Learning from Leaders: IFA Leadership Conference’s Dina Dwyer-Owens of Dwyer Group

There are a couple of names in franchising that need no introduction. Dina Dwyer-Owens is one of them. So, when I found out that this year’s IFA Leadership Conference’s keynote speaker is going to be Dina herself, my mind melted for a second because WE’RE TALKING ABOUT DINA DWYER-OWENS HERE…and I am going to get to interview her!

Headshot of Dina Dwyer-Owens of Dwyer GroupThough no introduction is necessary, let me do the honor of briefly illustrating the breadth of her outstanding career thus far. Dina is the co-chair of Dwyer Group’s Board of Directors. With over 35 years of franchising experience, she can add 15-year CEO of Dwyer Group, 2012 Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the Year for the Southwest Area North, former chair of the International Franchise Association and appearances on CBS’ “Undercover Boss” and “Undercover Boss: Epic Bosses” to her résumé, to name just a few.

These experiences have shaped the leader she is today and have driven her current position’s primary focus: cultivating the culture and values within the Dwyer Group.

Living R.I.C.H. with Dwyer Group

For those of you unfamiliar with Dwyer Group, let me give you an idea of its scale: it includes over 2,500 franchise owners in ten countries for 11 franchised and one corporate-owned brand. In other words, this is no small operation and certainly not a simple logistical charge for Dina, who is tasked with upholding company values. But living R.I.C.H., as she calls it, is worth it. R.I.C.H. stands for “respect, integrity, customer service and having fun in the process.” These are the themes of The Dwyer Group Code of Values—an operationalized set of values created by the leadership team to carry forward the values and culture her late father, Don Dwyer (founder of Dwyer Group), established before he unexpectedly passed away in 1994.

Following his death, Dina and her family paused and marveled at what he had built. And then a little bit of fear crept in: “Oh my goodness, what do we have to do to carry on this legacy he created?”

Dina’s Immersion into Franchising

Up until then, with the help of her dad, Dina had been gradually immersing herself into the franchise industry. Her father got her involved in the International Franchise Association (IFA) in her early 20s. “I was like a lost puppy during my first IFA, but my father encouraged me to ask questions.” And she did. She recalls now how kind everyone was from the beginning. “That’s why I love IFA so much, especially because it has helped me so much in my career path.”

At the time of her father’s death, Dina had already seen the franchising business from several different perspectives. She started out in telemarketing, then migrated into franchise sales, then ran a very large real estate division, while acting as a franchise ambassador for Dwyer Group. When her father died, Dina was promoted to vice president of operations, where she and the leadership team had a big challenge: taking her dad’s original values and operationalizing them.

R.I.C.H. Drives Dwyer Group Growth

This is the point in the story where R.I.C.H. really comes in. But it wasn’t just learning how to express those values that was the challenge; it was living them. Dina knew that she could not expect to hold her franchise owners accountable for the R.I.C.H. philosophy unless her corporate leadership team was able to demonstrate that they had bought in— that they were committed to letting the company’s values drive their actions.

You might be wondering how they did this. According to Dina, “It was simple, really.” She and her team introduced the “Beep Game” that challenged corporate employees to “beep” the leadership team every time their actions contradicted living R.I.C.H. “The most beautiful thing about that exercise was that they got to learn the values; it was really getting their full commitment.” This process took about a year and, in 1997, Dina’s team introduced the same concept to the system.

“We really had to make a concerted effort to keep the values front and center. That’s where most companies don’t succeed; their values aren’t top-of-mind.” For Dwyer Group, it was required that, for any meeting containing more than three people, the values of the company were recited beforehand. The franchisees were asked to do the same thing.

Lessons Learned

Leading by example drives Dina’s every move: “When you hold yourself accountable as a franchisor, it’s amazing the trust you earn from [your employees] and the franchisees. They see the benefits of that, and they want to bring it to their own [lives and] businesses. At the end of the day, people want to work with people they trust.”

When asked what advice she has for aspiring leaders, Dina says, “Every day and in every way, be the best version of yourself, no matter what role you play. It’s about looking inward and challenging yourself personally to get better.”

She says that’s why she loves the IFA Leadership Conference so much. She’s looking forward to seeing all of you in San Antonio this Saturday! Her hope is that you’ll take at least one action item home with you and bring it to life.

Will we see you there? Online registration has ended, but you can still visit the IFA on-site registration desk, starting Saturday at 7:00 a.m. in Park View Terrace of the Henry B. Gonzalez Convention Center to register!

For some more great reading, I invite you to read about the Leadership Conference’s three other panelists: Renee Israel of Doc Popcorn; Jayson Pearl of BrightStar Franchising, LLC; and Meg Rose of Firehouse Subs.

Note: re:group is a sponsor of this event.

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