opportunities for women interested in operating a franchise. There is also much more variety today in franchising for women to choose from. Gone are the days when women were simply relegated to working in more feminine-type businesses such as beauty and health-related franchises. Today’s franchising world offers up opportunities across all sectors and types of franchising – and there are female success stories in all of them.



Kater Danford

Company Name: Northeast Color

Title: Business Development Executive

Years in Franchising: 20

How I got into franchising

In 2019, I was offered the opportunity to expand the franchise division of a company that had been working in and around the franchise space for over 20 years, but still had a number of local, walk-in clients. As much of our operations and capabilities had co-evolved with our franchise clients, leadership was keen to bring a laser focus to the industry. So, we essentially re-settled our local clients with other vendors and doubled down on franchising.

Advice for others starting their franchising journey

Relationships are crucial. Connect with the intention, genuinely care about what you’re doing and who you’re working with.

Final thoughts on the franchising industry

In the last two years, I’ve witnessed women in franchising taking more and more seats at the head of the industry table—and they’re all fashioning themselves as mentors. That’s the key to true empowerment; taking others with you on your ascent ensures that those who follow us will see farther and climb higher. I believe that there’s plenty of room at the top.

 



Amanda House

Company Name: 919 Marketing

Title: Account Supervisor

Years in Franchising: 10

How I got into franchising

I kind of stumbled into it, honestly. I interned at my first franchise company in college thanks to one awesome alumni connection and subsequently started my career there with a focus on consumer marketing. But it wasn’t until I came back to that company (after a two-year hiatus in a different industry – don’t recommend) that I truly dove into the franchise world. I took on a franchise development manager position and never looked back! Has it really been 10 years already?

Advice for others starting their franchising journey

Be YOU! Use exclamation points, stop apologizing, be loud, express yourself with fun hair/tattoos/shoes, etc. This industry is incredible and fun. If just being yourself doesn’t fit with one company, I can guarantee it will be embraced somewhere else.

Final thoughts on the franchising industry

The connections I have made, the support I have received from outside my companies and within my companies is due to the industry embracing me as ME. I am not exactly a shy person; I don’t withhold opinions, and although I know I have ruffled feathers in my time, overall, this industry has supported my bold and brazen approach to my career. If that’s not empowering, then what is?

 



Carly Wooley

Company Name: International Franchise Association (IFA)

Title: Senior Director of Advertising

Years in Franchising: 13

How I got into franchising

I wouldn’t say I intentionally “got into franchising,” but after graduating from Auburn University, I started working in sales for a local television station. I had a friend working for the International Franchise Association who reached out to let me know they were looking to add someone to their sales team. Although it was unusual at the time, I was hired for the job remotely and have been here for over 13 years. I quickly fell in love with the franchise industry. Particularly for the people, the franchise business model, and the entrepreneurial spirit. I knew this was the right place for me.

Advice for others starting their franchising journey

Join the International Franchise Association! The world of franchising may feel big, but it’s actually a small community of strong friendships built on a willingness to lend advice, share best practices, and help when needed. The opportunities are endless in franchising, and in this industry your brand and your community both have your back.

Final thoughts on the franchising industry

Franchising provides support and allows for career advancement for women in ways other businesses do not, helping break down barriers to get into business while also allowing women to bypass the typical career path. In addition, the franchise model allows you the flexibility to be in a work environment that fits your lifestyle.

Related: 100 Women of Impact In 2021



Jania Bailey

Company Name: FranNet, LLC

Title: CEO

Years in Franchising: 16

How I got into franchising

I was in banking for over 18 years, hit burnout, and started my own consulting and training business. A local area developer for Fantastic Sams was one of my clients. After working with them for a couple of years, I was offered the position of VP Regional Director for a five-state region.

Advice for others starting their franchising journey

Commit to learning all you can about the industry!

Final thoughts on the franchising industry

I do not think the industry judges us as “women” in the industry. I see us as franchise executives, not women franchise executives. We are judged by our success or failures in our jobs, so we can be just as successful as men if we are willing to work hard and commit ourselves to do the job.

 



Renee Israel

Company Name: Doc Popcorn/WisdomWrks

Title: Co-Founder

Years in Franchising: 13

How I got into franchising

My husband and I started a natural snack company called Doc Popcorn. We found success in multiple categories, including grocery, online sales, and retail points of presence. Ultimately, we chose to scale the business through the franchising model. We were excited to create a low-cost opportunity for budding entrepreneurs leaving their corporate jobs (whether by choice or because of 2008 recession-fueled layoffs) to make a living serving smiles in their local communities with their own Doc Popcorn business.

Advice for others starting their franchising journey

Be humble and carve out the time to learn from others who have gone before you — it will prevent a myriad of mistakes — translating into countless hours and dollars saved. Whether a franchisee, franchisor, or supplier to the industry, I recommend attending emerging brand conference sessions hosted by the International Franchise Association or Franchisors.com Springboard. Do your homework, know who is speaking/attending. Have questions ready. Even if you are a seasoned leader and already have a successful business, don’t go home without finding a mentor or two to support your journey. Building and running a franchise is not the same as running your corporate business. Patience and persistence are required—there are no “overnight” successes.

Final thoughts on the franchising industry

The industry is resource rich with leaders, education, and materials, as well as opportunities to mentor others and lead. There is no better way to grow into empowering yourself than finding ways to empower others. I observe that women have a hard time giving themselves permission to be supported due to a stigma of weakness. I find our industry supports vulnerability as a means of forming authentic, mutually beneficial relationships for all.  



Sheila Fischer

Company Name: MFV Expositions

Title: President

Years in Franchising: 20

How I got into franchising

I was in the exhibition industry for my entire professional career, involved in many industries such as technology, fashion, etc. I actually stumbled into the franchise industry as our company grew. About 20 years ago, I moved into the franchise sector and fell in love with it. I met such amazing people – people who were not only successful, but those who had such a passion for franchising and wanted to share their success.

Advice for others starting their franchising journey

Understand the industry. I would encourage everyone to get the Certified Franchise Executive (CFE) designation. Learn from the leaders in the business (both men and women), understand the industry, work hard and care. Most importantly, surround yourself with people who are only going to lift you higher! That is exactly how I landed on this list with these other amazing women!

Final thoughts on the franchising industry

Franchising is a unique model that welcomes all types of people from all walks of life. I feel inspired by the many women that are involved in all facets of the industry and our numbers are growing each year! Now 31% of franchise owners in the U.S. are women. The relationships that I have made in the industry provide me with a great deal of assurance and support. I am grateful to be a woman in franchising.



Danessa Itaya

Company Name: Property Management Inc. (PMI)

Title: President

Years in Franchising: 28

How I got into franchising

I started in accounting at Service Brands International (SBI), when we were just one brand (Molly Maid), and I was the accounting assistant. My role was to enter royalty reports into the system and boy, was I good at the 10-key adding machine. I was able to learn all about franchising at SBI as we grew, from accounting, operations, training, to leading our philanthropy, Ms. Molly Foundation. Some of my very best friends came from SBI and I love catching up with them at the International Franchise Association (IFA) events!

Advice for others starting their franchising journey

Get involved now! We’re all busy so don’t put it off until you have “time” just do it now! Get involved in your local Women Franchise Network (WFN) chapters, attend the IFA convention, join roundtables, support your local female co-workers, and invite them to engage! So many opportunities to lift each other up and highlight so many amazing female leaders.

Final thoughts on the franchising industry

We have some amazing female leaders who continue to build and empower new leaders. I was so excited to see how many people were interested in joining the Women’s Franchise Committee at the  International Franchise Association! The momentum is catching on and providing more and more opportunities for female leaders. Opportunities like the Wednesday WFC Clubhouse, WFC, local WFN events, and Angela Cote’s roundtables are great ways to highlight our amazing women in franchising. I love sitting in the CEO Summit and seeing so many more women leaders there, and I look forward to the day that it’s an even split! Franchising is such an amazing community of support and learning.



Nicole Salla

Company Name: Kiddie Academy Educational Child Care

Title: Chief Marketing Officer

Years in Franchising: 4.5

How I got into franchising

I have worked for a franchisor for 4.5 years. However, my first experience in franchising was as soon as I turned 14 years old. It was my first job at Chick-fil-A, which made me a brand fan for life. I was fascinated with how well they treated their team members, how the franchisee invested in our professional development, and how everything was outlined down to a science. I had no idea a local person could own a “big name” restaurant like Chick-fil-A! Since I started my professional career, I’ve always been able to match my core values with companies that create deep connections with people. I started in retail marketing, and I found so much purpose in it. I worked for an outdoor recreation retailer, which empowered families to seek out exciting outdoor experiences together. Our brand story hinged on investing time with those you love by spending more time together outdoors. Next, I spent 16 years working in senior living, where we empowered people to live a deeper, more engaged life. We worked with communities whose sole purpose was to increase the engagement, health, wellness, and social depth for active seniors, or alternately provide care for those who could no longer care for themselves. With that history and a passion for empowering people to live their best lives, franchising was a natural extension of what fills my cup. As a franchisor, we empower people with the tools, resources, and solutions to carve out their own success. We enable passionate, successful executives who want to give back to their communities (by opening a childcare facility, in our case) and build generational wealth for their families.

Advice for others starting their franchising journey

Give yourself the permission, and the encouragement, to do the things that scare you most. I promise it will make you better. When you are new to something, it can seem overwhelming, and hard to dive right in. Starting your own business through franchising can feel scary; however, franchising allows you access to a team of experts in your franchisor to act as your guides in this new journey. You’ll have a whole community of other franchisees who are so giving of their guidance and advice. You will learn faster with this wind behind your back, allowing you to lean into that fear of the unknown, knowing you are not alone. And if I had to boil it down to one simple word of advice, it would be to LISTEN. Actively listen and seek out opportunities to learn about the space. Build your network, grow your support “tribe,” form relationships and, most importantly, learn from them and this journey you are all in together. 

Final thoughts on the franchising industry

Women have just as much opportunity as men do to achieve success in franchising. It’s solely based on your ability to run a successful business. While the corporate world is infamous for having a “glass ceiling,” franchise ownership is a level playing field and we see time and again successful women entrepreneurs who have become incredibly empowered through franchising.

Franchising gives savvy women the tools and resources to become the architect of their future. It’s not trial and error, it’s a solid plan of action to build your own business. I have also learned that the industry is incredibly supportive. By nature, if you live by a servant-leader mentality, franchising (whatever side you are on) is a perfect fit. As a franchisee, you serve your community, coach, and mentor your staff members and grow a business that supports your family. As a franchisor, your main goal is to collaborate on business decisions that focus on the success of your franchisees, which in turn reaps success for the entire brand. If you keep your focus there, everyone, including the overall brand, will win.

Related: Yelp Survey Finds That Women Business Owners Remain Passionate, Innovative Despite Persistent Gender Bias and Pandemic Losses



Emily George

Company Name: Franchise Business Review

Title: Senior Client Consultant

Years in Franchising: 5

How I got into franchising

I fell in love with the franchise business model from the guidance of Darrell van Ligten and Jon May (President of International at Wendy’s and CEO of Arby’s, respectively) – I worked with them on a regional restaurant group in Central Ohio and they taught me so much about the franchise model, and QSR operations. From there, I was able to parlay my passion for franchising into a role on the supplier side, helping to build a strategy and practice for franchise marketing with the team at RevLocal, which ultimately led me to my role at Franchise Business Review. All-told, I’ve been around the Franchise industry for about five years.

Advice for others starting their franchising journey

Don’t yield to “the way we’ve always done it.” You’re bringing a fresh, innovative perspective as a newcomer to franchising. When you see opportunities for improvement and evolution, even if it means changing a legacy practice, don’t shy away from making the suggestion. Be open to being wrong – if you can get comfortable throwing out suggestions, even if they’re terrible, you can get really good at being a little less wrong every single day.

Final thoughts on the franchising industry

Franchising is absolutely a relationship-centric industry which I think lends to female empowerment. There are very strong networks of people in franchising which serve to inspire, elevate, support, protect, and encourage the individuals within our industry. There are very specific networks focused on female empowerment and others more broadly focused on diversity and inclusion and I hope the influence of these networks only continues to grow. With the strength of our community, we can do so much to empower the voices less heard, whether it’s women, the LGBTQ community, or racial minorities – we can only benefit from including a more diverse cross-section of voices in our daily lives.



Abby Fogel

Company Name: Unleashed Brands

Title: VP of Marketing & Brand Relations

Years in Franchising: 7

How I got into franchising

I “wandered” into the franchise industry by chance when I was drawn in by the opportunity to work for a brand that positively impacted children through sports. I was (and continue to be) amazed by the franchising model – providing opportunities for individuals to become business owners – and the community of individuals in the franchise industry is unmatched.

Advice for others starting their franchising journey

Learn and connect – I came into franchising without industry knowledge and have learned so much. It’s an amazing industry if you take the time to learn the ins and outs and how the relationships work. Join the webinars, meet the people, do the things. Be open to new opportunities.

Final thoughts on the franchising industry

The franchise industry provides a wealth of opportunities for women to connect and learn from each other. I’m honored to have the opportunity to serve on the Women’s Franchise Committee which is dedicated to empowering women in franchising. Through this committee, there are local networks women can join to connect with other women in franchising in addition to weekly talks on Clubhouse and more.



Amanda Dempsey

Company Name: Saxton & Stump

Title: Attorney and Shareholder

Years in Franchising: 10+

How I got into franchising

I was working as a corporate associate at a prior law firm, and a new partner joined the firm. He started his career working in-house at a well-known franchise brand in our area and had a franchise practice. Beginning on day one, he needed assistance with a corporate M&A transaction involving a franchised business. I helped with that deal and have worked in franchising ever since. I’ve been working in franchise and distribution law for about 10 years now.

Advice for others starting their franchising journey

Get involved! The franchise industry is enthusiastic, entrepreneurial, and fun, so join in. Franchise industry professionals are also incredibly generous with sharing advice and their experiences, so attend educational seminars, webinars, industry events, etc. and learn before you leap.

Final thoughts on the franchising industry

The franchise industry is unique in that it spans so many industries. It seems that, at least in recent years, the industry has recognized that in order to reach the diverse, international populations we serve, across so many industries, its leaders need to reflect that diversity, listen to different viewpoints, and to implement the ideas that blossom when people feel accepted and valued. Franchising is an industry of innovators and innovation is often the result of adversity and challenges. Women certainly face many obstacles, not just in business, but in life. The creative, solution-oriented mindset that many women have is such an asset to franchising, and I continue to see so many women entrepreneurs and professionals emerge in the industry, which is positive for us all.



Robin Gagnon

Company Name: We Sell Restaurants

Title: Co-Founder & CEO

Years in Franchising: 20

How I got into franchising

The traditional business brokerage firm is very generalized and sells every type of business. When we launched We Sell Restaurants, it was designed to disrupt the industry by specializing in a single vertical to deliver strong market share. The success of that model led to franchising as the business expanded across 45 states and hundreds of millions of dollars in listing inventory. As a company, we could only continue to grow by replicating our process with others at the helm as business owners and franchise partners.

Advice for others starting their franchising journey

The single piece of advice I would give someone starting their franchise journey is simply to ask for help. Franchising is the most generous industry I’ve ever known. It is the only industry where the CEO of a thousand-unit brand will sit down with a ten-unit brand and offer advice, guidance, and a direct line for support.

Final thoughts on the franchising industry

Unlike Corporate America, where your success or next promotion may be tied to someone else, in franchising, your success is tied only to your ability to take a great idea and run with it. There is no glass ceiling or limitation to what you can achieve. Franchising empowers women to be their best version of themselves, share that with others and benefit from a business model that offers opportunity to all.

Related: How Women Should Be Championing Female Leadership, Post #MeToo



Mary Hanula

Company Name: Eulerity

Title: Director of Marketing

Years in Franchising: 6

How I got into franchising

My introduction into franchising was during a college internship at the International Franchise Association. I absolutely loved seeing the influential leaders, hard workers and dedicated team members come together for a bigger cause. It was fascinating to see how brands operated and connected with one another. Years later, I went on to become the Editor-in-Chief of Franchising World Magazine and Content Manager for the association. I wanted to work in an industry that was full of both passionate people and possibilities, which is exactly what I found in franchising. As of now, I have been in franchising for around five years. With my current role at Eulerity, I love being able to work with franchise brands and take my experience at the International Franchise Association and put it to great use in my role as their Director of Marketing. We have so many amazing client brands, including notable franchisors.

Advice for others starting their franchising journey

Treat people how you want to be treated. Not only can the franchise industry bring you great work ethic and opportunity, but also wonderful friends and mentors. Be yourself and be kind. The future is yours, but don’t forget the people who help you accomplish each step into it. Lean on your people and never take advantage of them — learn from them!

Final thoughts on the franchising industry

Although there have been powerful women in franchising for years, it was within the past decade that female franchise leaders, subject matter experts, and inspirations really got a spot at the forefront. The International Franchise Association’s Women in Franchising Committee serves as one example of astounding community and sisterhood. The future is female, and the incredible dedication and work done by females in franchising continues to make a lasting impact not only on the industry, but on everyone in it.



Gabby Wong

Company Name: FranConnect

Title: CEO

Years in Franchising: 25

How I got into franchising

I started my career 25 years ago in the management consulting, technology, and private equity-backed SaaS software space and discovered the franchise market through my involvement with FranConnect. I initially came onboard FranConnect as the Executive VP of Customer Operations and immediately saw the complexity of the challenges faced by franchisors, as well as the opportunities for growth. I became intrigued with understanding how technology could be a driver in creating a significant scale for the industry and, therefore, even greater growth. I was promoted to CEO in late 2018.

Advice for others starting their franchising journey

Don’t forget that the growth of the franchise brand is dependent upon the success of the franchisee.

Final thoughts on the franchising industry

The franchising community is terrific, and the members in the community are active. I have been impressed by the resources available and the mentorship provided by the community to female entrepreneurs and emerging leaders. Since franchising is focused on entrepreneurship, it is necessarily more forward-leaning on promoting and mentoring female leaders and founders.



Meg Roberts

Company Name: The Last Lounge

Title:  CEO & President

Years in Franchising: 3.5

How I got into franchising

I discovered franchising, like many, by accident – and fell in love with the industry immediately. I’ve been in franchising since 2007.

Advice for others starting their franchising journey

To recognize and appreciate the great ideas and contributions that can come from all around your system. And of course, reach out to seek help and mentoring and always reach back to provide it for someone else.

Final thoughts on the franchising industry

The industry has changed dramatically in my 15 years – more female executives at all levels are now contributing to all areas of the future of franchising. The Women’s Committee gave me my first taste of the power of female leadership. Serving six years on that incredible team gave me an opportunity to meet incredible women, forge incredible friends and to make a meaningful difference in the franchising community.

Related: Why the World Needs More Entrepreneurial Women in Leadership



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