One of my jobs in my spare time is to occupy the presidency of the British Franchise Association, which has just held its National Franchise Week. It isn't very arduous being the figurehead for a sector where companies licence people to operate a slice of their action. I don't have any executive authority, still less power.
But I can, I find, influence the direction in which this rather underrated area of British commerce goes simply by asking its policy and executive boards awkward questions and challenging them to take action.
I still don't know why the choice fell on me in 1994 to become president, unless it was because I'm a non-executive director of McDonald's - about one-third of its UK restaurants are franchised - and supposed to know something about communication and government-industry relations. But it's been a happy relationship because since then both British franchising's turnover and the jobs it provides have doubled to pounds 9 billion and 317,000 respectively. I don't claim any credit for this, but I do find its performance immensely satisfying.
Its growth demonstrates that franchising - at its best a partnership between franchisor and franchisee - is really delivering the goods in anything from hamburgers to hairdressing, drain clearing to dramatic arts training and cleaning to car repair. You don't grow at that rate if the system does not work and you are not satisfying the customer. But there are still immense PR problems to be solved, even though franchising has proved to be one of the safest and most enduring ways of establishing people in business on their own account.
There are still those who consider franchising as some brash American import riddled with cowboys. The BFA can't make franchisors good or angelic managers, but it can - by accrediting and re-accrediting them - make it much more difficult for them to be bad. Then there are those who turn up their noses at franchisees. 'Not real entrepreneurs' they sniff because they are part of a seasoned system with close support from the franchisor. But customers still need to be won.
We also need to make companies think whether they can take the franchising route to growth and to facilitate that growth by planting the idea of becoming franchisees in quality people with a bit of capital and a lot of the right attitude. But we need to work on government, too, because it has some weird and wonderful ideas as to what franchising is about.
The BFA has spent the last four years stopping first the British government and then the Euro-Commission from regulating franchising as we know it to destruction.
You may find it difficult to believe, but the plain fact is that, even though franchising can put a bigger army of personnel into the field than the Ministry of Defence, the connection between franchising and jobs has still to be made in government. Presidential PR demands a certain patient persistence.