For Steve Greenbaum, new CEO of in-home care provider ComForCare, the challenges of running a franchise organization are not new—as founder and former CEO of PostNet, he developed a thriving 660-unit global printing and marketing services franchise operation.
Greenbaum took over as CEO at ComForCare, with its 200 independently owned and operated locations in the U.S., Canada and the U.K., last month. Chief Executive spoke with him about the opportunities that franchise businesses create, how his PostNet experience will inform his role at ComForCare, and what he learned from his appearance on the popular CBS TV show “Undercover Boss.”
Q: How is running a franchise organization different than running a typical business?
A: Generally, what would probably be unique is the relationship with the franchise owner. In the realm of franchising, you have folks that have invested capital in the ability to use your system and trademarks, meaning literally everything that they need to grow a successful business not just from startup, but well into the future and hopefully into their retirements or their exits. So, these folks who have become ambassadors for the brand and licensees of the system aren’t employees.
You can imagine that that does change the dynamics of running a business like this, because these are folks that believe in the business model, they believe in the brand, they’ve made a significant investment, they’re responsible for the representation, the service delivery—all elements of your product or services, reputation with the customer. And again, because these folks aren’t employees, your relationship with them and how you ensure that the experience of the customer is the best it can possibly be, that has to be done on more than just rules and regulations. That has to be done with a very strong foundational culture for service and values, and then a clear commitment on what it takes for us to be successful in our market, in our product, in our service, in our space, and how do we do that the collaboration that’s going to provide the best outcome for the customer.
Q : How will your experience at PostNet inform your new role at ComForCare?
A: As a founder having gotten involved in the early ’80s in the retail shipping industry, I think one of the things that touches me immediately and informs me is the notion of identifying the fact that businesses have to evolve with technology and consumer needs. And that was very relevant and critical in PostNet because when we started in the retail shipping agency in the early ’80s, UPS, FedEx, they weren’t at small commercial counters in neighborhoods all across America. They were these lightly-manned, few hours a day at UPS facilities, off the beaten path in the outskirts of town, and we brought those services and products to the consumer in neighborhoods all across America.
“My intent in the first year is to create a platform for awareness for what I’m going to call these unsung heroes of the industry.”
As far as just one very large take away or familiarity is that that doesn’t change from industry to industry, that that notion of how we provide our service or products—or personal service, in the case of what I’m doing now—is incredibly impacted not only by technology, but the way in which people want to interact with you.
Q: You were featured in season 4 of CBS’s “Undercover Boss.” Tell me about that experience from a CEO’s perspective. What were some of the more interesting takeaways you took from that experience?
A: To be honest, I really went into it thinking there’s probably not much I’m going to learn. I know my owners and I feel like I’m fairly involved in the day-to-day. I’m a very hands-on, very involved in the organization and the business kind of a business leader.
But interestingly enough, one of the things that struck me was that as I spent time with the employees of the franchise owners themselves, it started to become very clear to me that while I did know the franchise owners and their children and many of them that had been with us for 20-plus years, I really didn’t know the people on the front lines that were taking care of our customers, and that’s very, very interesting.
So, it was the franchise owners’ employees who were the people that I realized that I didn’t know very well, we didn’t have relationships. I’m not even sure that they fully understood our culture, our core values, sort of our why as a business and a brand.
As I come into ComForCare now, to me that’s the caregiver, that’s the folks that are taking care of mom and dad, our loved ones that are being hired and are being managed and work directly for our franchisees. These are really the people that are providing the experience and the value that the brand is all about, that notion of living your best life possible.
So, armed with that knowledge as a result of “Undercover Boss,” that’s going to give me an opportunity. My intent in the first year is to create a platform for awareness for what I’m going to call these unsung heroes of the industry. There are hundreds of thousands of hard-working Americans out there that are taking care of the people we love every day. And they really go unnoticed and unmentioned, and my goal is to change that.
Q: What are some common traits you look for in people as they move up in the ranks within your team?
A: On the notion of values alone that’s probably one of the key drivers because, when you have a clear set of values, they can vary from company to company, I use that as a filter. I look at an individual and I ask myself, “will they be open and honest, and inclusive, and transparent, and trustworthy?” And we have specific sets of values that respect the work that we do. And so, I use our core values as a filter for people, for process, for decisions.
And in addition to looking at someone and how they align or how they embrace or if they would not only share, but live your values, the other piece of it is will they enhance the organization? What do they bring in terms of skills or relationships that is going to elevate this organization? If you ever talk to business leaders and CEO roundtables, what you always hear is, “Man, if I only had just one more person like this person. And can you imagine what I could do if I had, you know, a bunch of Bobs or Suzys or Steves,” or whatever it might be. So, you know, I’m constantly looking for those type of people that are going to elevate the organization.