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Breaking Into the Chains

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"It's a marketing issue," says Mauricio Velasquez, CEO of the Diversity Training Group of Herndon, Virginia, a company that offers online courses about diversity to IFA members. "Franchise systems have done a poor job in reaching out to Hispanic markets. When franchisors complain that they can't find Hispanic candidates, I ask if they've attended conferences of the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce or the National Council of La Raza. They don't even know those organizations exist."

Javier Parraga

Grounded in His Roots
An Ecuadoran immigrant who left Wall Street finds himself in charge of international franchising for a real estate giant. He credits a multi-cultural background.

Looking back on his rise to the upper echelons of international franchising, Javier Parraga now sees the value of growing up one of seven bilingual children transplanted to the Eastern United States from Ecuador.

"My success in the international arena is directly attributed to my not being born here," says Mr. Parraga, now senior vice president of international development for the New Jersey-based Cendant Real Estate Franchise Group. "Culturally, I can relate to people around the world and they seem to warm up to me faster. I'm very comfortable in an environment where other languages are spoken.

"When visiting a Century 21 office in Tokyo a few years ago, I was having a difficult time communicating with one executive. When I told him I was born in Ecuador, he started speaking to me in perfect Spanish. He'd spent 10 years in Venezuela and said it's easier for Japanese to learn Spanish than English."

Mr. Parraga was the first of his family to attend college, graduating cum laude from the University of Maryland with a degree in accounting. He worked for the accounting firm Coopers and Lybrand, then moved to Wall Street, where he was the youngest vice president of a large retail brokerage.

"But I burned out on that 14-hour day, six-days-a-week life," he says. He joined a Century 21 real estate master franchise and started making sales pitches to independent real estate brokers from Virginia to Delaware on the idea of converting into franchises. "My background wasn't a driving force. I dealt equally with whites, Hispanics and African Americans, just as long as they were successful," he says.

When Cendant, the world's largest franchise company, purchased Century 21 in 1996, the company hired Mr. Parraga to sell master franchises for Century 21 around the world. He is now in charge of international franchising for five Cendant brands Century 21, ERA, Coldwell Banker Residential, Coldwell Banker Commercial, and Sotheby's, and is responsible for 4,800 franchises with over 35,000 brokers in 64 countries.

"Franchising provides a tremendous opportunity," Mr. Parraga says. "Hispanics who know Spanish and want to work internationally can thrive here."

But increasingly, franchise companies interested in expanding into Hispanic neighborhoods and recruiting Hispanic franchisees and executives are launching aggressive outreach programs.

Nearly 600 franchisors now support the National Minority Franchising Initiative, a consortium dedicated to eliminating what it calls an "unacceptable gap" between minority populations and franchise ownership.

The consortium ( lists minority franchising seminars, held frequently around the country, and provides lists of franchise "how to" publications, including the "Minority Franchise Guide."

The International Franchise Association's expos include minority franchising workshops, and its annual convention March 6-9 includes events geared to prospective franchisees and minorities. The association's Educational Foundation and the Association of Small Business Development Centers also have launched a Minority Technical Assistance Program to increase the number of minority franchisees.

Individually, franchisors also are reaching out. McDonald's has long-fostered a support network and franchising system for Hispanic franchisees. Hotel franchises including Cendant (Travelodge, Ramada, Days Inn and others) Accor (Red Roof Inn, Motel 6) and Choice Hotels (Comfort Inn, Econo Lodge) provide incentives such as forgivable loans to qualified minorities.

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