International Franchise Association Recognizes Six Individuals with Highest Awards in Franchising

March 01, 2023

Honored at the IFA Annual Convention for their significant contributions to the franchise business model and the people within it

LAS VEGAS, March 1, 2023 – The International Franchise Association (IFA) today awarded its highest honors to six individuals for their contributions to the franchise business model, the growth of the sector, and service to their communities. These awards, given at the 63rd IFA Annual Convention in Las Vegas, are the highest level of accomplishment recognized by IFA.

“Franchising wouldn’t be what it is today without the contributions of these individuals,” said IFA President and CEO Matt Haller. “They have devoted their careers not only to their businesses but to growing other leaders and upholding the highest standards in franchising. Franchising is a powerful force for good, and the work and commitment of these honorees has opened doors of opportunity to countless entrepreneurs the world over.”

The 2023 IFA major award winners include:

Hall of Fame Award: Neal Aronson, Roark Capital Group, Founder and Managing Partner

As the oldest and most prestigious award conferred by the IFA, the Hall of Fame Award recognizes an individual’s contributions to franchising through successful franchising programs, innovative activities within franchising, and service to the International Franchise Association. These individuals are pioneers in the industry and represent the very best in franchising.

Neal Aronson was selected for his pivotal role in shaping Roark’s franchise investments, including Inspire Brands, Driven Brands, FOCUS Brands, and Primrose Schools, among others. These investments have helped create efficiencies across the system and driven brand growth around the nation. Before founding Roark Capital, Aronson was co-Founder and Chief Financial Officer of U.S. Franchise Systems (USFS). Aronson helped transform USFS from one brand with 22 hotels in nine states to three brands with more than 500 hotels in 50 states and five countries, making USFS the tenth largest hotel company in the United States. Aronson has also served as the Chairman of the Board of Wingstop.

Entrepreneur of the Year Award: Jo Kirchner, CEO of Primrose Schools

This award is one of the highest honors presented by IFA, given to an individual who is currently managing and building a successful business through franchising. Recipients are selected for having the vision to see what might be, being willing to take risks that traditionally accompany any new endeavor, and possessing the management skills to create a successful business enterprise through franchising.

Jo Kirchner is recognized for her visionary leadership that has enabled Primrose Schools to grow from a few local schools to one of the premier early education and care providers around the country, enriching the lives of tens of thousands of children every day. Kirchner joined Primrose Schools in 1990 and assumed the role of CEO by 1999, initiating the strategic direction of franchising to the school. Under her leadership, Primrose has grown from four schools in Atlanta to more than 480 Primrose Schools in 33 states today serving over 75,000 children. Kirchner’s passion for providing children and families with the highest-quality education and care has not only grown the business but also its extensive philanthropic work, which donated more than $450,000 last year in support of children and families.

Chairman’s Award for Distinguished Service: Phil Zeidman, DLA Piper, Partner (retired)

This special recognition honors franchising leaders who upon retirement from active franchising have given much of their time and talent to promoting franchising and IFA during their careers.

Phil Zeidman began his career as the youngest chief legal officer of any government agency when he was appointed general counsel for the U.S Small Business Association (SBA), where he helped develop programs that connected franchise owners with SBA loans, delivering access to capital for franchise entrepreneurs. After crossing paths with IFA during his time at the SBA, Zeidman opened his own law firm where IFA became his very first client. Later joining DLA Piper, Zeidman worked tirelessly in support of franchising, advising U.S. and foreign companies, trade associations and governments on franchise law.

Bonny LeVine Award: Sherri Fishman, Fishman Public Relations, Co-CEO

This award recognizes women who have gone above and beyond to act as role models and mentors to other women within the business community. They lead by example, demonstrate purpose, and focus on advancing women in franchising.

Sherri Fishman is the co-founder and co-CEO of Fishman PR, the largest and premier marketing agency in franchising. Since 1991, Fishman PR has worked exclusively with franchise systems. As co-CEO, Fishman prioritizes paying it forward and has routinely mentored and guided young PR professionals throughout her career. Her practice of mentoring has helped establish the next generation of franchising PR leaders. Fishman has served on the IFA Board of Directors, the IFA Franchise Supplier Forum Board, the FranTech Task Force, and currently leads the IFA Marketing and Innovation Committee.

Ronald E. Harrison Award: Richard Snow, WSFS Bank, Vice President, SBA Relationship Manager

This award recognizes an organization or individual who has made significant contributions to minorities in franchising and expanding diversity, equity, and inclusion matters either within their franchise organizations or within the franchise community.

In his role at WSFS and his previous role at Benetrends Financial as an SBA Funding Specialist, Richard Snow has helped franchise executives and small business entrepreneurs navigate the SBA’s complex loan process. Snow has made it his mission to help provide access to capital to underrepresented groups and is an active advocate for small business owners and first-time entrepreneurs. In his volunteer capacity, Richard serves as a member of the IFA Foundation’s Diversity Institute Board and is the Chair of the Black Franchise Leadership Council, showing his dedicated focus on promoting diversity through educating more people about the opportunities in franchising.

William Rosenberg Foundation Leadership Award: Mary Kennedy Thompson, Neighborly, Chief Operating Officer of Franchise Brands

Named in honor of the man whose vision and leadership led to the creation of the IFA Foundation, this award is presented each year to an individual who has made an impact on franchise education, outreach, and helping share the franchising story.

Mary Kennedy Thompson was selected for epitomizing the spirit for the William Rosenberg Foundation Leadership Award. Thompson served for eight years as a logistics officer in the U.S Marine Corps and has become a leader and role model for service to franchising, IFA, and the IFA Foundation. She has been a tireless advocate for veterans in franchising through her involvement with VetFran, previously serving as chair of the VetFran Committee. Thompson also helped launch Operation Enduring Opportunity, a pledge by the franchising community to hire or recruit 75,000 military veterans. After serving her country, Thompson started her career in franchising as a franchisee of Cookies by Design. Thompson joined Neighborly (formerly Dwyer Group) as the brand president for Mr. Rooter® Plumbing, its largest home services brand. Using her leadership skills and ability to follow a plan from her experience in the military, Thompson took Mr. Rooter Plumbing to new heights and was later named Chief Operating Officer of the Neighborly family of brands.

The full list of past recipients of the IFA major awards is available here.


About the International Franchise Association:

Celebrating over 60 years of excellence, education, and advocacy, the International Franchise Association (IFA) is the world’s oldest and largest organization representing franchising worldwide. IFA works through its government relations and public policy, media relations, and educational programs to protect, enhance and promote franchising and the approximately 790,492 franchise establishments that support nearly 8.4 million direct jobs, $825.4 billion of economic output for the U.S. economy, and almost 3 percent of the Gross Domestic Product (GDP). IFA members include franchise companies in over 300 different business format categories, individual franchisees, and companies that support the industry in marketing, law, technology, and business development.


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