The largest Veteran-centric franchise trade show, The Great American Franchise Expo, is on at the Dulles Expo Center this weekend, September 17-18th. Veterans are always granted free admission. Veterans own 1 out of every 7 franchises in the U.S., according to a study conducted by the International Franchise Association (IFA), despite making up about 7 percent of the civilian adult population. It is a fact that those who serve in the military exemplify the best of America. The men and women who serve our country give selflessly of themselves so that we can live the American dream. From that group of heroes rise a very special group of men and women who have earned the right to lead those who defend our freedoms.
General Tony Tata, is a 1981 West Point graduate who completed graduate studies in international relations from The Catholic University of America and the School of Advanced Military Studies. He also served as a National Security Fellow at Harvard University’s JFK School of Government. He is passionate about the soldiers, sailors and airmen of the United States and what their transition plans are after they leave the service. He has become a significant proponent of franchising as a career for military veterans.
Franchisors know that veterans make for great franchisees for several reasons. Many of the factors that made veterans excel within the military environment make them ideal for franchisees. The world of franchising represents a marriage between the self-start world of entrepreneurship and the rigorous discipline needed to follow a set of instructions and execute on a proven plan. The ideal franchisee is someone who can take direction and work within guidelines provided by the franchisor, but who can also effectively lead a team and get things done.
The road to running a successful franchise involves having a long term plan and hewing close to the plan, even when there are bumps along the way – neither the franchisee nor military personnel can let minor setbacks get in the way of a longer-term goal. In addition, veterans know how to rely on a support network, which is essential for franchise success. As veterans have learned to trust and rely on their fellow personnel, franchisees must lean on franchisors, fellow franchisees, employees, and others to ensure progress in their franchise.
In addition to being suited to business leadership, military personnel are also often offered benefits or cost concessions as incentives to become franchisees. Many of these incentives are negotiated and run through the VetFran program (a great resource on franchising for veterans). Initially started during the Gulf War as the Veterans Transition Franchise Initiative, the program was relaunched after 9/11 as VetFran. Nearly 400 franchises participate in this program.
Offering ten percent off the franchise fee for veterans is a fairly common practice for participating franchisors. According to a survey by VetFran, the most popular franchises owned by veterans are Matco Tools, the UPS Store, Sports Clips, and Dunkin' Donuts. Although VetFran receives no government funding, it is officially endorsed by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs’ Center for Veterans Enterprise.
The SBA (Small Business Administration) also offers a number of resources for veterans on their site, including financing options, mentoring and training and plenty of educational materials. It’s also worth checking out their broader Office of Veterans Business Development for even more great resources. The SBA also provides a list of Veterans Business Outreach Centers, which are regional and can provide all sorts of useful training and counseling on small business and franchising for veterans.
These combinations of financial incentives are a great way for veterans to enter the franchise industry, where the skills and training they’ve gained through their experience in the military makes them uniquely qualified to run successful franchises.
I recently had the honor and privilege to talk with General Tata and learn about his background, his vision for the future and why it’s always a good idea to give back to our country.
After a lifetime of serving our country in an almost incomprehensibly vast number of roles, Brigadier General Anthony (Tony) Tata, Retired has become one of the most important thought leaders in military leadership, academia, local and national politics and business. A renaissance man of action and education, he has jumped out of airplanes, commanded troops in combat, built businesses, finds the time to surf and has written more than a dozen best selling novels. He truly exemplifies the best of America.
As Tata sets his sights on the world of franchising, his ability to unite teams and create a sense of mission which was cultivated early in his life through the examples set by his parents, will surely bring massive benefits to the franchise community. If there is a need for a hand to uplift, a mind for strategic guidance and an instinct for seeing over the horizon, it seems many have a “Tony Tata story” where he gave selflessly of himself, his time and his wisdom for his fellow American.
He served for 28 years in the United States Army, commanding a paratrooper battalion in the 82nd Airborne Division and an air assault brigade in the 101st Airborne Division. He served as the Deputy Commanding General of the 10th Mountain Division and Joint Task Force 76 in Afghanistan from 2006-2007. He also served as the deputy director of Joint Concept Development and Experimentation as well as the Joint IED Defeat Organization.
Most recently, he performed the duties of the Under Secretary of Defense for Policy from November 10, 2020, to January 15, 2021. Prior to assuming this position he was performing the duties of the Deputy Under Secretary of Defense for Policy.
Upon transitioning from the military, Mr. Tata served as the Chief Operating Officer of Washington, DC Public Schools, Superintendent of Wake County (Raleigh, NC) Public School System, and Secretary of Transportation of North Carolina.
His business background includes presidency of a defense start-up company and leadership of companies in the airborne collection, infrastructure, and oil and gas industries.
He is the recipient of the Army Distinguished Service Medal, Defense Superior Service Medal, Legion of Merit, Combat Action Badge, Afghanistan Campaign Medal, Kosovo Campaign Medal, and Ranger Tab.
To think of his many accomplishments, adventures and endeavors, you may think that Tata is getting ready to slow down and surf every day instead of 50 times a year. You would be wrong. He is just starting.
What has your journey been like? Where were you born? What is your family background?
I was born to two school teachers in Norfolk, Virginia. My parents were married 62 years and raised three children with athletics as a focus with my dad being a high school football coach.
How did you decide to go to West Point?
I was recruited to wrestle by the West Point wrestling coach after placing 4th in the Virginia state tournament. I wound up wrestling and playing JV baseball at the academy. West Point was a good choice for me because growing up in Virginia I was revolutionary and civil war history buff and enjoyed walking the grounds at Williamsburg, Jamestown, Yorktown, Manassas, New Market, and other battlefields.
What was that like?
West Point was a challenge every day. Academically I was unprepared for the rigorous curriculum and I’m thankful for my roommate Ed Fox who studied by teaching me. He is the reason I graduated.
What are some of the highlights of your military career?
Commanding an airborne battalion in the 82nd Airborne Division and air assault brigade in the 101st Airborne Division were two of my proudest achievements. Leading troops in Afghanistan, Kosovo, Panama, and Bosnia were also foundational moments in my career.
Who are some of the leaders you admire? Why?
I’ve always admired Lieutenant General James Gavin, the creator of the airborne force during World War II. He led by example by jumping into the big four combat zones in Sicily, Salerno, Normandy, and Holland. He remains the best example I’ve seen of leading from the front.
How did you get into public service?
My parents always taught me that making a difference in your community was the best way to serve. My father served 30 years as a delegate in the Virginia General Assembly and my mother served two terms as a Virginia Beach School Board member after a 41 year career as a teacher and counselor.
What were your roles?
Chief Operating Office, Washington, DC Public Schools
Superintendent of Wake County (Raleigh) Public School System
Secretary of Transportation, North Carolina DOT
Performed duties as Undersecretary of Defense for Policy, Department of Defense
How was the transition to your business career?
The transition has been great. All the skills you learn as a leader are transferable to business and other government service. There is a huge need for leadership experience and training in the private sector.
What businesses are you active in?
I’m a partner in a renewable energy company called Liv Energy
I’m a partner in a houseboat manufacturing and management company called USA Investco
I’m a partner in a cold storage supply chain company called Port of Wilmington Cold Storage
I’m the managing partner of a consulting company called Boundary Channel Partners
I’m the sole owner and CEO of Tata Leadership Group, a full service consulting company
I the bestselling author of 14 fiction novels and am writing two more for St. Martin’s Press these next two years
Are you still active in the veteran community? How and why is that so important?
I am and will always be. I’ve served on the boards of several nonprofits that serve the veteran community. My current endeavor is as an ambassador for Homes for Our Troops, a nonprofit that constructs and delivers homes to our most severely wounded service men and women.
What are the similarities between leadership in the military, government and in business?
It’s all about vision, drive, and execution. Some people are good at the tactical execution. Others are good at the big picture. Leadership is about being good at both and having the energy to propel the organization forward to accomplish the mission whether it’s selling a product or taking a hill.
How would you handle an unforeseen obstacle or a situation that affects your bottom-line….or the lives of your team?
I’ve always believed in leading from the edge of your organization, meaning, understanding first hand what the issue is at the point of the issue. If troops in the foxhole need ammo, I’m visiting the foxhole to make sure they have what they need. If a sales team is having a rough time making their numbers, I’m sitting down with them and some of their prospective clients. Listen, learn and lead.
What can you share about effective communication?
Listening is key. Processing and paraphrasing is next most important. It’s important to make sure you understand the problem. By repeating it to the person in you own words, sometimes they clarify and help crystallize the problem and solution.
How would you describe your management style?
Before anyone else made it popular, I listened, learned, and led. In 2011 when I came into lead Wake County Public Schools, that was my intro chart to my team: listen, learn, and lead.
How do you boost staff morale and keep people engaged?
Lead by engaging my team. Personal involvement is contagious. Leaders that sit in their office are boring. Know your stakeholders and engage them constantly.
What do you look for in an employee? What behaviors and performance levels do you expect of an ideal employee?
Traits: Motivated, self starters, principled, loyal, integrity, and determined.
I expect employees to understand their subject matter better than me and to take the initiative
Tell me about a time when you and your team faced challenging odds. How did you keep them engaged and motivated to overcome the situation and succeed?
In the Korengal Valley my helicopter got shot up by Taliban machine gun fire. We landed in the basecamp of the Korengal Outpost. The firefight was raging and the company commander had a general in his basecamp to worry about plus my entourage of security detail, a few staff members and a Blackhawk with an engine on fire. The last thing he needed to worry about was me. I followed his direction to move to the bunkered command post and did as I was asked by the captain (stay out of the way while he commanded) while also calling back to Bagram airbase and ordering some air power, which arrived quickly. Lesson learned? Know when to be in charge and what your role is in the organization and don’t let your ego get in front of what’s best for the mission and the team.
Describe a time where you had to create change in a company or organization. What steps did you take? How did you create alignment? What was the outcome?
In 1996 a white supremacist shot and killed two African American civilians in Fayetteville, NC outside Fort Bragg. It was a rite of passage murder to get indoctrinated into the skinhead gang. I was serving in Bosnia at the time and received a call from the commanding general that I was going to take command of this organization and lead it back to being combat ready. The unit had 22 practicing skinheads serving in it, an inspector general report discovered. The company commander was relieved, and the white supremacists were discharged while the murderer was convicted and sentenced. Meanwhile, I redeployed from Bosnia and then joined the unit on a mission in Panama where I took command. Their morale was low as was their trust in one another. I developed and implemented a physical training program intended to break them individually and rebuild them as a cohesive unit. Leading by example and running, lifting, foot marching, and training with them focused them on everything they had in common as opposed to their differences and the pain the community had suffered and the embarrassment the unit endured through the shameful actions of these soldiers and extreme lack of leadership.
What support do you think is necessary from a company for a team to be successful in its mission?
Leadership is all about resourcing and setting teams up for success. Understanding the needs, providing the resources whether they be training, funding, equipment, personnel, or other critical items are the keys to setting up an entity for success. Then active management, which doesn’t mean micromanagement, but visible and present leadership, engaged and interested in ensuring your investment of time and resources parlays into positive returns and an excellent culture.
VETERANS & ENTREPRENEURS
What is your hope for our country?
I hope that we can unify and move past the deep divides we presently have. Social media in particular has created a toxic environment in our nation.
Why do Veterans make great leaders and team members in companies?
Veterans are typically mission focused and hard workers. They understand that with sacrifice comes reward.
Why should entrepreneurs get active and support our veteran community?
Entrepreneurs will see their profits grow and cultures improve if they increase their exposure to the veteran community
If someone reading this is thinking about public service whether it is the military or becoming active in local politics, what advice would you give them?
As my mother told me, you can’t go wrong trying to make a difference.
What do you do for fun?
I write fiction novels, have surfed on five continents and try to surf 50 times a year, play golf, and have a large extended network of friends and family that I enjoy spending time with.
What are you most excited about for the future?
The enormous business opportunities in front of us and a chance to create thousands of jobs to employ hard working folks, many veterans and veteran spouses, to improve their lives and provide them hope for their futures.
Tony, thank you for your service to our country, the many communities that you are a part of and for your steadfast commitment to fulfilling the promise of a better tomorrow to everyone in The United States of America.