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Women in Business: Q&A with Jania Bailey, President & COO of FranNet

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Jania Bailey is the President and COO of FranNet. Bailey has more than 25 years of experience in the banking and franchise industries. She worked for more than eight years, and in several different managerial capacities, with Fantastic Sams International, a hair care franchise. In her last position, she served as the regional manager for Fantastic Sams in Texas. Before that, she oversaw operational support and development for franchisees in a five-state region.

How has your life experience made you the leader you are today?
I'm a big believer that everything that happens in life touches us and helps us become who we are. I was a single mother for the majority of my son's growing-up years, so that taught me how to manage my time and priorities. That experience also made me a more understanding and a compassionate leader. I've also learned from evaluating my previous experiences with leaders. I try to mirror the traits of my good bosses, but never replicate the traits of my not-so-good bosses from the past.

How has your previous employment experience aided your position as president of FranNet?
You don't always realize right away how all your previous experiences can prepare you for your current position. I was a banker for 18 years, with a focus in small business lending. That experience, working with the challenges of financing small businesses, has been extremely beneficial in my current job to understand our clients' position. When I left banking, I worked in public speaking, which has proved to be an invaluable skillset for me, as I often speak on behalf of the company. When I left public speaking, I was regional director for a hair-care franchise, where I was able get to know the franchisor-side of the franchising model. That helps me today so I can understand and support our franchisor partners. At any given time, it might be difficult to see how those jobs might come together, but my different experiences from my past fit together in a way that couldn't be more ideal for my current position.

How do you maintain a work/life balance?
That's the tough question. One of the most impactful books I've read in my career is "The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People" by Stephen Covey and one of the things he talks about is putting "first things first." The older I get and the longer I've been in the workforce, the more I really celebrate the importance of time spent with loved ones. In any job, it's easy to neglect those personal parts of your life. Still, no matter what position you have, jobs are temporary. The things that remain are the most important, so I prioritize spending time with friends and family.

What have the highlights and challenges been during your tenure at FranNet?
One of the biggest challenges I've faced at FranNet was right when I took the job more than seven years ago. The company was in transition after a change of ownership, and we were in the process of changing from a mutual benefit company to a franchise. Naturally, as with any major change, there was a lot of concern within our company.

My biggest challenge was trying to navigate the organization forward while simultaneously reassuring our workforce that the changes would ultimately be good for everyone. During the first couple years of transition, we made sure that we had a very open stream of communication with our franchisees and associates so they felt safe and supportive of the changes that needed to be made. It was truly one of the biggest challenges of my career. With that said, successfully achieving that transition was also one of the biggest accomplishments of my career. I've been able to not only watch, but also participate in the growth of the organization.

A big highlight for me has been seeing the developmental growth of our team at headquarters. I woke up at my one-year anniversary at FranNet with more tenure and more franchising experience than any of the managers. We've taken a relatively young group with little-to-no franchise experience and have grown them into a premier group of experts in the field. That's a huge highlight for me.

What advice can you offer young individuals hoping to establish a business similar to FranNet?
Realize the opportunities; the broad scope of opportunities in the franchising sector. It's a diverse industry with many different segments. Also realize that while it's a large industry, it's a close-knit group of people, so select your mentors, connect with as many people as possible, learn all you can through events such as the IFA convention and online activities, as well as other franchising conferences. Networking and the connections you make are what become invaluable to you. Those connections open doors and introduce you to people; opportunities unfold as you make those connections.

The first step is to look at where you want to be within the segment: do you want to work for a franchise company, with a PR firm, operational support, or sales? Determine where you see your skillset and interests, and then identify the organizations you feel you would connect with. Then, reach out and try to open doors. Be patient and persistent to network your way into the industry.

What do you think is the biggest issue for women in the workplace?
I am a firm believer that as women, we have to quit seeing being a woman as a handicap. We have to see ourselves as equals in order to be equals. If we want a seat at the table, we have to believe that we've earned that right and act as if we belong. In my experience, when I became the first female commercial loan officer in Kentucky, I was told that I was an experiment and they weren't sure if it would work. Anytime I faced a challenge, I tried to view it as an opportunity to pave the way for other women. I want to show that being a woman isn't a disadvantage in the workforce.

What are your thoughts on Sheryl Sandberg's Lean In book and movement?
I think the book is very good and makes some great points. I strongly agree with Sandberg's point that as women, we have to be more willing to step up, raise hands and ask for opportunities. One thing that I learned early in my career is that as women, we do tend to step back and expect others to notice when we work hard. Like Sandberg says, I agree that we need to take charge of our careers and create opportunities for ourselves. We need to start changing the mindset and training of young women in business to show that you can be assertive without being aggressive and that it's okay to ask for recognition, raises or promotions. As a rule, women need to become comfortable doing that.

How has mentorship made a difference in your professional and personal life?
I've had a number of mentors through my career and life, both male and female. My very first mentor was a gentleman named Aubrey Lippert, who was a bank president in Kentucky. He was the one who gave me the training opportunity to become a commercial loan officer. I learned from him to stay genuine to who I was. He was always approachable as a human being, regardless of the business at hand. He really taught me some basic values as a leader and I try to mirror his style today.

I've also had mentors like Wayne Fischer, who has made the right introductions, especially getting involved in IFA and becoming a player in that industry. Finally, my boss, Jack Armstrong, probably has the strongest work ethic of any individual that I've ever had the pleasure of working with. At the same time, he is always very approachable and interacts with you as a human rather than just an employee. These are just a few of the people that I've had the privilege of getting to know throughout my career who have helped me become the person I am today.

Which other female leaders do you admire and why?
Today in franchising, there are really inspiring women like Dina Dwyer-Owens, Shelly Sun, Melanie Bergeron and Catherine Monson who are not afraid to be genuine and show their feminine sides while being successful, dynamic leaders. You really don't have to look outside of the franchising segment to find strong, inspiring women that have worked their way up into leadership positions.

I think for a long time, women were told that in order to be successful in business, they had to compromise their femininity--they had to dress, talk, and act like men. All of these women have shown that you don't have to compromise yourself or your femininity to become successful in the industry.

What are your hopes for the future of FranNet?
My hope is to grow the company and to be a force to be reckoned with in the franchising industry. We want to grow FranNet internationally beyond Canada. I would love to provide quality education about the benefits of the franchising industry to people outside of North America. My long-term goal for FranNet is to protect and enhance the brand so the company can be in a position to experience sustainable growth, with or without me at the helm. I think every good leader should prepare successors.

Ultimately, I think women today should see only opportunities in front of them. My advice to any young woman entering the workforce is that she needs to believe in herself and her ability to achieve, first and foremost. That's the way that she will achieve equality with everyone in the workforce.