Diversity and Women Franchise Owner Profiles: We Are Not Invisible
The franchise industry continues to create opportunities for women entrepreneurs who are seeking business ownership. Industry representatives provide examples of three enterprising women of achievement.
Building From a Strong Work Ethic
By Chris Arnett
Family has always been important to Darshana Gijubhai Patel, providing her with a solid foundation from which many fortunate experiences originated. Born in India, her parents sent her at age three to Vadodara in the state of Gujarat to live with her maternal grandparents. Patel studied at an English-speaking Catholic school. She, her younger sister and her parents migrated to the United States in 1979, following the path her uncle paved 30 years earlier. Her father, with a degree in biochemistry and background in farming, first found work at a boot factory. Later, he entered the hotel business, providing financing and helping run the independent property his son-in-law Sharad bought in Madison, Tenn. That hotel is still in the family today, and was the critical building block for the family’s entry into hospitality and franchising. Patel remembers coming home from school as a teenager and going straight to work at the hotel, sitting at the front desk, folding towels, tarring the parking lot, painting the pool, doing any work needed. She doesn’t remember her father or brother-in-law considering her gender when asking her to perform a task; with all the work that needed to be done, her father never treated his three daughters with kid gloves. They were expected to do their fair share. This standard would help shape Patel’s life and career. During these formative years, Patel never envisioned herself as a hotelier. But she always insisted that while she held traditional Hindu values, she was a modern woman who planned a career outside of the home. After graduating from the Univ. of Tennessee-Knoxville with a bachelor’s degree in economics, Patel moved to Atlanta where she was hired by Kay Jewelers as a manager trainee. She enjoyed her new-found independence, while at the same time her father was arranging prospective candidates to become her life partner, as is the custom. Patel traveled reluctantly to India at her father’s request to meet these suitors. Initially she was not interested, but she met Shirish Patel, M.D. and knew he was different. She approved of the fact he was a doctor, and was impressed by his determination and drive. After an initial meeting, they met twice more to talk about how they would share household responsibilities if they had a family together. They were married 11 days later. Shirish followed Darshana back to the United States, and after a short time living with family in Kentucky, they moved to New Jersey where he finished his medical residency. Their first child, daughter Shivangi, was born in 1992. Another daughter, Meera, followed in 1995. Dr. Patel was recruited by several private practices in Kentucky. He accepted an offer to join a practice in Owensboro, a mid-size Kentucky town with approximately 60,000 residents and only a few dozen Asian-Indians. Darshana became very fond of Owensboro and spent the first several years there raising her two daughters and her son, Shiven. By this time, her father and her brother-in-law had accumulated more hotels and had entered the world of franchising with two Choice Hotels International brands, Comfort Inn and Econo Lodge. Darshana appreciated the consistency of branding and the standards set by the franchisor. She still believed owning hotels was her family’s passion and not hers, but that would soon change. At the urging of her father, Darshana attended a real estate auction and purchased property in Owensboro in 1998. She then meticulously researched the available options, and became interested in Comfort Suites, another Choice Hotels brand. While grateful for her wide-ranging work experience at her family’s independent hotel in Tennessee, she wanted to franchise the hotel and follow established operational procedures. She purchased the franchise in 2000, and the Comfort Suites hotel in Owensboro opened its doors on Dec. 27, 2002. Since it’s opening, the Owensboro hotel has enjoyed tremendous success. The hotel has earned the brand’s top awards many times, and was the No. 1 -ranked Comfort Suites hotel in 2007. That same year, Darshana purchased two other hotels in the surrounding area and in 2007 and 2009 she and Shirish purchased a franchise gas station and car wash to diversify their investments. Early in her hospitality franchising career, Darshana chose to become involved and not sit on the sidelines. She has been active in the Choice Hotels Owners Council for 10 years, and has been a Life Member of the Asian American Hotels Owners Association since 2007. Additionally, she served on the Owensboro Chamber of Commerce for three years, the Davies County School Foundation Board for seven years and the River Park Foundation Board for four years. Darshana became a Certified Hotel Operator in 2007 and is considering the Certified Franchise Executives certification from the International Franchise Association. These accomplishments, on top of competing demands as a mother, would not have been possible without the support she received from her family. Darshana has always made family first; a follower of the Hindu faith traditions, the family follows a strict vegetarian diet. The children speak multiple languages and have achieved tremendous academic success. Her oldest daughter currently attends the Western Kentucky University and the younger daughter attends the Univ. of Louisville. Darshana has also found time to serve others. Following the devastating 2004 earthquake in India, she planned and implemented a disaster-relief fundraising dinner in Owensboro. She, her sister and her mother prepared and served food for more than 500 local residents in a facility donated by a local Catholic church, and raised nearly $50,000 that directly aided reconstruction efforts in India. Many positive experiences in her life created this strong work ethic that has enabled her to start businesses, create opportunities, serve others and enjoy a happy family life at the same time. Darshana recently lost the “two pillars” of her foundation, her father and brother-in-law. She credits much of her success to them, and although she has always been fortunate to have had their example and support, Darshana wants even more now to honor their hard work and sacrifice as she pursues the same path. And as part of the series of fortunate events in her life, she continues to have her husband Shirish’s full support in this journey. Chris Arnett is senior director of franchise management for Choice Hotels International and a member of the International Franchise Association Educational Foundation’s Diversity Institute. Find him at fransocial.franchise.org.
Soaring to Greater Heights
By Miriam L. Brewer, CFE
Growing up in Oxford Miss., Edith Kelly-Green would have never imagined she would become one of the largest multi-unit Lenny’s Sub Shop franchisees. In reality, she would not have imagined being a franchisee, period. Corporate America was in her blood as a certified public accountant. She received a bachelor’s degree from the Univ. of Mississippi and a master’s degree in business administration from Vanderbilt University. Kelly-Green arrived at FedEx in 1977 where she was hired as a senior accountant and worked her way up to vice president and chief sourcing officer. When she retired from FedEX at the age of 50, she wanted time to do whatever she chose. She had earned “me” time. Most importantly, she was financially secure. To say she became a franchisee by happenstance would be an understatement. Kelly-Green was somewhat familiar with Lenny’s, but it was while reading the local newspaper that she learned a store was available. She set her sights on investing in the company. And, her daughter, a pre-med major, was very familiar with Lenny’s; from there the wheels started to turn. While we like to say in franchising “you are in business for yourself, but not by yourself,” she was able to identify a partner, Marlin Harris, who was the first person the founder of Lenny’s had hired. That partnership lasted until Harris’ death. Once Kelly-Green decided to go into franchising, she knew right away she wanted to own multiple sites and she set the number at 10. Why? She wanted to not only have a seat at the table, but to have a voice in decisions at the corporate level. It was because of that insight that she is once again serving on Lenny’s Advisory Board, after rotating off according to the bylaws, and then being re-appointed in April. When asked “why franchising?” she quickly responds that she wanted to create a family legacy. Her son, a student at of one the famed historically black colleges and universities − Florida Agriculture and Mechanical University − wanted to be an entrepreneur. She has laid the groundwork for the legacy to continue, as well as creating employment opportunities for youth in the community. Kelly-Green knows that the biggest obstacle and opportunity is the hiring of staff. She seeks to connect with the work force which is critical to them delivering the product. The ability to motivate and select the right employees who will model one’s view of service is a key focus and a major tenet in how she runs her business. Kelley-Green maintains a positive presence in the community. In 1999, she was inducted into the Ole Miss Alumni Hall of Fame and now serves as a member of the executive board of the Ole Miss Alumni Association. Her community service also includes leadership positions with the Univ. of Mississippi Foundation, Pyramid Re-Use Committee, Center City Commission, Baptist Women’s Hospital and the Memphis Zoo. She is also a founding member of the Women’s Foundation for a Greater Memphis. Giving back is essential to Kelly-Green’s being and core to who she is as an African-American women blessed to have had a successful corporate career and who’s now enjoying success in franchising. Family is extremely important to her and keeps her grounded. She has endowed and funded four scholarships through Ole Miss Women’s Council for Philanthropy. The first was in honor of her grandmother, Christine Mitchell Hickonbottom who was a maid at the university and the second in recognition of her mother-in-law, Marion Mullin Kelly Gordon (the Gordon Scholarship). The remaining two will be funded through her estate and named Jayna Kelly, M.D. Scholarship (in honor of her daughter) and lastly the Edith Kelly-Green Scholarship. Miriam L. Brewer, CFE, is senior director of education and diversity for the International Franchise Association and the staff liaison for the IFA Educational Foundation’s Diversity Institute Board. Find her at fransocial.franchise.org.
Entrepreneurship is in the Blood
By Lynette McKee, CFE
Growing up in a family of entrepreneurs can certainly set you on a path to continuing the family tradition, that’s exactly what happened with Mariana Huberman, a franchisee of The UPS Store. Several generations of family members had started their own businesses, both in Argentina, where Mariana was born and in the United States, where her family emigrated when she was eight years old. “Entrepreneurship is in my blood. Literally,” she says. Like many college graduates, Huberman opted to start her career in the corporate world, but after her third child was born, a routine visit to the local post office led to an unexpected career, and life-change. She and her infant daughter visited the local post office during a typical day of errands where she was struck by the lack of customer service and limited services offered. The visit led her to ask herself, “Isn’t there a better way or alternative to the post office?” Huberman was familiar with The UPS Store; her cousin owned a number of franchise locations in Florida. Suddenly, it clicked. She knew there was a need for better service, and she knew what it was like and what it would take to be a business owner. She decided to open a The UPS Store. That was 10 years ago, and now she’s a successful franchisee. For Huberman, business ownership offers the flexibility to better balance home life and work life. Owning her own business allows her to set her hours, which gives her time to be a volunteer in her children’s classrooms, take them to their doctors’ appointments and to have more “quality time” with her family. As a business owner, Huberman knows that customer service is of utmost importance. She and her staff know their customers by name, and will go the extra mile to ensure that customers always get the attention they deserve. For example, a customer asked for a large print job to be completed in one day. “I didn’t know if our printer would hold up or if we even had enough paper,” said Huberman. “But there was no way we were not going to provide our customer with the service that the customer needed!” Huberman said that since opening her store, she sees the face of franchising changing. When she began her franchising career, franchisees were mostly recent immigrants pooling their family money to start a business or men pursuing their second careers. Today she is seeing younger franchisees who have the entrepreneurial spirit. When she attends the International Franchise Association or The UPS Store conferences, she meets other franchisees who have had paths similar to hers. With all this success comes challenge. A few years into her business, Huberman decided to expand. But a bad choice on real estate, compounded by an economic recession forced her to close the doors. That caused her great frustration, but through it all, she has remained steadfast in her belief that being in business is the best work/life balance for her and her family. And one day, if the right opportunity comes along, she may be inclined to open a second location. When you are a “part of a system,” it’s the “name on the door” that makes the difference. When you are “in business for yourself, but not by yourself,” the world opens up to you in a whole new way. I’d be willing to bet that Huberman’s children will grow up to be business owners themselves one day. What a role model they have for how business is supposed to be run. Lynette McKee, CFE, is CEO and managing partner of McKeeCo Services, LLC and a member of the International Franchise Association Educational Foundation’s Diversity Institute. Find her at fransocial.franchise.org.