Not necessarily being able to pinpoint its origins without looking it up (it was first used in a book by Walter Brandenburg in 1917), we’ve recently resurrected the phrase, “teachable moment,” as part of our modern-day lexicon. It is meant to identify a spontaneous moment when an individual is positioned – by circumstances of every-day life – to learn an important lesson. In some ways, “teachable moments” are all around us, all the time. The problem is that we don’t clearly see them often enough.

One of the more recent – and more spectacular – teachable moments came to us long-distance (in fact, 293 million miles) when the Mars rover, Perseverance, touched down on the red planet. With ingenuity, discipline, perseverance and a commonality of purpose, NASA landed a man on the moon some 50 years ago, and now they trumped that accomplishment with a successful exploration of Mars! In fact, Perseverance will roam the red planet for the next 10 years, collecting samples, sending pictures and providing unlimited data back to scientists at NASA.

Did you see it live on TV? Of course, you didn’t. It was only on the NASA channel. Yet, half a century ago, the entire world sat glued to their televisions to watch Neil Armstrong take “one small step for man, one giant step for mankind.” Another teachable moment: “What have you done for me lately?” It is a shame, Americans did not have the chance to learn more about space travel to Mars, but that doesn’t mean we should stop striving for greatness.

Let’s take a look at Dunkin’ – a company founded on the principal of striving for greatness. After you check the boxes on great coffee and great snacks, you need great people. One of the main reasons Paul Brown, the CEO of Dunkin’s new parent, Inspire Brands, wanted to bring Dunkin’ into the family was the healthy relationship that existed between corporate and the franchise owners. Of course, it wasn’t always that way. The last time Dunkin’ was the property of a private equity group, it was pretty clear the owners’ interests were at cross-purposes with those of the franchisees. PE was looking to cut costs, drive their profits and ‘polish the sneaker’ so as to maximize their ROI in the short-term. The franchisees were looking to operate successful, long-term businesses and build equity for themselves and their families. So, it is troubling now – during this honeymoon period – to learn that some established franchisees are feeling a directional shift in their relationship with Dunkin’ and are concerned they may be marginalized.

It is our opinion that sweeping aside long-time, successful franchisees is not how to strive for greatness. In a business like Dunkin’, where the local franchise owner is the face of the brand, a corporation should be seeking people who have experience, understanding, perspective and commitment; that is how to achieve greatness. Like NASA, who relied on its engineers to make the improbable possible with a man on the moon and Perseverance on Mars, Inspire Brands ought to be learning from the men and women who’ve made Dunkin’ a powerhouse brand, worthy of an $11 billion investment.

Mr. Brown recognized that the meteoric rise in Dunkin’s value was the result of its people—of the healthy franchisor-franchisee relationship. Leveraging that strength is not as easy as it seems. Over the past decade, trust has fueled Dunkin’s growth. We’ve had a franchisor that is comfortable empowering its franchisees, giving them a seat at the table and a share of the riches. The relationship was strengthened by the skills and the expertise that each party brought to the partnership. The results were obvious. Today, we still look for signs that corporate trusts its franchisees and wants to continue investing in that relationship.

During the tumultuous summer of 2020, in the wake of the killing of George Floyd and the desecration of many national monuments, a statue dedicated to one of the great orators of 19th century America was torn from its pedestal. The irony in the destruction of the statue of Frederick Douglass, the abolitionist and statesman, is that he had spoken out about the inherent challenge in achieving one’s goals. “People might not get all they work for in this world,” he said, “but they must certainly work for all they get.”

Franchisees know what it means to work for whatever they get. Every one of our franchisees can recite at least one teachable moment that drove their growth. We can look to the sky to consider how NASA achieved greatness and we can hope that, as we look to the leadership at Inspire, we can see a shared vision, where the sky is the limit!

Ed Shanahan
DDIFO Executive Director