Below is an interview I did recently for Operation Franchise, a magazine for the military entrepreneur.
A Driving Force Behind VetFran: Dina Dwyer-Owens Continues Father’s Legacy
Mar. 10, 2010 by Heidi Bohi
One way or another, every undertaking The Dwyer Group® identifies as a priority, leads back to its Code of Values™ that has been guiding the franchise giant since 1981 when the late founder Don Dwyer established this service-industry family of companies.
It should come as no surprise, then, that 47-year-old CEO Dina Dwyer-Owens, the middle of six children in the Dwyer dynasty and her father’s successor, continues to be the driving force behind growing and elevating the International Franchise Association’s (IFA) VetFran Program – also started by her father – which encourages franchisors to offer their best discounts and incentives to honorably discharged veterans who are considering buying a franchise.
Giving back to the country’s veterans embodies the 10-point code that is based on company beliefs such as “loyalty adds meaning to our lives,” and “in building our country through the free enterprise system.” Men and women in the military live by a Code of Conduct that is similar to the Dwyer way of thinking.
“At Dwyer, we believe in treating others the way we want to be treated and if I was in the military and came home and wasn’t offered the same opportunity as others, I’d be disappointed,” Dwyer-Owens says from her Waco, Texas, office. “This is about treating people with respect and gratitude,” which is another fundamental principal of The Dwyer Group creed.
When the Gulf War ended in early 1991, the patriotic Dwyer – who served a two-year military stint in the early ‘50s – was serving on the IFA board and began thinking about the sacrifices the men and women of Desert Storm had made for their country. He wondered what could be done to thank these soldiers who had put their lives on the line to protect free enterprise – the first principle behind franchising – that allowed people like Dwyer himself to go into franchising.
“He had a vision,” Dwyer-Owens says of her father’s original inspiration. “He wanted to give men and women the opportunity to live the American dream – as they were the ones protecting the American dream.”
With the war over, downsizing was the term of the day, and unemployment was at an all-time high of 20 percent. With the help of other Dwyer Group colleagues, he brainstormed the idea of VetFran, officially known as the Veterans Transition Franchise Initiative, and in his unstoppable fashion, wrote one letter at a time to move ahead and ultimately garner the support of the IFA, the U.S. Small Business Administration, and the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.
Financing the effort almost completely out of his own pocket, Dwyer was driven by a personal passion for doing what he could to make sure veterans were not unemployed. He was committed to the belief that veterans make good business owners because military personnel are used to living by a core set of values similar to his own company’s Code of Values, and the franchise model is consistent with the way military personnel are trained to think, offering proven systems of success similar to the military’s mission where there is no question of what is suppose to be done, or how it should be accomplished.
“The military loves systems,” Dwyer-Owens says. “That’s why they make good franchisers.”
At the same time, the discipline and leadership skills instilled in military personnel is directly transferable to those who go into franchising, and it is a business opportunity that allows them to explore a second career without making drastic lifestyle changes.
But, just as VetFran started to build momentum, Dwyer died of a sudden heart attack in 1994 at the age of 60. Although the program was not discontinued, with his vision gone, it fizzled out until after the 9/11 terrorist attacks when Dwyer-Owens was elected to the IFA board and gave a presentation on her father’s important initiative, convincing the group to make it a full-blown project and priority.
She followed in many of her father’s footsteps, not only as the CEO of the company, but as the unrelenting influence and force behind growing VetFran into a measurable success. One of her first actions was to make the plan as user friendly as possible. Rather than drag franchisors through financing details, she recommended that participating franchisors simply provide the best possible deal they can offer a veteran. She was not shy about reminding franchisors of her father’s vision: The country cannot have unemployed veterans and they make good franchise owners.
While the idea of launching a small business in today’s economy may go against the grain of reason for most entrepreneurs, according to IFA, their efforts to make owning a franchise more approachable for the nation’s military veterans are working. In one year, 129 new veteran franchisees have joined the ranks of small business owners using discounts voluntarily offered by IFA member companies, bringing the number of former military personnel who acquired franchises via the VetFran Program to more than 1,500. The award-winning program was lauded by both Veterans Affairs and the American Society of Association Executives, which last year honored IFA with its Award of Excellence for creating an “outstanding program, which has resulted in significant benefit to American society.”
Discounts offered to veterans by the franchise systems range from reduced initial franchise fees to waivers of training costs and free product inventories. It is up to the individual franchisors to determine what kind of incentive they will offer as participants in VetFran.
The program receives no government funding but is officially endorsed by the U.S. Dept. of Veterans Affairs’ Center for Veterans Enterprise, which helps promote small business ownership for veterans.
“Our veterans are coming back to a very weak job market and they don’t make a ton of money in the military to begin with. Then when they come back, they have a hard time taking care of their families. We can help them get into their own business and make it easier to transition into civilian life.”
Just back from the 2010 annual IFA Convention in San Antonio, Texas, where VetFran was again one of Dwyer-Owens’ favorite programs to advance, she tells one of her favorite stories to illustrate how The Dwyer Group’s work with veterans directly reflects the company’s Code of Values. She was at the Dallas airport trying to get back to Waco, Texas, after the flight had been canceled. After chatting with several Army soldiers who were also trying to return to Waco from Afghanistan, she decided to rent a car and invited the men to accompany her.
As she began telling the men about what she does for a living and explaining the Code of Values, she says one of them handed her a card from his wallet and said, “In the military, we have something similar to what you have,” referring to The Dwyer Group’s Code of Values. In fact, she says, the Army also has a core of values card and, she says, her father may have gotten the idea of developing his company’s Code of Values from the military.
Either way, she says, this is another reminder of why the VetFran Program is so important and why it makes perfect sense for the men and women who are exiting military service to consider becoming a franchisee for their next career.