More From Our Cover Subject, HFC’s Shirin Behzadi
Home Franchise Concepts CEO Shirin Behzadi.
For the May issue cover story, I spent a day at the Southern California headquarters of Home Franchise Concepts, home to Budget Blinds, Tailored Living and Concrete Craft. There I talked at length with CEO Shirin Behzadi about everything from the company’s major multi-year marketing initiative to her leadership philosophy, one that’s been heavily influenced by a personal health threat (read that cover story here). As you can imagine, we covered more than would fit in print; check out more from our conversation below. (Responses have been lightly edited for clarity.)
Laura Michaels: You’ve said your aim is to balance every decision with what’s in the best interest of franchisees—but how do you actually put that philosophy into practice?
Shirin Behzadi: First, some context. Generally speaking I’m pretty calm and even, but I noticed at nights I was having dreams about numbers and how do we do this, how do we do that, how do we grow this. And finally I had to say, OK, take a deep breath—why are you doing everything you’re doing? For the best interest of franchisees. That helped me prioritize. As an organization, as we look strategies, probably the toughest thing is to find out which projects are most important, which projects we should do first. The way we’ve been able to prioritize is, how well does this initiative help with our franchisees’ success?
It’s easy to say but in practice we literally do that. We sit back and look at all the initiatives and that has been what’s really guided us in taking on brand recognition, specifically with Budget Blinds because we believe it’s important that when people think of window coverings, that people think of our franchises.
And by the way, we are bombarded with all kinds of opportunities and it’s easy to get sidetracked. And that’s why we keep going back to OK, is this within our DNA, is this what we’re all about? And if not, we’ve got to say no to them.
LM: As you’ve worked to bring Home Franchise Concept’s three brands under one HFC umbrella, are you finding current franchisees in one system want to add another brand?
SB: As an organization our philosophy prior to the past year or two is let’s not have multi-brand franchisees just because we wanted to have people focus. But yes, something interesting is happening organically. They are picking up their sister brands. And we are gradually allowing that to happen, to observe and see how they work together. We also encourage referrals—if they have someone they think is a good fit for a sister brand within their territory, we encourage that. And so many people have stepped up to do that as well. It works really well. So we’re not actively doing it but we’re also not stopping it and we’re noticing it starting to happen.
LM: Lets’ get a little personal, if we can. When we talked previously you mentioned the importance of work-life balance—why is this a priority for you?
SB: I think early on when I took stock of my life I just decided I wanted to make sure if I had children I wanted to be involved in their lives. I thought and again, having started work so early it is in a lot of ways an advantage because I realized in order to be better at work you have to have a good foundation, otherwise you’re just reacting to things that come up as opposed to having a focus and value system that helps you navigate. Kind of like decisions we make here, we bounce things off of what’s best for the franchisee. I’ve learned it’s best in life to bounce things off of what’s my own personal core values and therefore making decisions about my life and my career that way.
LM: I wanted to get your thoughts on being a female CEO within the franchising space and particularly within home improvement—what’s that experience been for you?
SB: Looking back in my life I’m thinking, oh my gosh even when I was first starting, I was a CPA at Ernst & Young, even though there are lots of good female partners now, there weren’t a lot of women in positions of power. …For me, at least, it wasn’t as easy to claim my stake if I did something right. That took some skill. But having developed those skills I think makes me an even more productive CEO. Because I can understand … when I talk about people from all walks of life and backgrounds, I can relate to it. I can understand where people are coming from.
Having come up through the ranks as a woman in a more male-dominated industry has helped me, in my case at least, better understand people’s skills, know how to communicate with people effectively regardless of who they are. Be able to help them navigate through their turbulent waters they may come across from time to time. It’s the evolution of all those things that I believe will make me an even better CEO. But it isn’t easy. And I think in my case specifically, I think by not focusing on being a woman it was an advantage, and at the same time learning how to be OK and claim the contribution that I’ve made has been a little bit of a tougher challenge for me but something I’ve finally figured out how to do.