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Lead with success > Celebrating Success > An Interview With Estelle Logan

An Interview With Estelle Logan

By Sarah Wilshaw-Sparkes

Late in 2007, a friend who publishes Franchise New Zealand magazine alerted me to some interesting news in his industry. Estelle Logan had been elected to Vice Chair of the Board of the NZ Franchise Association and was the first woman to have ever held this position. Together with husband John, Estelle owns the VIP Home Services franchise in NZ and their business has repeatedly won industry awards for Franchise System of the Year and for Franchisee of the Year.

At Professionelle, we like to celebrate success and to ask professional women about their journeys and what advice they can pass on so I arranged to interviewe Estelle in VIP Home Services’ busy Manukau office.

It’s over 12 years since the Logans moved into franchising. Before that, John owned a building firm that made pre-nail trusses and frames, while Estelle was at home with their three children. Her energy and drive spilled out of the home, however, and into a raft of committees.

Early Lessons in Management

She cut her teeth on her local Plunket and preschool committees. When the family moved to a 16 acre block in the early 90s, she became heavily involved with the local country primary school. It needed a hall. “I wasn’t into the PTA. That was just fundraising.” Instead, Estelle formed and led a Hall committee, leveraged John’s trade contracts and had the building up and ready for use. In nine months!

She joined the school’s Board of Trustees and became Chair. Changes in roles and responsibilities caused by the Government’s introduction of Tomorrow’s Schools made it a turbulent time. “The school Board was a great training ground for dealing with people issues and learning about human nature,” Estelle reflected. She observed that New Zealand’s culture is conflict-averse and that many people prefer to skirt round problems.

“A key lesson I learned was that once a situation has been revealed, you have two options: deal with it or get out. And I’ve learned that if I speak up, I have to carry it through. It was good to discover I could do that.”

She also learned that investing time to do research and get the facts straight paid off by helping her to make the appropriate responses. “That was a lesson for all parts of my life. It saves you a lot if you do your homework!”

As her children moved on to Intermediate, she became the co-ordinator for the school’s exchange programme with a Japanese school and ran it for seven years. This involved hosting students each year as well as travelling to Japan. Dealing with a new culture that places great emphasis on trust and respect was a new challenge. Estelle says that the experience has paid off for her enormously in the franchising business, where she often meets people from different cultures.

Somewhere in all this, Estelle also found time to work at Telecom’s Directory Assistance and be a Tupperware Manager with a unit of 25 sales people, for several years. She credits that role with teaching her how to sell!

As I listened to Estelle, I could see what a great example she was of the view that time spent running a home and participating on community boards can provide people with an excellent grounding for later business management and governance roles.

A Shift to Franchising

Eventually, her husband suggested Estelle might like to pour some of her prodigious energies into something that would benefit the family’s finances. They began looking for a business to run together but were disillusioned by the lack of transparency in the ones they checked out. “Two sets of books,” Estelle said. “That wasn’t us.”

As time dragged on, John began to talk about buying a lawn-mowing round as a stop gap. That quickly led them to franchising opportunities and to VIP Home Services. When they heard that VIP Home Services was looking for regional master franchisors, Estelle’s interest leapt up a notch. “That sounded a lot more like me than just handling a round!” It seemed to offer them the right level of financial return, without the hassle of too many employees, plus flexibility for childcare. At that point, their children were 4,7 and 9.

In the end, they acquired the VIP Home Services master franchise for South and East Auckland and also took on a round. The training for their new business took them to Adelaide for a month, and they had to leave their young children behind with family members. It was hard, says Estelle, but it did mean they could focus 100% on what they needed to learn.

Skill-based, not Gender-based, Roles

She vividly remembers that the trainer addressed his tips on selling to John even though John kept pointing out that Estelle would be the one taking this role. “Women can’t sell lawn-mowing,” was the trainer’s attitude. “He wasn’t being arrogant,” Estelle recalls. “But I was something totally new to him. They’d never had a woman involved in taking on a master franchise before.” She adds that she later spent 3 months on the lawn mowing round so that she could fully appreciate the practicalities of running one.

During the first 18 months, John concentrated on building up lawn mowing rounds while Estelle developed the VIP Systematic Cleaning System. They then moved into the office full time and quickly discovered they needed to clarify what each could best bring to the business. They used Australian Graham Pierce’s Personality Testing on themselves, and continue to use the test for all their master franchisees to this day. “It’s a good way to think about your adversaries’ styles, too!” she adds.

The exercise demonstrated their different styles and preferences and the extent to which their natural strengths and temperaments make them a highly complementary team. John likes to dot the I’s and is at his best on the inside of the business, handling the finance and developing administrative systems; Estelle’s test classified her as “powerful”; she enjoys the external interactions, to do with selling, training, leading and mentoring.

“It isn’t about gender. It’s about skills and strengths. With John and I, this is the best way for us to allocate roles. We’re equal but different. He doesn’t feel threatened or belittled by me doing what I do best.”

In a similar vein, she hopes that when she contributes to discussions on the Franchise Association Board that she is seen first and foremost as an experienced franchisor, rather than a woman.

Values

Estelle understands not only what her strengths are, but also her values. My time talking to her, combined with press articles I’d read about her beforehand, strongly conveyed to me the emphasis she places on ethical behaviour. She agreed, acknowledging the importance of this value in the franchise industry. “The values held by the franchisees we select mirror our own,” she says.

She delivers her honesty in a forthright way. “I’m always honest and say it as it is. People call me up because they know I’ll say what I think, not what they want to hear. And our franchisees know I’ll be tough and honest…but fair.”

As part of the desire to be fair, VIP Home Services’ systems and prices are the same throughout NZ. “We’re strong on that, and on compliance. We’re selling a tried and tested model and we want people to succeed.”

Estelle has certainly been confronted by the double standard in which men who are direct and strong are seen as assertive leaders whereas women with the same attributes are dismissed as bossy and pushy. She advises:

“Learn to get over it. Accept yourself. These qualities should be seen as a bonus to others, something to grow with, not something to destroy or hide from.”

Estelle believes that women are more value-driven than men; in other words, that they make decisions for reasons other than money. We discussed this and agreed that men may place more emphasis on money as a means of protecting what they value: their families. This would logically reflect the fact that men tend to bear the burden of being the main provider, and tend to have fewer socially acceptable options to “opt out”.

Women’s Strengths

Individual women have their specific strengths and values that they bring to their roles, as described earlier. Over and above this, however, Estelle sees women tending to have greater strengths than men in the “human touch” area. In her experience, women:

  • have more insight into what makes people tick
  • look beneath the surface more and do not take things at face value so readily
  • have emotional empathy that allows them to support others. Women and men both call her to discuss personal issues that affect, but also go beyond, their businesses

When the Logans assess candidates for holding master franchises, Estelle looks for a team that has both genders.

“Diversity is essential, an opportunity to blend different perspectives.”

Women in Senior New Zealand Roles

Numerous recent press articles have commented on the fact that women are largely absent from the senior echelons of NZ organisations, especially in the private sector. Research we’ve conducted at Professionelle shows the situation for professional women is not improving. I asked Estelle for her views on this and she pointed to three factors.

  1. Although it is certainly improving, the burden of domestic work has fallen more heavily on women. “Women are still juggling.”
  2. New Zealand lacks a critical mass of women who have made it to the top “in their own way as women, rather than in the guise of men in a men’s world.” She pointed as a hopeful sign to the growing number of women entrepreneurs who are succeeding in their own way and on their own terms.
  3. Women at the top in NZ are seen as women first, and providers of skills and strengths second. “We need to get to the point where we’re not gender-related any more, but skill-related, leadership and personality trait-related…” Estelle perceives that women at the very top in this country are not truly accepted in those roles by society at large.

Mentoring

A large part of her role in the business is mentoring franchisees and bringing out their potential. This is the part of the work that gives her the most satisfaction. A successful franchise can be a way for people who would have had scant chance otherwise to turn their lives around and to achieve something.

She told me about a Maori father who took on a lawn-mowing round to give his sons an opportunity away from the dole. One son dropped out very quickly but the others kept going. They struggled through the first winter because of their approach to handling the inevitable bad weather. Estelle persuaded them to keep going and coached them through the next winter. With her extra support and advice, they made a success of the round. The son who stayed in the business longest was able to sell the round some years later to achieve his ultimate dream of becoming a trucking owner-operator. “Our franchisees’ success is our success,” she said.

Efforts to lift their franchise’s credibility with banks helped their franchisees with financing but also lifted the Logans’ industry profile. “A lot of people call me now for advice and I’m happy to share it. They ring because they see me as integral part of the industry and because I’ll tell them the truth as I see it…” She ended with the comment: “It’s nice, as a woman, to know that you have credibility in the industry…”

It’s worth adding that her place on the Franchise Association’s Board seems to owe a lot to her learnings on the school committees: if you think there should be some changes, you have to be prepared to carry it through! There are currently three women and four men on the Board, who are a mix of professional advisors and active industry participants like Estelle.

And what about mentors for the Logans themselves? Estelle said they hadn’t found specific business mentors to work with them but they were able to tap into ideas from everyone in the VIP franchise system. They also have wider networks available through the Franchise Association, in part as a result of the contributions they’ve made to others.

Work-Life Balance

Most families these days need both parents working to some degree, Estelle reckons. For women with children she thinks that means some tough compromises particularly in how much they can see their children. These trade-offs can be hard to swallow.

Her own travel schedule has at times kept her away from home a lot. The bonus was the opportunity that gave John to form a close bond with his children by taking a much larger role in their daily care. But she remembers the time she came home from a trip and one of the children fell over…and ran to John for comfort. “They have a great relationship with their father, which is wonderful, but at that moment, it hurt.”

“When we first started in the business we ran it from a home office. This meant we were available 24/7 and during the first two years it sometimes seemed it was nothing but work!” The benefit of working from home was that Estelle could work around the children’s activities and schooling. “The washing could be done in between phone calls and I can remember in those early days I had a number of ironing customers and it always ended up getting started around 11pm! That’s when all was quiet,” laughed Estelle.

However, the time came when a home office was no longer workable and the Logans transferred to an office in Penrose. Again, flexibility planned a huge part: they dropped the children at school at 8.15 and went into the office at Penrose from their lifestyle farm in Patumahoe, then back to collect them by 3pm. The afternoons were devoted to the children and when they were in bed – it was back out to the office.

They reclaimed their weekends with the move to Penrose. No longer would they return calls on a Saturday and Sunday unless in an emergency, and they began to get the franchisees to appreciate the Logans had a life and family outside of work! No matter what, family did come first. There wasn’t a school trip, parents’ day, or camp that one of the Logans didn’t attend. They worked the business around the children and, for them, that was ideal. As a result they encourage their franchisees to do the same.

Taking a week’s break every school holidays during the year became the norm and provided quality time with their children. “And let’s face it,” says Estelle, “with two working parents the children do get some extra privileges and treats!”

She summed up the work life balance issue this way:

“The most important thing is you have to be passionate about what you are doing. Working mothers do compromise, but if you are really passionate and love what you are doing, it makes the difference.”

Best Advice

The best advice Estelle ever remembers being given was:

In stressful situations, respond, don’t react.

She feels this is particularly pertinent advice for women.

“We are more emotional,” she believes. “We feel things more keenly than men and we find it harder to compartmentalise. John can walk out of the office and leave it all behind. I can’t! It helps to vent the emotion and then you can focus on the issue and see what needs to be done.”

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