The Passing of a Mentor

Last week one of my mentors, friends and collaborators passed away. Rupert Barkoff was also an avid reader and constructive critic of my Tips, so I am going to devote this one to him.

In 2004 I decided it was time to enter the USA market and attended my first International Franchise Association Convention. It was a little overwhelming as I barely knew any of the nearly 3,000 attendees. At the opening networking function, I decided to seek out someone who seemed as lost as I felt, and spotted a guy in the distance standing alone nibbling on a chicken wing. I weaved my way through the crowd and put out my hand. “Hi I’m Greg.”

He gave me a considered look and shook my hand. “You wouldn’t by chance be Greg Nathan?” I was dumbfounded as I am sure he hadn’t seen my name tag. “It’s the Aussie accent — I’ve been following your work and was hoping to meet you one day — I’m Rupert”, he responded with a smile.

It turned out Rupert and I shared a deep interest in fairness in franchising, and strategies that promote greater collaboration between franchisors and franchisees. We talked for hours that evening about Franchise Advisory Councils, Franchisee Associations, mediation and the causes of disputes. Rupert was particularly fascinated by the research we were conducting on the psychology of the franchise relationship.

Later that year Rupert took a punt on me and organised a full day Profitable Partnerships seminar in Atlanta for 90 franchisors. The event was sponsored by his firm, Kilpatrick Stockton, and the Wachovia Corporation. The Wachovia guy opened the session telling everyone how pleased his team of 5,000 financial representatives were to be sponsors. At this point Rupert leaned over to me with a wry smile and whispered, “Don’t mess this up.” He then stood up to introduce himself and also said how delighted his firm, who had a team of 500 attorneys, was to be a sponsor.

Now it was my turn. I stood up and told the audience how happy I was to be their presenter, and that my company had a team of... ummm... five... including me. Thankfully, the audience appreciated my honesty, and so began my love affair with the USA franchising sector. This event turned out to be the turning point for our entry into the USA, with many of the attendees becoming long term clients and supporters of our work.

Over the next few years Rupert kindly helped to organise speaking engagements at several American Bar Association Forums on Franchising. One of the things my wife and I noticed at these events, and during his many visits to Australia, was the number of people in whom he took an interest and who regarded him as a mentor. He was especially kind to my mother and would talk to her for hours. As part of his trips to Australia, Rupert regularly contributed to franchising events organised by FRI, Bond University, Griffith University, and the Franchise Council of Australia. For 15 years, he also put on an elaborate annual dinner for Australian delegates at the IFA Convention. Sadly, this year was the first time he was not in attendance because of ill health.

In 2012, Rupert and I organised a colloquium titled, A Fresh Look at Franchise Regulation in the United States. Rupert had a dream of bringing together a hand picked team of the top legal people across the US, representing franchisor and franchisee perspectives, to explore how franchising regulation could be made more efficient and effective. We spent months planning this event, with some help from another of my mentors, Dr Bob Dick, and he subsequently invited 25 of the best and brightest legal minds from the major franchising law firms, plus two leading franchise consultants, a State regulator, and a franchise academic. Prior to the colloquium everyone had to submit a paper addressing the question: If I were the King, or Queen, and not subject to any political or economic restraints, what should franchise regulation look like? The day was a great success with everyone participating in vigorous, open-minded discussion. Rupert confided in me afterwards that seeing a bunch of attorneys and advisers from different firms with such different perspectives, all listening to each other in such a constructive manner, had been a high point of his career.

Since Rupert’s passing there has been an outpouring of comments from people he has inspired and helped. In Australia his legal insights and contributions have been a constant source of value, so much so that in 2017 he was presented with the Annual Outstanding Contribution to Franchising Award by the Franchise Council of Australia. Rupert was indeed an adopted Aussie.

As well as being an original thinker and writer, Rupert shared a quirky sense of humour with me and my wife, Ann. On his first visit to our home in Queensland, Rupert was sitting quietly sipping on a Pepsi when our golden retriever, Moshe, bounded into the room and started barking furiously at him. Concerned, Ann, came over to investigate. Rupert and I looked at the dog, and then at Ann, and shrugged that we didn’t know what Moshe was so excited about. “Oh he is just having a Barkoff with you Rupert” quipped Ann!

 

Progress in any field is built on the shoulders of others, and Rupert’s immense legacy to the global franchising sector will always be appreciated by the many people he touched. To finish, here’s a two minute clip I found of Rupert sharing his views on franchise leadership in his inimitable thoughtful style.

 


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