Ageism in Franchise Recruitment

Some franchisors choose youth over experience and pay the price in performance. Tony Urwin provides his take

In Franchising, a company harnesses the abilities, experience and energy of others to realise its ambitions. Provided with training, tools, a licence and ongoing support, franchise owners establish the franchisor's business and brand in new markets and exploit these markets indirectly on their behalf. The more competent the franchise owners, the more profitable the enterprise will be. It is surprising, then, to see some franchisors turn away the most competent candidates in favour of those supposedly with the most "energy".

Visions of a young and dynamic franchise network fill the heads of many Franchise Business Directors. It is a vision that stems from a simplistic understanding of what it means to be dynamic, a desire to mingle with peers, or worst, vanity and superficiality. Most realise the naïveté of their vision after meeting highly qualified candidates in their 50s and beyond. Others, when their older recruits start to appear at the top of network performance tables.

Others, however, never wake up. These directors steadfastly develop franchise networks that consist almost entirely of individuals their age or younger - to the benefit of their competition. Where else would the experienced, well-resourced and highly capable older candidates go when they've been turned away?

I recently had the pleasure of meeting just such a candidate. He had met with the directors of a franchise for which he was supremely qualified. The owners however, recoiled at his age (at or about 60) and tried to rebuff his interest. When he persisted, they graciously explained why he would not make a good franchise owner: "Because you're an old fart." While these words display arrogance as well as ignorance, they express a judgment quietly held by too many recruiters.

While young franchise owners can bring energy, enthusiasm and malleability (the ability to be "shaped"), they necessarily lack the experience, instincts, skills and connections which develop naturally over the course of a decades-long career. Success in business does not come from potential energy, but from applied energy. It's not so much how busy you are, but why you are busy (the bee is praised, the mosquito is swatted). Younger franchise owners may be able to work "harder" (in terms of longer hours), but older franchise owners are adept at working smarter and more effectively.

Older franchise owners frequently require less instruction on basic business matters, less time to establish the business, less ongoing assistance and less credit to buy the franchise. They also tend to bring greater focus, dedication, and people skills and, with them, more reliable results.

Granted, in some businesses young customers want to be served by people as close as possible to their own age. Likewise, where beauty and youth are part of the brand image, it is incongruous to place a senior citizen in a customer-facing position. This does not, however, preclude a senior citizen from running the business behind the scenes. In most cases, the case can be made for the value of age and experience.

I do not argue that older franchise owners are necessarily better than younger franchise owners. The young may be impatient and impetuous, but that can be an asset at times: many young franchise owners have become the "stars" of their network for the brave and creative leaps that they have made. Conversely, many old hands lead the charge thanks to their finely honed instincts, extensive knowledge and wise patience. The point I make is that systematic or casual age discrimination is rarely justified. In most cases, it is simply the product of ignorance, naïveté or vanity and begs reconsidering.

If you are a franchisor, consider your recruitment practices, and whether you are harnessing - or spurning - invaluable business talent. If you are a prospective franchise owner who has been turned away because of your grey hairs, take heart: you want to be part of a franchise network with wiser management (better still, the people who turned you away will one day be "old farts" too).