We catch up with Mike Bidwell, CEO of service-based franchise Neighborly, to discuss how he oversees a globe-spanning business network, when it’s appropriate to make difficult decisions, the next generation of franchise owners, and more
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What does your role as CEO of Neighborly entail?
MB: My main priority is to set the brand up for future success. I’m always looking one to three years ahead, as opposed to dwelling on the company’s past or even its present state. With this mindset, I focus on five key areas: establishing and leading the strategy for growth; ensuring we have the right leaders fulfilling the right roles, especially with those that report to me directly; managing the dynamics around our capital structure, which for Neighborly, is private equity; managing or leveraging the board; communicating internally and externally.
How has the brand grown with you at the helm?
MB: I’m proud to say that in just five years since I was named CEO, Neighborly’s growth has exceeded the results achieved in our initial 35 years in business. We are now nearly two-and-a-half times as big as we were when I first stepped into this role.
What moments have made you proudest?
MB: There have been many highlights in recent years, but perhaps my favorite is seeing how our accelerated growth has created a wealth of opportunities for the people within our organization.
What makes Neighborly the global franchise it is today?
MB: I believe our values, longevity, and scale are all major factors that have led to us earning this reputation. We seek to continuously grow while pursuing ‘good’ profits, for instance, doing business the ‘right’ way. ‘Right’ can certainly be a subjective term with margin for interpretation, but we’ve operationalized our organization’s values to clarify our own understanding of right versus wrong. We simply will not pursue growth or profits if it means abandoning our values. Our commitment to upholding these standards has resulted in outcomes that are both positive and sustainable. After all of these years in business, we’re confident that Neighborly’s code of values serves us well, a fact that many others outside of our organization have also come to recognize.
What currently excites you most in the world of franchising?
MB: Franchising creates the opportunity for individuals to build something of significance in their local markets. That significance translates to creating jobs and building wealth – which may or may not be defined simply in financial terms – for franchise business owners who execute the system they’re given with a drive and determination to succeed.
What have been your biggest business mistakes?
MB: Certainly, this could be a rather long list! But most of the mistakes I’ve made revolve around effective communication with, and/ or the management of other people. A classic example of this that I’m sure all CEOs can relate to is tolerating under-performing talent for far too long.
Our organization has been around for nearly four decades, and there are many people on our team who have been with us for a large amount of that time. But as Neighborly has evolved, especially in recent years, there have been instances where I’ve had to choose between respecting someone’s status and tenure with the organization versus ensuring the right person for the job is in place. In the cases where I’ve put status before talent, the results have been stalled growth, intensified stress, and other negative outcomes.
“Ordinary people can find amazing success through discipline and intention”
Dealing with such circumstances has taught me that my duty to this company is to ensure the greater good for all of its constituents, which may sometimes mean letting down an individual to benefit the whole. While this may not be the most popular decision at first, it is my job to ensure that talent is correctly placed across all departments of our organization. I still struggle with the complicated dynamics that come with these difficult decisions, but I am learning to keep the big picture perspective in mind on behalf of my full team.
What advice do you have for the next generation of your franchise owners?
MB: You are more capable than you might think! However, your ambition must be accompanied by discipline and persistence. A big part of succeeding is staying at it long enough. Nearly everyone who makes it to the top does what most would not: they start earlier, they plan better, they work longer hours, they are continuously reflective, and they pay attention to clues. Success is the result of an active process, and it cannot typically be achieved half-heartedly. Don’t worry if you are not the smartest, or the most well-connected, or the most experienced; ordinary people can find amazing success through discipline and intention.
You should also look to leverage the clues around you, such as the success of others. What have others accomplished, and how did they get there? Benchmark the leaders as opposed to the mediocre and remember that there will always be someone capable of surpassing them. Aspiring to follow in the footsteps of those who succeed before you will help you develop a realistic vision for what you can accomplish. It’s important to have a tangible vision to work toward to remind you that your goals are actually attainable and worthwhile for you to continue pushing for on a daily basis, even when you run into challenges. Franchising is particularly useful for facilitating peer guidance and inspiration.
What makes a great business leader?
MB: “Great” is a very high bar. A truly great leader needs to excel in many areas, not just one. Among those areas would be driving or otherwise enabling the delivery of better-than-average results, which today involves much more than simply generating positive financial returns for equity holders. A great leader should also be able to create opportunities that allow others to become effective leaders in their respective roles. And finally, a great leader needs to be a good corporate citizen, dedicated to ensuring their organization positively impacts people both within the business as well as those it otherwise touches.
What did winning a Global Franchise Awards 2019 trophy mean to you and your team?
MB: Winning the award for Best Property and Home Maintenance Franchise is testament to the success of our global expansion efforts, proving we have set the bar high for international franchising of home services. We consider the award validation that our efforts to ‘be Neighborly’ in all that we do are resonating positively with a global audience, motivating us to continue striving to be the world-class leader in multi-branded service franchising.
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