Women are a fast-growing segment in franchising. Between 2011 and 2017, female franchise ownership jumped by 83 percent. In honor of Women’s History Month, four female franchisees and Business Development Agents (BDA) from Subway®, the world’s largest chain of locally-owned restaurants, shared their experience as female leaders. Hailing from different parts of the world, the four women — Montserrat Odio (Costa Rica), Jennifer English (the U.S.), Margot Micallef (Canada) and Datin Cynthia Cheong (Malaysia) — are responsible for managing and growing the Subway franchise in their regions. Their duties range from scouting locations for new restaurants, helping franchisees successfully open new businesses and training employees.
Montesserrat, Jennifer, Margot and Cynthia have diverse backgrounds and unique paths that led them to franchising. However, for all four women, leadership extends far beyond managing a team and running a business. It also means empowering oneself, celebrating employees and giving back to the community.
This resonated with Cheong, who has been with Subway for 16 years and now oversees 133 restaurants- including 32 of her own- in Malaysia.
“I try to encourage learning for employees at all levels. To me, leadership means guiding, coaching and educating constantly with my team and family of franchisees. I want them all to feel as if the sky is the limit,” she shared.
Odio, who owns and operates the 78 Subway restaurants located in Costa Rica, echoed this sentiment.
“No matter how hard you try to make customers happy, your efforts won’t matter if your employees are not happy. I try my hardest to make every employee feel valued by celebrating even the smallest victories to emphasize that all tasks in this business are important.”
Amongst the women, there is an understanding that their teams benefit from working with female entrepreneurs.
“Instead of leading in hierarchical structure, women tend to lead in a spoke-in-the-wheel structure,” shared Micallef, who oversees more than 800 Subway restaurants located throughout Alberta and British Columbia.
“This is ideal for a franchise model as there are opportunities for BDAs to interact with a number of different participants and inspire them. When you function as a hierarchy, you lose touch with people who would otherwise benefit from communication.”
However, English, a franchisee and BDA who owns and operates stores in Western Texas and Southern New Mexico, recognizes that being a female entrepreneur is not without struggles.
“Women traditionally don’t get support for their gut feelings,” she shared. “It’s important to believe in yourself as a woman and empower other women to feel confident. What makes Subway great is that I have supportive friendships across the country and internationally.”
Margot, Cynthia and Montserrat echoed Jennifer’s statement and shared that through Subway they have found a culture where their best work and personal development are encouraged.
“At Subway, it’s about empowerment,” said Margot. “It’s about empowering the franchisees to run their business, and empowering consumers when they come in to be able to order and buy food for their own wellbeing and health. And empowering staff so when they go into the restaurants, they can solve the problems the franchisees are facing.”
Along with managing hundreds of locations across their various territories, these four women shared that working with Subway at both the corporate and franchise level has presented an opportunity to give back to their communities.
“We’ve been able to partner with USO and make lunches for soldiers who didn’t have money,” shared English. “In the past, we’ve also partnered with local underprivileged elementary schools to do fitness challenges, with the winning school receiving new gym equipment.”
Odio has had a similarly positive experience.
“More than a year ago my restaurants started an initiative where we educated customers on how plastic, such as straws, can damage oceans and marine life,” she recalled. “That has been very powerful for us, because we know we are doing something positive for our country and the next generation.”
During their years at Subway, these four women have learned valuable lessons, both about interacting with others and about their own capabilities.
“Being able to interact with other Subway leaders is about much more than networking,” said Jennifer. “It’s about creating a support system that can turn to on a bad day.”
“Working with Subway has allowed me to understand the value of resilience. There are things out there out of your control and all you can do is embrace those changes and keep moving forward,” shared Odio. “When you’re out of your comfort zone, everything works better. Your senses are alert, and your decisions are bolder and more thoughtful.”