How Not to Run a Franchise

It was at the Great Rebranding Meeting at their US headquarters in 2017 that the MacSonalds Corporation decided not to rename itself. ‘Our reputation is based on Tradition’, agreed the executives. ‘If we rename ourselves to ‘The True MacSonalds’, as some have suggested, people will realise we have changed the ingredients. We must at all costs keep the same name, so that nobody notices anything’. All agreed that the franchises in North America and in their Australian colony were firmly under their rebranding control and that the only problem would be in Asia, always a thorny problem. ‘They need to follow the successful American business model’, declared the executives. ‘They’re very backward in Asia. They raise hardly any cash for us’.

Therefore, the Board voted to send a new manager to Asia to reform their small franchise operation there. But who? There seemed to be only one candidate. Several executives opposed the new manager (‘he’s too young’, ‘he’s untrained’, ‘he hates everyone except for himself’, he’s too aggressive’, ‘he’s a jealous narcissist who’ll meet an empath’, ‘he’s a control freak’, ‘nobody likes him’, ‘he’s toxic and will rub them all up the wrong way’, ‘they’ll figure out his real game’, ‘he doesn’t even speak their languages’, and ‘he’s a fake’). However, most of the rather elderly managers were blinded by the new manager’s dynamism and excellent command of English. ‘Over there it’s out of control, why, those Asian guys don’t even behave like Americans’, they said, ‘the boy will sort them all out and bring them into line. He says he’s been to college and he can even speak in what sounds to me like a British accent. Leave it to him. Send in our sheriff and he’ll clean them out’.

So, soon after the Meeting a small trail-blazing group duly went over from the US to the Asian head office and brutally sacked the senior manager, who had been there all his life, in order to make way for their go-getter protege. ‘We know best’, they proclaimed. After all, ‘regime change’, kicking out the old hands who have dedicated their whole lives to the franchise and know the people, is essential to any ‘modernizing’ American operation abroad. Of course, that all created scandal and the old Asian hands left MacSonald’s at once, in a state of shock. ‘We’ve started the ball rolling. Now, wait for the fireworks to start – shock and awe’, said the old hands, rubbing their hands with glee and adding: ‘He may be an upstart who knows nothing, but he’s sure got energy and loves money. He’ll rake in the dollars and that’s exactly what we need. We’re princes and we have to live like princes’.

So the young whippersnapper, now with the fancy title of ‘Head of Asian Operations’, came over and at once rented an expensive residence and smart car. At the very first meeting with the locals, who had been there even before the new boss had been born, he began insisting that everyone speak American. Then he revealed that he did not even know the name of the territory he was in charge of and so insulted several nationalities. He also made it clear that he would brook no opposition to his absolute rule, especially from the experienced, and would impose strict censorship on any dissenters. ‘I’ll be checking on you all and this is how you must contact me. Remember: I know everything and you know nothing’. A stereotypical nasty American – and an embarrassment to nice Americans.

Next he tried to take over the properties of the franchisees, not realising the latter had put their own money and great efforts into their properties over the decades, that the properties did not belong to him. As the lawyer commented: ‘That’s illegal, it’s a property grab’. In return: ‘The keys, give me the keys!’, he shouted down the telephone. When he could not get his hands on the property, he began to demand ‘absolute obedience’, meaning worship of himself, as if he were some sort of cult leader. Then he turned really nasty, raged, and was spectacularly rude, bullying and gaslighting, projecting all his faults onto others, demanding as much money as possible. In one of the few remaining Filipino outlets, they asked each other: ‘Who does he think he is, an infallible Pope?’ In the two Singapore outlets they called him ‘the cowboy’.

He clearly did not understand that being a successful business is not just about making a quick buck in the short term, but about looking after your customers in the long term, from generation to generation. What really enraged the jealous young man was when the local franchisees expanded because of their own success, without him. Either he would have full control or else he would close you down. It seems that he had never been told how a franchise operation works. What a pity they had not instructed him in the basics of respect for other human beings first. He would take no advice.

From that point on, all went from disaster to catastrophe. He expelled nearly all the outlets in the Philippines because they ‘did not make true burgers’. However, so much had he hoodwinked, some would say hypnotised, the oldies in the US, that they not only let him get away with this, but even approved of it. Word soon got around all the similar corporations in Asia as to who he was and they sat back and waited for him to fail. The whippersnapper found himself very isolated and he would complain about being lonely. Despite the fact that he used to alter the minutes of all the meetings to make himself look good before he sent them back to the US, the Board in the US was made aware of what had been going on.

However, they ignored what the Asian whistleblowers had politely presented and backed their protege, asking him to punish those who had warned them what was going on. It was on their own heads. No surprises then when the franchisees did exactly as they had warned and left MacSonalds after decades. The Board had not only ignored them, but also punished them for telling the truth, the very thing they hated the most. The franchisees joined the competitor, MacTonalds, which was already seven times bigger anyway and, above all, Pan-Asian and not foreign. The franchisees commented that ‘leaving had been like getting out of a straitjacket’. The whippersnapper began shouting: ‘They’re all fired!’ (too late – they had already left and joined the rival). Then the trigger-happy foreigner added frantically: ‘Only our burgers are true. All the others are fake’. Everybody laughed and laughed at him for that. The psychiatric ambulance was on its way.

When some time after all this, as had become inevitable, MacSonalds went into administration, one of the old hands commented ruefully: ‘The boy messed up big time. I guess it’s our own fault, we never taught him how to say sorry and then we backed him up. He hoodwinked us’. But it was all far too late for such regrets about the lack of any moral sense. And all because, from the very outset, they had not listened to the local people and the local managers.

Sic transit gloria mundi…