Love, marriage and Carly Fiorina
Nancy can be reached
at 612-767-3207 or at
For my very first newspaper story, I had to sit in a police station and interrogate law enforcement officers for hours. I was a 20-year-old college student and my assignment from The Davis Enterprise in Davis, Calif., was to break the story on the dumbest excuses speeders gave officers in an attempt to get out of a ticket. OK, so it doesn’t sound intimidating—actually they were pretty funny, such as the woman who broke the law in order to get home to use her own bathroom—but as the daughter of a career military officer, I had an unhealthy fear of authority figures.
When I first started to cover franchising 10 years ago, DLA Pipers’ Philip Zeidman intimidated me, and yet today I refer to him as a friend—not to his face, mind you, but certainly behind his back.
But nothing prepared me for how intimidating Hewlett-Packard’s former CEO Carly Fiorina would be. Fiorina, the keynote speaker at the Women’s Foodservice Forum’s annual leadership conference in Orlando, is someone I admire. I had requested an interview, not thinking she’d agree. But as she finished her panel discussion on negotiations, I was whisked off to wait in a backstage room for my 15 minutes with fame.
She was dressed in a black suit with white piping on the lapels that probably cost more than my youngest child’s education. And she was tiny—working-out-in-the-gym tiny. (I know journalists rarely describe what businessmen have on, but that’s because most of them don’t wear anything interesting.)
I was promised 15 minutes, but because she was running late, she told me she’d give me five. I posed a couple of gender-related questions, and then asked what she disliked being asked. “When we get lazy and ask the gender question,” she replied.
Great, not only was I lazy, I was out of questions. To her credit, after a couple of seconds of dead air, she added, “but, of course, this is a women’s conference…”
The point she was making—if I may be so bold as to speak for Carly Fiorina—was that we shouldn’t be asking about a person’s gender, but rather about his or her contributions. It’s a question of substance, said the woman who sits on 12 boards and left HP with a multi-million-dollar severance package.
I agonized through another four-and-a-half minutes and then mercifully it was over. As she signed a copy of her book for a WFF staffer, I made idle chit-chat with a man who standing around waiting for her—asking if they were going to take in the sights or head straight home. Fiorina looked up from her book and said matter-of-factly, “He’s not my husband.”
I had met her husband while I was waiting for her, and she was right. This man was not her husband. In fact, he looked nothing like him. Fortunately, I hadn’t gotten around to asking him what it was like being married to a powerful woman. I think he would have felt the need to slap me on behalf of Fiorina’s real husband.
As I left the interview, I was awashed with the same feeling I had all those years ago when I interviewed the police officers—I wanted to surrender my fake ID before they asked me for it.
It’s June, time to talk marriage
I’m hardly the first person to compare franchising to marriage, but after a month and a half on the road listening to differing franchise groups talk about relationships, I feel I have something to offer on the subject.
Not everyone may agree. My husband, for instance, might question my expertise in marriage, but then no one’s ever a prophet in their own hometown.
And I might not be AAFD’s Chairman Bob Purvin’s first choice to help grade contracts for his association’s recognition, especially since years ago I got the AAFD and Good Housekeeping seals confused and called it the Fair Franchising Seal of Approval.
But it’s all relative. Andrew Brooke and Liam Crowe of Bark Busters might think I’m a lousy dog trainer, but my two dogs think I’m great, especially when I get up in the middle of the night to turn on the shower so they can get a drink.
So, since I’m lucky enough to work for someone who buys ink by the barrel, here’s my advice. Apply it to your franchise relationship or to your marriage—your choice:
Appreciate your partner. When he or she is fishing for validation, don’t say—as someone once said to me, “I married you, didn’t I?”—be specific about what’s good in the relationship. Do you like the way they pay the bills on time? Are they thoughtful and kind? Then tell them. Maybe clean restrooms is as good as it gets, but still, reward the good times. Notice when they’ve made a special effort to dress up for the cocktail reception or finally bought the POS system you mandated.
Don’t just listen, pay attention. Franchisee attorneys will tell you that a multitude of court dates could be avoided if franchisors just listened—and acted like they cared—when franchisees had a concern, or an idea. The same is true for spouses. Remember, it was a franchisee who came up with the Egg McMuffin.
Be thoughtful. Every so often buy your significant other flowers or give a rebate on paper plates. And don’t send over a field agent just when you want to catch your partner doing something heinous, but also when a little extra training or guidance would be appreciated.
Be generous. Share and share alike. Sometimes it’s their turn to pick up the tab, sometimes it’s your turn to treat them to new signage and the decor package you decided you couldn’t grow without.
And sure, you can look at other potential franchisees all you want, but at the end of the day, remember who believed in you enough to invest in your dream from the start up. They’re the ones who deserve your undying devotion. Treat them well, unless they’re late with their royalty payments or guilty of some other egregious behavior. And then, let the lawyers begin.