Journey to Success: For Tutor Doctor's CEO, Business is Very Personal
For Frank Milner, it's all about the journey. Milner, CEO of Tutor Doctor, sees his role in the Canadian franchise brand as a natural extension of his passion and determination to make organizations succeed and to provide customers with the best products and services possible. And while it's the journey that motivates him, he knows that he doesn't make it alone. "I like to make the journey to success enjoyable for everyone involved," he says.
In 2007, Milner formed an investment group and purchased Tutor Doctor from founder John Hooi. As education is valued across every culture and continent, Milner recognized the brand's tremendous growth potential. There also was a personal connection: his daughter struggled with what he called "math meltdowns," and he understood firsthand the chief benefit of Tutor Doctor's one-on-one model.
Milner began his career as a stockbroker, followed by a stint in the insurance industry. He also served as vice president of WSI, Internet Education & Consulting where he helped establish and drive the success of one of the industry's leading franchise organizations. Working with WSI's network of more than 1,500 franchises in 87 countries and 6 continents provided him a wealth of expertise in international franchising.
Over the past 8 years, he has been instrumental in the rapid expansion and market success of Tutor Doctor. During this period, continuing cutbacks in public education have continued to fuel the rise of private tutoring as parents willingly spend to help their children. That's one of the reasons, says Milner, to look for continued and aggressive growth from the company, pointing to his goal of reaching 1,000 franchise units and operations in at least 20 countries around the world.
He attributes much of the brand's ongoing success to attracting "people who like to help other people" and has built a culture of collaboration for his management team, franchisees, and clients. "As a team, we are truly affecting the lives of families and children," he says. "By consistently communicating this message, along with real-life stories of students and families we are helping every day around the world, this passion transmits throughout the system and infuses itself into the company culture."
Name: Frank Milner
Company: Tutor Doctor
Units: More than 400 in 14 countries
Family: Happily married for 25 years, 2 children
What is your role as CEO?
Relationships are at the core of my role as CEO, whether that is relationships with franchise partners, vendors, or strategic partners. It is my responsibility to consistently communicate the Tutor Doctor vision to everyone involved in the organization. We want to work together as a well-oiled machine and understand what makes our brand special and different from our competitors as we strive to reach our goals. I also like to make the journey to success enjoyable for everyone involved.
Describe your leadership style.
It is both motivational and results-driven. I'm competitive by nature and wired with a desire to win. I focus on inspiring that same desire to bring out the best in the people I lead. This fuels the essence of what we do, for the home office, our franchisees, and our front-line employees.
What has inspired your leadership style?
I have been fortunate to work with some truly inspiring leaders who had a positive impact on my work ethic and drove me to excel professionally. I saw firsthand how motivational leaders create change and encourage employees to be the best versions of themselves. As a young professional working in the insurance industry, I knew that I wanted to embody this same leadership style as I developed throughout my career.
What is your biggest leadership challenge?
Balancing the need to have a sense of urgency with understanding the importance of having patience and letting things organically evolve over time. Being competitive, it's only natural to push sometimes--that's an important quality to have and to nurture. However, in business sometimes things do not happen as quickly as we like. We can find ourselves becoming too impatient, and, in turn, become discouraged.
How do you transmit your culture from your office to front-line employees?
Tutor Doctor has a core set of company values including "people," "growth," "accountability," and "making a difference," among others. These play an important role in our strategies. If we instill our values into everything we do and keep them top of mind, everyone speaks the same language and all of the boats row in the same direction. Consistent engagement and clear communication about our goals and responsibilities are important on a daily basis. Passion also plays a strong role in transmitting our culture from the home office to front-line employees. As a team, we are truly affecting the lives of families and children. By consistently communicating this message, along with real-life stories of students and families we are helping every day around the world, this passion transmits throughout the system and infuses itself into the company culture.
Where is the best place to prepare for leadership: an MBA school or OTJ?
Higher education is a great asset, but there's no substitute for real-life experience. I'm a big believer in on-the-job experience and project-based learning. While it's great to master the content of business best practices, hands-on experience is ultimately where you build and earn your leadership style.
Are tough decisions best taken on by one person? How do you make tough decisions?
Before making difficult decisions, it is crucial to gather input from a particular group of individuals, typically your management team, whom you trust and respect. Ultimately, as a leader, it's important to take the responsibility for the tough decisions. By doing so, you are modeling accountability to everyone else.
Do you want to be liked or respected?
Respected. Leadership is not a popularity contest. While it's great to be liked, it is much more important to be respected.
Advice to CEO wannabes:
Get to know your business and listen a lot--especially in franchising. It's important that you are able to take a holistic view and understand your business strategically and where it fits into the greater industry. This approach to leading an entire organization is a bit of an art. It takes a great deal of time to master, so do not be discouraged along the way.
Describe your management style:
My leadership and management styles are both results-oriented. The practice of leadership and management truly inform each other. I put a huge emphasis on hiring the best talent. I completely trust my managers and leaders to get the job done, and they are empowered to do so.
What does your management team look like?
We have an exceptionally strong group of senior managers leading their respective departments, all with the same goal of having a positive impact on families and children around the world. Our core belief is that everyone can learn; it is just a matter of providing them with the help they need. Our management teams meet once a week to focus on making progress toward our clearly defined quarterly objectives. We also use this time to identify any issues or roadblocks to ensure we are on track in terms of reaching our goals.
How does your management team help you lead?
By being really good at what they do. Because we have such a strong leadership team in place that gets results, I don't have to worry about constantly pushing them--they are already doing that within their own teams. By leading the way for their own teams, this frees up opportunities for me to focus on the strategic and relationship aspects of the business.
Favorite management gurus:
Do you read management books?: Gino Wickman, Traction and Jack Welch, Straight from the Gut.
What makes you say, "Yes, now that's why I do what I do!"?
I truly enjoy reading the testimonials and reviews that come in from our customers and the tutors. It's inspiring to see how passionate they are about the impact Tutor Doctor has made in their world. Additionally, I get a thrill out of seeing our franchise partners achieve their desired goals. Seeing how inspired and committed they are to the growth of their business and the impact they are making in their local communities truly does make me say, "Yes, now that's why I do what I do!"
What time do you like to be at your desk?
While I would love to get to my desk at 7 a.m., I would not describe myself as a morning person. I'm really not your typical 9-to-5 businessman. Tutor Doctor is my life, which means I'm truly engaged in the business at all times. I think about it when I wake up in the morning and I think about it when I go to bed at night.
Exercise in the morning?
Yes, I value exercising and the time I have to myself in the morning.
Wine with lunch?
Not with lunch, but usually with dinner to unwind at the end of the day.
Do you socialize with your team after work/outside the office?
Absolutely! Our team has become a family. We enjoy having fun together outside of the office as we embody the "work hard, play hard" mentality.
Last two books read:
The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg and Crucial Conversations by Kerry Patterson.
What technology do you take on the road?
My iPad and smartphone.
How do you relax/balance life and work?
I never feel as if my life and work are out of balance because I love what I do and am passionate about how the job affects my life and others.
Favorite vacation destination:
I enjoy any Club Med vacation because there are plenty of activities for everyone you vacation with, sure to satisfy all interests.
Favorite occasions to send employees notes:
I like to celebrate the small and big wins of our employees, especially when I hear great feedback about them from others. We try to establish a culture of accountability, and both big and small wins deserve recognition.
What are your long-term goals for the company?
We plan to continue our aggressive growth with the goal of reaching 1,000 franchise units and operations in at least 20 countries around the world.
How has the economy changed your goals for your company?
It has not. We have a great brand that provides an incredible service through a fantastic network of franchise owners. Education and learning are a challenge for many people, and school systems around the world are struggling. Students are falling through the cracks in school systems every day. No matter the economy, Tutor Doctor is going to continue filling the need of helping students and families to succeed both academically and in life.
Where can capital be found these days?
There are a lot of sources of capital including your traditional avenues, such as banks and lending institutions. There are also a lot of equity investors to explore. What is key when searching for capital is to look not just for money, but for smart money. There must be experience, know-how, and thought leadership with the capital you are seeking.
How do you measure success?
By achieving clearly defined goals. I have several measuring sticks for success, including number of franchisees, number of territories, number of countries, revenue, and even working in an environment that is positive, energized, and passionate.
What has been your greatest success?
Personally, my greatest success is my family, which I am extremely proud of. Professionally, my greatest success is assembling a team of talented people who are building the brand to its full potential.
No. Everything I have done so far has gotten me to where I am today. I am extremely excited about what the future holds for the Tutor Doctor family.
What can we expect from your company in the next 12 to 18 months?
Big things, as the brand continues to grow and deliver great services through our stellar franchisees. We are moving from an early growth phase to a more mature franchise organization and look forward to the future success of the system.
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