IFA Chair Shelly Sun explains how to run a fast-expanding business and steer the world’s biggest and oldest franchise association. At the same time. 

When did you join the IFA and what positions have you held?

I joined the IFA in 2005 before I opened my first franchise because I was eager to learn how to be the best franchisor possible. I immediately enrolled in the Certified Franchise Executive (CFE) program and over the next 18 months learned a lot about franchising and found many mentors that shared their successes and challenges. I was appointed to the Finance Committee and Strategic Planning Committees around 2009 and joined the IFA Board of Directors in 2010.  I was appointed IFA Secretary for 2014-2015, IFA Treasurer for 2015-2016, IFA Vice Chair for 2016-2017 and now serve as Chairwoman of the IFA 2017-2018.

What does it mean to you to be IFA Chair?

I am honored to serve the industry that I love and that has been so invaluable to me. It is wonderful to have the opportunity to give back. It is fun knowing how much can be accomplished with the amazing IFA staff and with many friends that have agreed to serve in key roles to maximize our efforts during my year as Chairwoman. I am blessed to have strong relationships and alignment across our Executive Committee so that we could lay a path for the next few years that has continuity of initiatives for the organization.

What have you achieved as IFA Chair?

We have a lot of initiatives in-flight. We have three task forces centered around key initiatives.  Each Task Force has engaged the IFA Board and other franchise leaders to build multi-year plans to ensure results are delivered. Lane Fisher and Catherine Monson lead the FranPAC Task Force to get the PAC back to a $1 million PAC so we can ensure a seat at the table and can elect/re-elect legislators who will allow franchisees to grow their businesses and create more jobs. Ron Feldman and Tom Wood lead the Emerging Franchisor Task Force to ensure adequate programs and resources for franchisors with under 100 units, including the expansion of the Emerging Franchisor Bootcamp that was held in 2017 for the first time. Jeff Tews and David Barr lead the Franchisee Engagement Task Force that works closely with the Franchisee Forum to increase resources for franchisees and outreach and engagement with franchisees.

What have you learned in this position?

I have learned that one year is a short time to accomplish all that I would like. I am an entrepreneur and I am used to moving quickly to implement improvements that I identify. I have had to understand – sometimes painfully – that leadership within an industry association is about slowing down and working things through a process. This means accepting less will be accomplished in a given year to ensure relationships are intact and we can all accomplish even more in the long run. 

What are the challenges facing the franchising industry today?

The most important challenge facing the franchising industry is Joint Employer. We need a legislative solution to define that franchisors and franchisees are NOT joint employers. Beyond Joint Employer, there are issues such as minimum wage increases that are too fast for small businesses to absorb and pass on to customers which reduces employment and risks the viability of many businesses. Opportunities lie ahead with tax reform and healthcare reform.

Which areas of the franchising industry could stand improvement?
With nearly 60% of IFA members and IFA conference attendees representing brands with under 100 units, I think the future of the franchising industry lies in investing in education, mentoring and engagement with these brands to give them every opportunity to be long-term viable brands. This will be good for those brands, for their franchisees and for the franchising industry.

How do you juggle your duties with BrightStar Care with your role at the IFA?

A dear friend and mentor, Steve Greenbaum, advised me years ago to ensure that I had someone I trusted to run my business day-to-day so that I could give the IFA nearly a full-time commitment during my year as IFA Chair. Five years ago I asked another mentor Steve Romaniello for a recommendation on a CFO and through that, hired Thom Gilday. A little over a year into Thom joining BrightStar, we read the book Traction and identified our ability to leverage our unique talents – me as the Visionary (CEO) for the organization focused on strategy, structure and people and Thom as the Integrator (President) focused on the day-to-day management of the organization to align with and deliver upon the vision and strategy. Thom has led us through my year as IFA Chair and I know it has been a sacrifice in the number of hours he works and for my team and my franchisees to not have me as involved and visible but my year as IFA Chair will be up before we all know it. A year goes by fast.

How effective has the franchising model been for BrightStar Care?

We have great franchisees and the franchising model and our investments in technology and accreditation have allowed consistency across the system – consistency is the lifeblood of franchising. Therefore, franchising has been an effective model to expand and serve more customers.  There is always work to do and we are now in the stage of growth – moving from 250+ to 500+ - that requires an even greater focus on standardization, brand compliance, training and culture. 2016-2018 are big years for change in technology utilization and we continue our focus on franchisee profitability through revenue drivers, margin enhancements, productivity gains (technology) and scalability.

What advice would you give to those considering master franchising?

Culture and relationships matter.  Spend significant time with your prospective franchisor to ensure they are committed to the long-term success of the country and are prepared to invest with time and energy for the long haul. Have a passion for the industry that you are considering franchising and that you believe in the mission/purpose and differentiation of the brand that you choose.

What are essential considerations when planning an overseas expansion?

For me it has been essential to spend time in the country I’d consider for expansion and understand the nuances of the local economy and healthcare system. I can’t do that from the U.S..  I have invested a week and will continue to spend more time – along with my mentor and board member David Barr who has significant international experience – in the countries we’re considering for expansion. This has included time spent in the last 12-18 months in Australia, Hong Kong, Japan, the U.K. and Canada.

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An inspirational new web video series where we meet the business leaders and influencers in International Franchising.

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