(Fastsigns CEO Catherine Monson is the fifth successful female executive to be profiled in our series highlighting women in business.)
She started working in her family's pre-school business (at one time they had three) as a kid in California, at first helping her dad with janitorial duties, but gradually taking over office tasks as well. She was so involved in the business that as a high school student she ran the business for two weeks while her parents were in the hospital for different reasons.
Monson, now 55, says the experience not only gave her a strong work ethic but a solid understanding from there. Her roots were formed."I knew by high school that I wanted to lead a company," Monson writes in an email. "At the time, my goal was to be president of Exxon (now Exxon Mobil (XOM)), only because it was one of the biggest companies I knew of." >>>BrightStar Care's Shelly Sun: From Frustrated Consumer to CEO >>>Janska's Erickson Breaks Mold for Older Entrepreneurs >>>How One Woman Broke Into the Auto Supply Industry >>>Style Me Pretty's Larson: Women Business Leaders Monson took over the chief executive position at Fastsigns in December 2008. At the time, she says, one of the biggest issues for the 25-year-old company was a lack of communication between corporate headquarters and franchisees. Franchisees were furious and felt they weren't receiving the support they needed, which led to a lack of company growth, she says. Same-store sales dropped and franchise locations were closing. Monson immediately created a sales-incentive program, instituted monthly company meetings for sales updates, program developments, company announcements and praise for departments on their projects and efforts; and monthly "Connect with Catherine" calls with the franchise system to provide updates and answer questions, among other things. Since implementing the programs, the franchisee satisfaction has improved and the company's growth has picked up, she notes. Monson is an avid equestrian and says she's willing to try anything once, including skydiving, for instance. Like her good friend BrightStar Care's Shelly Sun, Monson also serves on the board of the International Franchise Association, the franchise industry's main trade group. A conversation with Monson follows.