Dawn Of A New Era—Or Is It?


“Progress is impossible without change, and those who cannot change their minds cannot change anything.”
—George Bernard Shaw

Recently, the franchisee community became aware of certain changes taking place in the top leadership positions at SEI corporate headquarters in Dallas. I am not a pessimist (perhaps a cynic at heart) but on this topic I am cautiously optimistic. As I have written in the past, for change to take place, “first I must change.” Management top to bottom must buy into change in implementation and practice. I understand that 7-Eleven is a big company, and implementing change takes time, but I have also been with 7-Eleven for more than 20 years, and I understand the legacy in this company in which not everyone may be embracing this “Dawn Of A New Era.” Some folks want to keep things as they are, and fear change, just as they didn’t accept “Servant Leadership.”

Philosopher Aristotle wrote that most humans are afraid of change—because they fear change brings chaos—but that change is a must. I agree. The night is always darkest before dawn. We have all experienced the changes in this company that brought chaos to the franchise community. Project “E” is the first example that comes to mind, followed by an unleashing of a self-centered, monomaniacal, egomaniac management team that ran the company and franchisees without oversight. Of course there was chaos, but cleanup efforts are underway!

I have always favored the “servant leadership” management model. I believe all successful 7-Eleven franchisees practice some version of it. We honestly take great care of our hard-working, loyal and devoted staff who daily take great care of the thousands of customers who enter our stores. To us Servant Leadership is a way of life, but for some in our franchisor’s management ranks, we believe it seemed like a slogan.

A new day seems to be dawning, but it is not a complete about face. To date it is more like a course correction. At the last several meetings with our CEO and his team, the question of increasing franchisees’ bottom lines was one of the main concerns. The most critical impact on franchise financials is the minimum wage increase blowing across the country. Our system cannot absorb this easily. We do not have time for CSAs, committee meetings, studies, hand wringing or speeches. Rosy predictions will not save some of our colleagues who are operating mid- to low-volume stores. They will be swept away like a Southern California mudslide. The time is now to act and not wait for lobbying efforts. Nothing is going to stop the minimum wage storm.

On a different note, here is my humble request: the new thinking in Dallas should be that any tattletale side conversations with the Quisling’s and Toadies in the franchisee community need to stop. The snitches who call into SEI HQ with their “reports” from National Coalition and local FOA meetings are only serving their own agendas for rewards other franchisees work hard to get. Frequently, their information is distorted, dishonest and just plain wrong.

Senior, local and all levels of management at SEI must ask themselves: A) Who in the franchisee ranks is driven in pursuit of constant improvement of the franchise system for ALL stakeholders, and B) Who in the franchise ranks only seeks self-aggrandizement and self-gain? Leadership demands that at times unpleasant opinions need expression. Anyone that makes the B list ought never to be consulted on anything. That is how dynamic organizations grow and thrive. Seeking to hear only the mushy music of the misinformed keeps an organization captive to unrealistic fantasies. Instead of listening to those devious and dangerous minds who seek only division and personal gain, let us continue to have passionate, meaningful, transparent and healthy conversation with the National Coalition.

While this resetting of relations is still new, we need to get aggressive and move forward at a much faster pace. The franchise community wants to see solid changes, not quick fixes and/or cheap talk. Here’s one for you: roll back to the 15-year agreement without any renewal fees and no operational review. I do not see any negative financial impact to SEI’s bottom line from this move. Stable, prosperous and forward-looking franchisees in the long run contribute to a stable, prosperous franchisor. After all, I keep hearing the company has had a stellar year in 2014, so why not share some of that stellar wealth with those who created it? Let us have a real increase in franchise net income from sales and gross profit, and not from Enron-style creative accounting gimmicks like rejecting legitimate expenses from the stores.

In closing I have to talk about SEI’s National Business Leadership Council (NBLC). How many of our fellow franchisees are better off today than last year, the year before, or the one before that? Why is it that an overwhelming majority of the current members of the NBLC were chosen to serve again? (Nothing against these fine friends of the franchisees.) Has the work of the NBLC added money to franchisees’ bottom line? Keep in mind that SEI has had stellar years. Did most of our colleagues on the NBLC fall asleep while expenses were being shifted to franchisees? Did anyone ask about encroachment and how SEI was growing their bottom line? The National Coalition’s chairman has never received an invitation to attend an NBLC conference call, let alone attend a meeting! Did anyone ask why the current chairman wasn’t invited? Why not? Was it fear, self-interest and/or just being naive? You’re bestowed a title of a leader, are you one? We hope to see more franchisee leaders on the NBLC soon, to encourage the “Dawn of a New Era.”

Thanks to everyone who wrote me after my last article. I received many emails, texts and voicemails with lots compliments and a few critiques. I thank you all for the interaction. My best to you and your loved ones for 2015. I hope that we are all part of the solution, not the problem!