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SAN DIEGO – Following the ABA’s 33rd Annual Forum on Franchising, Ronald K Gardner, Jr. of Dady & Gardner, the first franchisee attorney elected chair, reflected on his past year’s experience. “The Forum to my great delight, and I believe this in my deepest heart of hearts, really is a meritocracy. It awards people who step up to take responsibility and deliver.”
Gardner feels there will be opportunities for other franchisee attorneys to be in the lead position. He said the road to being elected as chair started early with his service on the governing committee. He said sometimes franchisee lawyers might be in a shorter line than those in their peer group in terms of age, length of time being an attorney, and time served in the Forum because they don’t have to wait be-hind their franchisor attorney partners. Gardner thinks his diverse background also helped him in showing governing committee members that he had the same interests that they had, carrying out the mission of the organization. He feels the Forum has always tried to not be either pro-franchisor or pro-franchisee. “It has fallen down a time or two, but it tries hard.”
Gardner said at the time he was being elected last October 2008, he had significant concern that people would be fearful, or on the other hand worried that he could not receive the support that he would need in order to get things done. “But I was wrong about that in two fundamental ways,” Gardner explained.
First, he learned that the incoming chair is supported very closely by both the immediate past chair and the chair-elect. “I really joined a three-person leadership group where I was the third person at that time, and I was immediately brought into the fold where the current chair’s style of leadership was to consult with the past chair and I on every decision of any importance at all,” he stated. He explained it as being a type of leadership by committee, although the then-current chair was making the final decision.
The second way Gardner was wrong was that he never felt lack of support from the membership at large. “People went out of their way to thank me and congratulate me on how well things were going, and to complain when things weren’t going well, just as they would with anybody else. My fear was somewhat misguided or misplaced. I never heard anybody say, oh, the Forum is off track because they let a franchisee guy in to be the leader,” he said.
Gardner has another message for Forum members. “We need to foster the idea of balance, and that is something we can get better at.” He also thinks Forum workshops could improve related to franchisee/franchisor issues. “The reality is that our organization has far more franchisor members. When program speakers are selected, not everyone stops to think about balance. We end up having more franchisor speakers than franchisee,” Gardner said.
The chair does feel that very few people go out of their way to use their time at the microphone as a bully pulpit for their political views. But he adds everyone has political views. “Could the Forum police the speakers a little bit better to make sure it is more balanced in terms of franchisee and franchisor view point? I think it could, but that is asking a lot of a volunteer organization. We just continue to try and inculcate the idea of balance into the speakers, the presentations, and into the program directors who are members of the governing committee.
Each presentation is overseen by governing committee members. All are assigned one or two presentations to oversee. The best that the senior leadership can do is to make sure that the governing committee remembers to tell the speakers they’ve got to look for balance. “You can’t say, finally this court got it right and ruled in favor of the franchisor. You can say the franchisor won here and here’s why. It’s a matter of communication, a matter of culture.”
When asked if he felt there was anything concrete that people could see in having a franchisee attorney as chair, Gardner made it clear that the commission of the Forum, unlike other organizations, is educational. “Our mission is to educate lawyers about franchise law. We don’t take political positions. We don’t testify before Congress. We don’t lobby. We’re about education,” he firmly stated.
In his mind it is important that the Forum maintains that role. “We’re far better at that than anybody else. A couple of other organizations try, but no one compares to that level of scholarship than the Forum.” Gardner said it is important that they remain neutral, that they take the long view and don’t get involved in the day-to-day political struggles about the direction of the law. “There are other organizations that are well-suited for that. And I certainly have an interest in that, don’t get me wrong. I certainly want to see the law be one way and not another. But I can’t view the world that way when I have my chair hat on,” he emphasized.
Gardner said as long as the Forum remains true to its mission of education, the only concrete difference in having franchisee lawyers as chair will be--and hopefully it’s not a difference at all--the continuing commitment to balance. “What I’m hoping for is that as the Forum gets more institutionalized, voices like mine and other franchisee lawyers will someday not be necessary. Everyone will stop and think whether they are being too one-sided. What is the franchisee view? It will just occur naturally rather than having someone constantly remind Forum leaders to not be one-sided. Hopefully, that’s the long-range concrete difference in having franchisee-lawyers elected as chairs, that we all continue to keep the balance and everybody stays focused on that.”