Leon Oldham heard the same message repeatedly: franchising was the best way to start your own business without being in business by yourself. His early career had focused on ways to help people by aiding their efforts to gain employment. Friends like Baseball Hall of Fame's Hank Aaron, who is also a successful franchisee, urged Oldham to try franchising.
"It was fascinating how some of the more successful franchisees had acquired wealth and status and at the same time, had helped their neighborhoods by creating job opportunities," Oldham recalled.
Another close friend, who had left Edison Power in Chicago to open his first McDonald's in Atlanta, also ignited Oldham's interest in franchising. But, before he could chart this new territory called franchising, he was asked to serve as special assistant to the CEO and director of minority affairs at AFC Enterprises.
AFC Enterprises, parent company and franchisor of Church's Chicken, Popeyes, Cinnabon, Seattle's Best and Torrefazione Italia Coffees, has expanded under the aggressive management of AFC Chairman and CEO Frank Belatti. While at AFC, Oldham has been attracting employees, vendors and franchisees, and became heavily involved in community activities.
Belatti credits Oldham's success to a unique combination of business acumen and genuine caring for people. "He believes in the power of opportunities and leveling the playing field. He's brought us many qualified applicants and puts his reputation on the line," Belatti said. AFC's commitment to diversity is revealed in a program instituted by Belatti and supported by Oldham. The initiative, called The New Age of Opportunity, asserts that inclusion and equality of opportunity allows the best talent to surface and gives everyone the chance to set and pursue their own goals in an open, real-world environment. As part of AFC's diversity program, Oldham initiated the PLUS Program (Programs Launched Universally for Success), which helps women and minority entrepreneurs to acquire their own franchises.
Oldham was also instrumental in involving AFC in national community events, including the National Political Congress for Black Women, Turner Broadcasting's annually televised Trumpet Awards and the Bob Hayes Invitational Track Meet.
Leave the Door Open
"I never went through any door at any job that I didn't leave open," Oldham said. Before joining AFC, Oldham had served in corporate positions such as assistant vice president of sales, Pabst Brewing Co.; director of special markets, Coca-Cola; and vice president and general manager, City Beverage Co.
At each career point, Oldham paved the way for others to follow. At City Beverage Co., he was the first black beer distributor in the South, increased sales from $4 million to $20 million within three years and initiated the concept of presales. Other beer wholesalers soon followed the presale practice, which gave customers better service by tracking and analyzing product requirements using computers.
Oldham's commitment to community organizations led to a number of firsts. He was the first black person to serve as general chair of Leadership Atlanta and as corporate chair of United Way. Before he became an entrepreneur, he ushered in law enforcement's first as the first black motorcycle patrolman in the South.
At Coca-Cola, Oldham says he learned an important lesson about community involvement. "Community relations is not the thing to do, it's the only thing to do," Oldham asserted. "If I tell you, you will forget. If I show you, you will remember. If I involve you, you will understand," Oldham recited.
To Oldham, commitment to community is imperative. He believes that as the franchising sector asks local communities to support their businesses, franchisors and franchisees should also commit to giving time and resources back to those local communities.
He is a founding member of 100 Black Men of Atlanta and originator of the 100 Black Men's Atlanta Football Classic. Oldham serves as a board member to both the NAACP and Junior Achievement in Atlanta. In 1978, he served as chairman and coordinated public relations for the 12th Annual Martin Luther King, Jr. Birthday Celebration, which received worldwide television coverage on CBS during the Super Bowl.
Opportunities In Franchising
Oldham's chairmanship of the IFA Minorities in Franchising Committee will offer him the platform to create more franchising opportunities for women and minorities.
"IFA is determined to make a difference in trying to solicit people in this industry and the best way to do that is through education," Oldham said. His priority is to establish scholarship funds and to attract minority franchisees.
Oldham also knows he must correct some misconceptions. He counters misconceptions often attributed to franchising in general and food franchises in particular. He's heard people say they won't flip burgers, cook fries, or take jobs as cashiers. To get started in any business, Oldham says, you don't start at the top, but must first learn the basic fundamentals of doing business.
"In order to run a business, you have to know what everybody does in that store," Oldham adds. The ultimate goal is to become the operator or franchisee, he said. "As the world becomes more service conscientious, more small businesses will be created and in any small business you will have to work hard," Oldham said.
Each franchising concept provides a template for a consistent product or service. "People get used to continuity," said Oldham explaining the consistent quality service and product that consumers can enjoy in visiting a restaurant within the same system that is across the street or across an ocean.
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