NEW! ‘The Boss’ gleans lessons from franchise leaders
Nancy Bigley, CEO of Bottle & Bottega, a 23-unit paint-and-sip franchise
What was your upbringing?
I grew up in Palm Springs, and never planned to go back to Palm Springs. There’s nothing to do. We played in the dirt and dug holes and rode our bikes all over. My father was a pilot for Continental and my parents got divorced when I was 6 or 7. They were a pioneer with divorce.
It was, what’s going to happen to us? My Mom got married and had babies very young and she didn’t have skills. She had to get a job and we got really independent really fast. We cooked, we cleaned, we made our own menus. You figure it out. I’m Italian-Catholic. My mother was strict. It made me realize I don’t want to be dependent.
I started looking for ways to make money. I pulled weeds for a dollar a bag. I cleaned this old lady’s house—it was disgusting. I think I was 5 or 6 and I was with my sister, and I cut flowers out of people’s gardens and sold them the flowers. I made it to two houses before they called my Mom.
Early leadership experiences?
I was excited when I turned 14 ½, because that was the age to get a legal job, at an ice cream store. By 15 I was doing his payroll. It was awesome. I went to San Luis Obispo and then got my master’s at nights while I was working. I did that three nights a week for three years. A couple of years after college, I came across American Leak Detector, and I started managing plumbers at 24. My style is I am who I am and try to treat people with respect. I said teach me what you know and they did.
And at Dunkin’ Brands?
It was a great, great experience but it was challenging. You’re coming from a small company where you are THE person and you go into a place with 1,200 people and you have a leadership role—so who are you? I’m a girl and I have no restaurant experience. So I really had to play again off of who I am. I’m just here to add value. I can have respect for people who came before me.
My final role was in the brokerage, so it was for the “bad” franchises to find buyers for them. You had to learn to be a really good negotiator. I tried to treat people with as much dignity as possible. We can still be kind. I wanted them to leave and not hate us. That’s what I love about franchising. I want people to think I’m fun and kind and not just a dollar sign. I want to be the person that holds your head up. You can still do it in a way that takes into account them as humans.
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.
What has changed about your management style?
Intensity. I got a lot of feedback early on. I am a machine and I forget not everybody can keep up. I’m a dedicated, loyal employee. I didn’t understand why everyone wasn’t the same way. One of my employees, who’s still with me today at Bottle & Bottega, sat me down and said, ‘You make me feel like I’m letting you down.’ It was a pivotal leadership moment to me. I’ve learned to soften a little bit and ask questions. I made assumptions about other people’s abilities.
What are your biggest values as a leader?
Positivity is a big one. I want people who can suck it up. Results—I hate excuses. Nobody cares. I just want to get stuff done. Don’t bring me a problem unless you bring me a solution with it. Supportive and team. You’ve got to support your co-workers. I don’t like hearing ‘that’s not my job.’ Work as a team. Figure it out.
What’s different about a small company vs. a big one?
When you’re the top person in the company there’s no hiding from anybody. It’s all personal, and it’s on you if there’s a mistake and it hits your heart a lot harder. I’ve learned and am still learning simplicity. As an entrepreneur we have so much passion and drive but you can’t go so fast that everyone’s in your rearview mirror.