March 13, 2019
By Akemi Sue Fisher for Authority Magazine
The first piece of advice I would give: When you look in the mirror, see a leader and not a female leader. Personally, I don’t count how many women or men are in a meeting or in a room. In my mind, it’s not relevant. What is relevant is how they perform. How they contribute and how they fit into our culture. A second piece of advice: care. It’s simple. You really need to care about your people. Pay attention. Notice what’s going on in their lives and acknowledge it.
I had the pleasure of interviewing Kathleen Kuhn, President and CEO of HouseMaster and PatchMaster, two franchise brands in the home services industry with locations across North America. As head of HouseMaster, the original home inspection franchise, Kathleen oversees an organization with more than 315 franchise locations across the U.S. and Canada. HouseMaster has an average net promoter score (NPS) of 92, a near-perfect customer service mark that puts it ahead of the NPS of some of the most customer-centric organizations like Ritz-Carlton and Apple. And as the CEO of PatchMaster, Kathleen leads a new, fast-growing drywall repair specialty concept with 19 franchises signed in 46 territories with 10 franchises opened and operating.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
My father started HouseMaster home inspections, so I worked for the initial location before he began franchising it. However, after college, I took a job with AT&T in sales. It was a great experience and afforded me great training, which I have been able to put to use expanding our HouseMaster brand. After working in the corporate world, I had the entrepreneurial itch. So, I left AT&T to become a franchisee very early in HouseMaster’s history.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company?
I’ve had many, many interesting things happen to me. One of the most memorable was when a managing partner of the private equity company we partnered with took the stage at the first annual conference since the acquisition and shared his personal story of almost going bankrupt with his previous company. He got very emotional. It was both funny and awful as it was not what our franchisees wanted to hear from their new managing partner! But, it was authentic. And authenticity is key when growing a franchisor. You need to be there for franchisees in the good times and the bad.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting?
Having fun is one of the core principles of our brand, so we have had a lot of funny things happen. One of the funniest mistakes I made was to hire a comedian as entertainment for our group. The comedian told some off-color jokes, which was not anticipated. While many found it funny, many were offended. We learned the importance of really anticipating the impact of every business decision. Even when you’re doing something as seemingly simple as booking entertainment for conventions.
Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
It’s essential to do your due diligence vetting all speakers you put in front of your audience!!
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
Our culture. It is what defines us. While that sounds like a cliché, we have a very unique, down-to-earth family culture. As a franchisor celebrating almost 40 years in business, we have many franchisees who have sold their businesses and retired. However, they remain in communication with current franchisees and even visit current franchisees. When one of our franchisees faces a health issue or disaster, fellow franchisees rally and offer support, whether it be through fundraising or even traveling to their site to help keep their operations moving forward. It’s truly a unique camaraderie and one of the things that makes HouseMaster an appealing opportunity and a rewarding business. It’s why we have more than 300 locations and franchise owners who stay on for generations.
Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?
We have several significant initiatives that will benefit our business owners for decades to come. Specifically, these initiatives will solve key issues in service delivery and business growth. It is going to not only help our customers; it will also help our franchise owners as they maximize the potential of their local businesses.
What advice would you give to other female leaders to help their team to thrive?
The first piece of advice I would give: When you look in the mirror, see a leader and not a female leader. Personally, I don’t count how many women or men are in a meeting or in a room. In my mind, it’s not relevant. What is relevant is how they perform. How they contribute and how they fit into our culture. The second piece of advice: care. It’s simple. You really need to care about your people. Pay attention. Notice what’s going on in their lives and acknowledge it.
What advice would you give to other female leaders about the best way to manage a large team?
With a large team, you need a strong management structure. As companies scale, every member must understand what is expected of them, have measurable goals, feel free to share their ideas and opinions and communicate freely.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are?
My dad was clearly my mentor and I am blessed to have had such an amazing mentor. However, I couldn’t be where I am today without my husband. He joined the franchise I started shortly after we launched our location. He has been my partner in business and in life and he has supported me 100 percent. He is very honest with his insights on business and life; he helps keep it real for me!
Can you share a story about that?
I’ve been free to travel or do what I needed to do while raising a family because my husband supported my efforts. In addition, he’s a very grounded franchise owner who has always has been willing to test new programs, pitch in anywhere I needed it and gives me very real advice and input on the system. Sometimes even when I didn’t want to hear it!
How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?
I am not quite sure my success has brought goodness — but playing a role in helping others be successful has brought goodness to the world. I’ve been blessed to help people find financial independence and build a life that makes them happy, whether that’s more time with their family or helping their community. It is amazingly rewarding to watch new business owners build the life they have dreamt about.
What are your “5 Leadership Lessons I Learned From My Experience” and why? (Please share a story or example for each.)
1. Have a sense of humor. You won’t always say the right thing and uncomfortable moments will happen. Find a way to laugh about them. Humor is endearing.
2. Care about people. Truly care. I often ask franchise owners about certain events in their lives that they shared with me in passing. They are always so grateful, and it demonstrates appreciation.
3. Acknowledge contributions. I am a matter-of-fact person. I am not a great cheerleader, but I make sure my team’s accomplishments or my franchisee’s accomplishments are acknowledged. Even if it’s just a mention at a meeting.
4. Don’t take things personally. This is a hard one. If you really care, and you work really hard, it can be frustrating, to say the least when you are criticized. Leaders are criticized. I think it’s important to hear the criticism because often there may be some valuable insights in it. I don’t take it personally, even if the criticism is personal.
5. Disconnect. My team may laugh at me for giving this advice because I work a lot. I enjoy working. However, I can and do turn off. Turn off your devices and turn yourself off for a bit. The value of turning off is the fresh perspective you gain when you turn back on.
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. :-)
I feel accomplishment is empowering and camaraderie is undervalued. I would love to have facilities for mothers who are struggling financially to go every day to learn skills, make friends, and have their children attend pre-school and socialize. I fully believe in supporting those financially that are less fortunate. However, I think the welfare system has the potential to create isolation, which does nothing to inspire or assist those who would like to find a way to self-sufficiency.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
It’s a quote from Theodore Roosevelt: Do what you can, with what you have, where you are.
In small business, you don’t always have the resources to do what you want to do. That can be frustrating. I have been in that position many times and time and time again, I have relied on this quote. It inspires me to keep moving forward and using the resources I do have to accomplish usually more than I thought I could!