Barbara Moran-Ploger, 35, has been with Moran Industries Inc. since her father, Dennis, founded the Midlothian, Illinois-based automotive after-market franchise 11 years ago. Back then, she never expected she would eventually take her father's place at the helm.

But her involvement in the franchise over the years makes her the perfect successor. Moran-Ploger worked with Transmission City Inc. when it first decided to franchise and assisted in the acquisition of the Mr. Transmission brand. The mother of two, whose husband, John Ploger, is a Mr. Transmission franchisee in Chicago, also served as controller and corporate secretary for Moran Industries, working with the company as it acquired Atlas Transmission, Dr. Nick's Transmissions, Milex Tune-Up & Brakes, and Multistate Transmissions.

In 1999, after her father retired, Moran-Ploger succeeded him as president of the franchise, making increased revenues, expansion and the possible acquisition of more brands her goals. Franchise Zone spoke with her about the challenges of being a daughter taking over the family business.

Franchise Zone: How did you become president?

Barbara Moran-Ploger: In 1998, my father had some setbacks medically, and I felt [the company] lost focus of what we were trying to do. I told [my father] we needed to find someone who shared our level of integrity and ethics and understand our dream, and he agreed. I was sent out to find that person, and I worked with a consulting firm. After about three days of working on the type of individual we would need, they ended up calling my father . . . and said I was that individual. I guess he agreed.

Were you surprised to be chosen?

Yes, I was. I was always in the background assisting my father and my mother, and I really didn't think this was actually their intention or my intention. Certainly I've always believed in what my father believed in, and I've always had a lot of interest in this field. I did want to see it happen one day; I just didn't think it would happen so soon. I thought it might be 10 or 15 years down the road.

What was the reaction of people within the franchise to your taking over?

I'm really not sure what their personal reaction was. I think some of the individuals felt comfortable with it. Some were, of course, nervous and concerned. When it's a family-owned business, people have a tendency to assume the person is put in that position due to their [relation] vs. their capabilities-that's something I'm sure some people were concerned about. I think I've proven this [decision to promote me] was based on capabilities and not on being a family member.

What was your family's reaction?

My children and husband were very proud. Of course, they've had to deal with a great deal of change. I go out on the road a lot to visit franchisees and talk to them one-on-one about our futures together, so that's been hard for my [family]. However, it's also helped us realize that as a family, you can work toward your dreams and goals and accomplish those things together. As far as my brothers and my sister, they're comfortable with me running the company. They know it's hard work, and they support me and offer advice.

What was the state of the company when you took over?

We spent a great deal of time and effort growing through acquisitions in the first six years of the 1990s, and when you do that, you have to constantly go back and clean up and organize. I wanted to change our leadership style and focus on the bottom line for our franchisees-to make our relationship with our franchisees one of a team, strategically planning together.

We needed to refocus on growth and franchise relations, because we got so bogged down with the acquisitions that we didn't have a franchise development department. Our focus has always been operational support, but we lost our ability to maintain relationships in a team-oriented fashion.

How did you go about making the changes you considered necessary?

We worked with a consulting firm to reconfirm our core values and focus on training. We had a great deal of internal training, from learning about leadership and management and the difference between the two, to MBO [management by objective], developing a belief system together with our franchisees. The training took place here first, and then, after I believed we were on the right track with a good, solid team representing our core values, we went out on the road to visit our franchisees in their stores, to meet with them market by market and have regional meetings. We would sit with them, have dinner and talk to them about their needs, our needs, our belief system, our values and where we all wanted to end up strategically. We're still on that campaign-we're still visiting our franchisees.

We also developed a franchise advisory alliance, a group of franchisees who assist in coming up with solutions that work for all of us. We spent the past year also working on franchise development and growth and building our market share. Our new focus for this fiscal year is growth.

How would you rate your success in making the changes you wanted to make?

The changes have occurred thanks to our team. I act as the leader and help motivate our team in accomplishing the results we've requested of our company. We have achieved probably 95 percent of the goals we wanted to [accomplish] in the first 24 months.

We're very proud of how far we've come. Our relationships with our franchisees are dramatically different, and it's wonderful to be able to work together and not be at odds or on a different spectrum of goals.

Overall, we're very happy with our accomplishments. Of course, we would love to have everything be perfect and also have accomplished the growth we wanted to, but when you make a dramatic change to [your] company as far as your philosophy and belief system, making sure your franchisees understand and agree with you takes a long time. So in the 24 months we've been on this mission, we really are proud of what we've done with our franchisees and our office here. Our team has been working very hard, and they've accomplished a great deal.

Has being the daughter of the founder made it easier or harder for you to take on this role?

In some ways it makes it harder, because you have to prove to people you're capable of performing the duties and you have the skills. It's a bit more difficult when you're a family member. If you're capable, people do see that in the end and you obtain respect based on your hard work.

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