Franchise U is in Session: Yum! Brands and the University of Louisville collaborate to change lives
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Franchise U is in Session: Yum! Brands and the University of Louisville collaborate to change lives

Franchise U is in Session: Yum! Brands and the University of Louisville collaborate to change lives

Summer Worful was 15 when she landed her first job as a crew member at McDonald’s. Despite being painfully shy, she came out of her shell as she fell in love with her weekend side hustle. Still, when she left her small hometown of Smithfield, Kentucky, for the University of Louisville, Worful knew nothing about franchising and had never envisioned a future that included owning a business. 

Everything changed when Worful took a business course on the fundamentals of the franchise model offered through the University of Louisville’s Yum! Center for Global Franchise Excellence.

Part of the center’s undergraduate franchise management certificate track, the class opened Worful’s eyes to the world of franchising and the depth and breadth of what it offers. This spark of enlightenment was ignited in real-world ways when the 22-year-old senior, a business administration major with a minor in management, joined three fellow students at the 2024 International Franchise Association (IFA) Annual Convention in February. 

“It really made the impossible seem possible,” Worful says. “I got a lot of inspiration from people who were underrepresented or had a lot of struggles in life and saw how they took that as an opportunity and not as a setback, and it made them more motivated and even hungrier to go after their dreams. When I left, I seriously had the mindset that I could be a franchisee if I kept working hard. It was so awesome.”

Breaking barriers 

Expanding the reach and opportunities for franchise education and entrepreneurship across industries is exactly what Kathleen Gosser had in mind when she leveraged her franchising and learning background to co-create the online franchise management certificate program—the first of its kind at a public university.

The center is part of Louisville, Kentucky-based Yum! Brands’ Unlocking Opportunity Initiative, which is a five-year, $100 million commitment designed to promote equity, inclusion, education, and entrepreneurship for employees, frontline restaurant teams, and communities worldwide.

Gosser, director of the center at the university’s College of Business, spent 35 years with the global brand before retiring to start her encore career. Under her leadership, the center continues to build momentum for its mission through multilevel online franchise education and research and an ever-expanding number of heavyweight industry partnerships, including a franchising “who’s who” that makes up the Yum! CFGE advisory board. (Therese Thilgen, co-founder and CEO of Franchise Update Media, is a board member.)

“Our vision is to empower communities to build and sustain generational wealth through franchising,” says Gosser, who earned her MBA and Ph.D. from the University of Louisville. “Our mission is to be a world-class center that brings franchise education and research to all. That’s really important to us.”

Launched in 2021 with a stackable graduate-level franchise management certificate, the center was a success from the start. It was followed quickly by the development of a noncredit executive education version, now a requirement of the IFA’s credential, the Certified Franchise Executive (CFE).

Gosser, an assistant professor of franchise management, believes she’s found the sweet spot with the addition of the center’s nuts-and-bolts undergraduate franchising track. The modules are open to any business school student as electives, with the online franchise management certificate available as an opportunity for management majors and students who minor in entrepreneurship. Classes fill up immediately, and there are waiting lists, Gosser says.

Four courses, including a management practicum in the form of a research project or internship, focus on the critical elements of franchising through the lens of the franchisee. Students explore the pros and cons of the franchise model, dive into the franchise disclosure document and franchise agreement, learn what it takes to buy and grow a franchise, and unpack all the angles of the people side of the business. In fewer than three years, 432 undergraduate students have enrolled in the program.

“If I had my way, everyone in the college of business would take the first franchising course because if I’m a finance or a marketing major or any of the others, I can have a job in franchising,” Gosser says. “Opening their eyes up to it is my big goal for folks to understand there are opportunities like you can’t believe in this wonderful business model.”

Marlee Henson, 19, discovered the franchise fundamentals and legal class while hunting for a management elective to add to her busy schedule. Henson, who says her nature is to do extra things, is passionate about everything she takes on. She had previously experienced Gosser’s gift for teaching in an orientation class and was eager to discover what the introductory franchising curriculum had in store.

“I mostly thought of restaurants and didn’t really think of all the opportunities that are out there,” Henson says. “It was so intriguing to me that there are not only a lot of different job opportunities but also industries within franchising, so I wanted to explore that more.”

Henson was hooked. The sophomore from Harrisburg, Kentucky, decided to add a franchise management certificate to her pursuit of a double management and marketing major along with a stackable healthcare leadership certificate to support her current job in marketing and communications for a local healthcare system.

Henson also attended this year’s IFA Annual Convention. She is finding her way in franchising, but she already has a keen interest in how the industry invests in communities.

“I see franchising as this middle ground where generational wealth is created in outstanding ways,” Henson says. “There are so many stories that are so inspiring. At the same time, there’s so much opportunity for growth. People are growing, and the economy and local communities are growing, but at the same time, people are actually being helped, and it’s making a real difference in people’s lives.”

Henson plans to take a course on franchise human resources and leading teams as she continues to be on target for early graduation in December 2025. She’s still determining what the future holds but expects it to include the pursuit of an MBA and a master-level franchise management certificate.

“If I end up working in franchising, I’m sure I’ll get my CFE as well,” Henson says.

As Worful wraps up her last semester of college, she reflects on an experience that has played out in unexpected ways. She had never planned to work for McDonald’s after high school, but an offer to lead shifts as a restaurant manager, along with partial tuition assistance through the brand’s Archway to Opportunity program, was too good to pass up.

Worful’s work and school lives crossed paths, forging a career right before her eyes. In October, she jumped at the offer of a unique part-time opportunity as a business unit administrator, working with roughly 30 franchisees in the Bluegrass Operators Association (BOA), which includes 170 McDonald’s restaurants in the Louisville and Lexington areas of Kentucky.

Everything clicked for Worful when she enrolled in the introductory class on the basics and legalities of franchising. As she began analyzing the FDD as part of the coursework, she chose what she knew for a case study. Her firsthand experience at McDonald’s helped her better understand the franchise business model structure and the risks and responsibilities of a franchisee in an industry that is all about relationships. When Worful graduates in May, she’ll be ready with a foundational degree and a full-time position with the BOA waiting for her.

“I think that the class gave me the opportunity to have the job I have now because I can use it as a tool that most people don’t have,” Worful says. “Unfortunately, most people don’t have the opportunity to take a franchise class. And I honestly don’t think they really know what they’re getting into whenever they have positions like mine. Having that background knowledge makes my job a lot easier. They can talk about franchisees and franchisors and the relationship, and I know what that’s like.”

With each uplifting story, it’s easy to see why the franchise industry has embraced the center’s work. Along with financial aid for all program levels in the form of scholarships, the CFGE board of advisors has provided travel money for the past two years for a select group of undergraduates to attend the annual convention of the IFA, which waived the registration fee.

Gosser says she has been overwhelmed by the willingness of franchise industry executives to take part in virtual roundtables, appear as a guest on her “FranchiseU” podcast, and donate their time, money, or resources in other ways.

“I cannot tell you how many people have reached out to me and said, ‘What can we do to help?’, ‘How can we provide our expertise?’, ‘Is there a way we can teach?’, ‘Is there a way we can speak to your students?’” says Gosser. “And, when I ask, no one says no.”

The center is establishing a system to track undergraduate data, but with students like Henson and Worful, you don’t have to look far to see the program’s impact. And you can bet Gosser’s not done yet. 

Along with opening up the franchise management education program to the entire university—which is on the docket, says Gosser—she hopes to see franchise education become a mainstay in all higher education institutions.

She also looks forward to welcoming former students back as they venture out and become franchisees, work for franchisors, or have a career in a related field.

“I want my students to go on and be successful within the franchising model and then come back and have the students learning from them, so it’s full circle,” Gosser says. “That would be the real win.”

Published: July 23rd, 2024

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