Interview with Pip Wilkins, CEO of the British Franchise Association

Pip Wilkins’ journey into franchising and working at the British Franchise Association (BFA) started at the age of 19, just before the turn of the century. Fast forward 20 years, and she is now CEO of the association.

Pip believes the thriving franchise community is one with diversity and a collective passion that is rarely witnessed in the wider business world. Here, she explains why the BFA is important, why women in franchising is on the rise, and explains how she got to where she is today.

What has spending the last 20 years in franchising been like?

It’s been an absolute hoot working for the BFA and my CV is one that is both long and extensive! I began as an administrator before going on to assist in the business services side. This lead me to the position of Events Manager, a fantastic position that allowed me to organise the fantastic and educational events that bring people together in order to educate and teach about ethical franchising.

I was hungry for more, so I completed a diploma in Applied Business Management in which I gained valuable skills in areas of leadership, strategy and client relationship management and marketing. This led me to the role of Business Development Manager, a role that allowed me to explore my exceptional people skills.

I grew through the ranks to Operations Manager and then Head of Operations before finally being named CEO in 2016. It has been a brilliant rollercoaster, one that I don’t want to get off!

Did you think, when you started as an administrator at 19 that you’d be in charge of the organisation one day?

Absolutely not. I have always worked hard and have immersed myself in this industry from day one, but I guess no one thinks they will be CEO of their company at the beginning.

I have learned from some of the very best people in the industry, and have been surrounded by many talented people. I have climbed and climbed to get where I am now and I look forward to putting my stamp on the industry and help steer it to where it goes next.

How does the next administrator become a future CEO?

Get stuck in! You have to learn as many skills and absorb as much as you can at the start of your career journey. This is a good thing, as you will learn every aspect and understand the industry on every level.

It’s also important to adapt. I’ve seen many changes throughout the years, and when business fail to adapt, they get left behind. So also be open to learning, as the world is constantly evolving and you need to keep up.

What kind of leader are you, and how do you get the most out of the staff?

I like to think I’m a very relaxed person in general and I think this flows out in the workplace. Although I do have a competitive streak, but I think in the workplace this is healthy.

I believe it’s important to work hard but to reward that with a bit of fun. Whether this is taking the team out to franchise events or having weekly bake offs where mine was the best (competitive streak), it’s crucial to work in a relaxed and friendly environment that delivers results.

I find that trusting your team to do the best they can and making sure that they have support when needed is a great way to get the most out of their abilities. The bfa has certain values and goals and I expect everyone working for the bfa to support this and share my vision on what we are building for the future of franchising.

What is franchising?

Franchising is the granting of a license by one person (the franchisor) to another (the franchisee), which entitles the franchisee to trade under the brand of the franchisor and to make use of an entire package, comprising all the elements necessary to establish a previously untrained person in the business and to run it with continued support from the franchisor.

It is a fantastic for people with a desire to run their own business, with the added benefit of having an established name behind them, receiving training and ongoing support, and the backup of a network.

What is the BFA and why is it important for the industry?

The BFA was established in 1977 by major UK franchises in order to maintain credibility and enforce best practice in the industry.

It is the voice of ethical franchising in the UK – the trade association for those companies that pass its accreditation processes – and provider of objective information and adviceto prospective franchisees and franchisors. It’s aim is to promote ethical franchising practice and encourage growth within the UK.

And how does it maintain and protect credibility?

It does this with a self-regulatory, standards-based approach to membership of the association. One of the bfa’s main jobs is to help potential franchisees differentiate the good franchises from the bad.

Criteria for BFA franchisor membership today involve the structure of the business, the franchisor/franchisee contractual relationship and support, the testing of the system, and its success as a franchise. We want to make sure that the business is transparent and not hiding anything that would mislead prospective franchisees.

What changes have you seen in the industry, particularly in relation to women?

When I first started, I was usually in a room with a lot of middle aged men. I definitely felt that I was in the minority and that sometimes my opinions or ideas weren’t taken as seriously or were seen as too different.

But the franchising industry has grown to become a dynamic place, with more women in senior roles, and an increasing amount of female franchisors and franchisees joining. According to our latest bfa Natwest survey in 2018, 65% of people working in franchising are women, making it a viable industry for women to be in.

Why else should women consider franchising?

I find that women are very communicative, supportive and are not afraid to ask for help. Franchising means being part of a community and I feel that women are very good at exchanging ideas, networking and helping one another.

It is a great way to go after your business dreams and enter an industry that you’re passionate about. That could be sports, pet care, education or management, as long as you are ambitious, driven and ready to learn, you can achieve success.

What benefits does franchising have that other business areas don’t for women?

I have found one of the most common reasons for women entering the franchise industry is for flexibility. Corporate careers are extremely unforgiving, especially for mothers. Nearly half of the jobs in franchising are part-time, which really shows how franchising allows many people the flexibility to mould their lives around work.

For women wanting to go into self-employment, it allows them to be a part of an established business that has a workable model. From there, they are able to come up with a schedule that suits them and their commitments. Or even if they wanted to have weekends for themself because they choose to, they can. It’s about having choice.

Are there enough women in senior management roles? What holds them back?

There are certainly not enough women in management roles in business in general, but I feel that franchising is becoming a great industry for female talent to shine and rise through the ranks, with females in management positions specifically in franchising much higher than the national average.

I have a brilliant team of female managers at the BFA and I know many fabulous women from franchise events who are very successful. But I think for women in general, they tend to be less confident than men, and don’t quite believe that they deserve the position, which is nonsense! It’s time to start believing in our abilities and valuing our worth a lot more than we are.

How do you keep learning and developing, despite being in charge?

I am constantly evolving and learning. If i don’t know or understand something that is crucial to the business, I try to understand and educate myself, and get help from the team at the BFA, too. We also hold annual events in which I am able to learn from others in the industry.

A good example of this is our Empowering Women in Business (EWIB) event in which we discuss current dilemmas for women in the workplace, we talk about collective struggles and ways in which we can overcome them.

Listening to other peoples’ experiences helps me to understand what obstacles we are currently facing and also what we are doing right. Being a CEO doesn’t mean that I am done learning; I relish the opportunity to learn and better myself.

What are your professional goals for the future?

My one true goal in life is to make a difference to people’s lives. My vision is for the BFA to be the leading educators in franchising. With so much information out there, it can be easy to feel overwhelmed or be misled. The BFA wants everyone’s entrepreneurial journey into franchising be positive, smooth and life-changing.

You can find out more about the BFA on their website