HouseMaster prez walks in franchisees' shoes
“With franchisees, if they feel like you have their back you will succeed.” — Kathleen Kuhn, CEO of HouseMaster Home Inspections
What was your upbringing like?
My father founded HouseMaster but growing up he was a Fortune 500 marketing executive. His father immigrated from Ireland and my father grew up working with his dad in food and beverage. That taught him he wanted to be in business himself and that he didn’t want to be in food and beverage. After 15 years of corporate America he was ready to jump. In the early ‘70s, there was no franchising in the home inspection market.
How did that affect you at home?
I saw it from, Daddy being the executive to things being really tight. When he was in business, I knew what was going on. I collated, answered phones, in New Jersey. It was cool in high school. We were very, ‘how many inspections were done today?’
Describe your early leadership experiences.
I didn’t get into HouseMaster in college, but I went into sales with AT&T. Getting the entrepreneurial bug didn’t take me as long as my dad. I was a statistics major at Montclair State in New Jersey.
So you were a New Jersey girl all the way through. How did that influence you?
I think it’s, cut to the chase. Tell it like it is. We get stuff done.
Then you quit that AT&T job and joined your father’s business.
I became a franchisee when there were six or seven franchisees, so it was struggling. I didn’t have a desire to go work under Dad. It just seemed best for everyone around to prove myself as a franchisee. I was 24. Ignorance—it was bliss. I started with one territory and my father owned a territory he managed. I took that over, too.
My husband started working for me, and he’s still a franchisee to this day. We had complimentary skill sets. Mine was marketing. He did inspections and oversaw a
What are your main values as HouseMaster president?
Truly understanding what the franchisees are going through. One thing my father would admire about me, I’d do my research. I was never winging it. I’m a big believer that confidence comes with preparation. Being very, very open and accessible. Being so close to the business. I benefitted from being a franchisee.
You joined corporate in 1992. How did you lead?
When I was a franchisee, I just followed the plan and it was very effective. For me to stand in front of someone who was senior to me at the time, I said, follow the plan and it worked. We grew it to 160 franchisees and 312 territories. We certainly didn’t grow too fast. Now we’re knocking on our 40th anniversary.
Beth Ewen, editor-in-chief, learns if it’s lonely at the top and other lessons from franchise leaders, and presents their edited answers here in each issue. To suggest a candid C-level subject, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
So we’re back to, tell it like it is. But do you modify that a bit at times?
When you’re dealing with a franchisee that’s struggling, you don’t say get off your duff. You become a counselor. You’re going through their life with them. New franchise owners need you but when you’re satisfying franchisees for a decade, that’s a real achievement.
What’s the worst day ever at your company?
We sold the company to an investor, which went well for a while, in 2012. I left, but six months later things weren’t going well. That was a difficult time. There was not the right leadership and not that culture of a real understanding of the franchisees. There was a sense from the franchisees that the current leadership wasn’t honoring the heritage of the company.
So you returned to the brand. How did you recover?
I learned how to train again. I learned how to get back to the basics again. I learned how to hire people. I would say I like people who have a franchise background or small-business background, because it’s walking in the shoes of a business owner. That’s very different from walking in the shoes of a corporate employee. We teach what a day in the life is.