Bold Women in the C-Suite: Robin Gagnon
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Bold Women in the C-Suite: Robin Gagnon

Bold Women in the C-Suite: Robin Gagnon

Name: Robin Gagnon

Brand: We Sell Restaurants

Title: CEO

Age: 50+

Years in franchising: 10

No. of units: 37 franchisee-owned territories in 8 states, 2 company locations handling 45 states nationwide

How important is making bold moves in a woman’s path to the C-suite? Bold moves are a critical part of any woman’s path to the C-suite. Women have the unique ability to empathize in the workplace and communicate in a very responsive and approachable way. The downside to that style is that it can be interpreted as a weak approach to business unless it is married with bold strategies that push brands forward.

Describe bold moves you’ve made in your career. I finished my MBA with my sights set on a career path in Fortune 100 companies. This was after cutting my teeth in small companies at an early age. Despite success in the corporate world, I swapped my role as VP of strategic marketing with a Fortune 100 firm to launch our startup, We Sell Restaurants. At the time, there was no specialized approach to business brokerage for restaurants. There was no firm with the discipline to say “no” to representing every vertical and there was no systemic technology to tie the approach together. That bold move paid off in our becoming the largest restaurant brokerage firm in the country, with franchisees across the nation and a corporate office that services 45 states. In addition, the profile of a business broker in the industry was overwhelmingly male (99%) and between 55 and 58. I challenged every single profile in the industry to outperform individually and for my firm.

How did you envision those moves changing the brand you were with? We disrupted the business brokerage industry. Before this brand, there were general brokers and there were people who handled restaurants, but there was no specific targeted approach to service one vertical in a unique way.

How has your leadership helped evolve the brand? I am always pushing forward and believe a brand that is not in forward motion and continuing to challenge itself and its team members is, in fact, falling back. I’m always trying to be on the bleeding edge of technological advances and improvements. I am also thinking of ways to leverage what we have developed in other ways for the franchise industry.

Was there pushback? How did you handle that? At a certain level of success, there is always going to be pushback. It is simply not in my DNA to go slow or stop growing, so I am always pushing forward.

How are you imparting a culture of boldness to other women in your organization? I model behavior that encourages taking risks and learning from other women. I chair the IFA’s Women’s Franchise Committee, whose mission is to “promote women’s participation in franchising by providing international networking opportunities for the exchange of ideas, resources, and experiences.” I launched the Women in Franchising on Clubhouse, a weekly social meetup around topics where there is real sharing and community among the industry. Hosting this program each week provides connections for women building their careers, those ready to mentor others, and those who attend just to listen. I advocate for women in our brand. Despite real progress in the industry, the lion’s share of transactions is still brokered by men. Our brand is changing that by recruiting female franchisees and promoting corporate team members who are setting industry records. We promote women within our organization and encourage them to be their best. That sometimes means coaching them around finding their voice, breaking out of a comfort zone, and pushing forward boldly.

What motivates you as a leader? The success of our franchisees. Each time I see them grow from launch to success and create generational wealth for their family, I am so inspired and motivated to do more.

What are some ways women leaders in franchising can drive change? Promote and advance women on your team. Mentor and coach women to be successful leaders. It is not an innate process and requires development and study. Give to others in the industry through the gift of your time, absolute focus and attention to their needs, and sharing of your talent. You will be an agent of change for those you help grow.

What role has mentoring played in your career? How did you meet your mentors? I have been blessed with multiple mentors over the years. Some are directly related to franchising. Others are business leaders. I also have people I trust to just serve as a sounding board for ideas and to provide feedback.

Describe one of your biggest failures. What did you learn, and how did it contribute to greater personal or business success? One of my biggest failures is when someone I trusted, mentored, and coached to great results left the company and attempted to copy our business model despite a noncompete. It was devastating on multiple fronts. I felt the sting of failure because someone I had such faith in and taught so much could be so disloyal. It was financially costly to sue this individual as well. Ultimately, he was sanctioned, fined by the court, and ordered to pay all of our fees. As the events wound through the court system, I learned that the victory was not in the judge’s ruling in our favor but that the things he was attempting to copy were in the past. We had continued to evolve the customer experience, the marketing, and the overall business model. Thus I learned that our brand and its success cannot be knocked off or imitated because of our commitment to continuous improvement.

What is one of the toughest decisions you’ve had to make, and how did it affect your life? I had to put franchise growth on hold for about 2 years when Eric, my husband and business partner, lost his hearing. Since his birth, Eric only heard through one ear, something most people never noticed. A relatively routine operation on his only hearing ear in 2018 resulted in total deafness. Over the next 2 years, he would ultimately undergo four operations before getting a cochlear implant and relearning speech and sound through this device. For those 2 years, he and I could communicate only through an Android phone and Google’s Transcribe feature since he did not sign or read lips. We had to really balance which things we could take on during that time. Ultimately, we made the decision to pause franchise growth and focus on getting his hearing to 100%. It was absolutely the right decision for our family.

If you could do it all over again, knowing what you know now, what would you do differently? I’m not sure I would change very much about my journey. My small-business experience led me to my MBA and a bigger business approach. That came full circle to launching a startup brand in a niche no one knew about. Each path on my journey fed my confidence, knowledge, and belief in where I go next.

What advice do you have for aspiring female leaders? Make friends. Attend industry events. Reach out to others and highlight and celebrate their successes. Don’t wait to be asked. Step up. Take responsibility and shine in what you do. That will get you the attention to move to the next step. When you are given a responsibility, outstudy and outperform.

Published: April 10th, 2023

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