New CEO at Troubled Liberty Says Power to the ‘Zee
Nicole Ossenfort is the new president and CEO of Liberty Tax.
Nicole Ossenfort had been CEO and president of Liberty Tax for just two-and-a-half weeks when reached Thursday, but she was already putting her focus squarely on franchisees.
“I believe that happy, successful franchisees and employees are the basis and essential for the success of this company. They are the reason we exist, and we have to start making decisions and strategies that support that core belief,” said Ossenfort, the third CEO in six months at Liberty Tax. “In fact, we believe that so much, we changed our mission statement: creating happy, successful franchisees and employees.”
Liberty’s board fired founder John Hewitt as CEO in September, but he remains chairman, holds all the Class B shares and can appoint a majority of the board, including Ossenfort, who upon being named CEO resigned her board seat. Edward Brunot was promoted from within to replace Hewitt, but Brunot was fired in February, when Ossenfort got the chief executive’s chair.
“One of the reasons the board of directors made the change and brought me in is we didn’t feel the company was going in the right direction,” she said. “The previous CEO didn’t have any tax experience or franchise experience.
“I’ve been a franchisee, I’ve been an area developer. I’ve been on the corporate side of things, so I see things through the lens of each of those positions, and I understand the needs of the franchisees.”
Ossenfort invited 46 franchisees and area developers to Liberty’s Virginia Beach, Virginia, offices for two days of meetings this past week, and she called the feedback “amazing. We had great discussions, constructive but positive. We had over 300 suggestions that were written down on flip charts, and we’re in the process of having those compiled and put into buckets.”
Some of the main items are “not black and white. They want to feel like they are partners. They want to feel that they’re valued, and their opinion is valued, and who better to give us the feedback from the field than franchise owners who are on the front lines with the customers?”
Ossenfort was an operator of the tax preparation franchise since 2002 and area developer from 2004 to September 2017. She was VP of the company’s 360 Accounting Solutions business from April to October 2017.
She has a tough job ahead of her, which I’ll detail in the upcoming print edition of Franchise Times. “There’s definitely a lot of noise right now” at Liberty Tax, she said, and that’s putting it mildly. When franchisees see changes in leadership, especially the ousting of the company founder, “those things affect them. For human beings, naturally change is not comfortable.” But she’s sticking to her focus on franchisees. “People are saying the change needed to happen.”