Name: Kim Gubera
Title: President & CEO
Company: Pirtek USA
Units: 500+ franchise locations in 23 countries
Years in franchising: 22
Years in current position: 3
Kim Gubera understands that as president and CEO of Pirtek USA, a brand with more than 500 franchise locations in 23 countries, she’s expected to lead, implement strategy, and keep a close eye on the company’s bottom line.
“My main role is Chief Motivator,” she says, “to keep our corporate employees and our franchisees working together with focus to achieve our shared goals.”
Gubera oversees the U.S. and Canadian operations of Pirtek USA, the hydraulic hose replacement and industrial hose repair service brand that offers onsite mobile and service centers. She is tasked with developing and delivering industrial services and solutions, making sure franchisees get the support they need – and, of course, driving growth and revenue for the brand.
Leadership has been a part of Gubera’s resume for more than two decades. Early in her career she was an accountant who worked her way up to director of finance at U.S. Lawns. In 2016, she joined Pirtek USA as corporate controller, giving her the opportunity to expand her responsibilities and knowledge outside the world of finance and accounting. Two years later, she was promoted to chief financial officer and in 2019 became president and CEO.
As fate would have it, she arrived at the top position just as Covid was about to release a once-in-a-hundred-years pandemic on the world. However, she says, this provided her with the opportunity to build even closer relationships with the brand’s franchisees. Communication became more focused, frequent, and motivational. “That continues to be our strategy today,” she says. “I believe we are much more intimately involved with our franchisees than we were before.”
As businesses continue to juggle Covid challenges and opportunities in early 2022, Gubera says Pirtek USA is optimistically looking to continue its growth, hoping to enter all 50 states and continuing to create happy, profitable franchisees.
What is your role as CEO? Most would say that the role is to develop strategy and oversee the performance of the company. Those things are correct. However, I would say my main role is “Chief Motivator.” It is my job to keep our corporate employees and our franchisees working together fervently and with specific focus to achieve our shared goals, which will result in our shared success!
How has Covid-19 affected the way you have led your brand? I would say the most noticeable strategy we changed was our communication with our franchise network and employees. In 2020, our communication became more focused, frequent, motivational, and virtual for all the obvious reasons. That continues to be our strategy today. Equally though, I believe we are much more intimately involved with our franchisees than we were before. After all we have endured and experienced together through the pandemic – money issues, illnesses, deaths, personal challenges, and concerns over employee hiring and retention – we developed a closer bond with our owners. Once you have shared these types of experiences with each other, there is greater trust and a deeper relationship. I focus on relationships more than I did pre-Covid.
Describe your leadership style. This is one of the most difficult questions to answer. I believe my style is a mixture of transformational, democratic, and servant, and probably somewhat situational.
What has inspired your leadership style? I have had the privilege of working with some phenomenal business people and outstanding role models. I want to emulate the best attributes of each one.
What is your biggest leadership challenge? To be honest, imposter syndrome.
How do you transmit your culture from your office to frontline employees? Repetition, but not through just an email or company meeting speech. I get out there and talk to them… reminding them of what our culture embodies and why we do what we do. We have focused on this a lot in the last few months, because with our exponential growth I do not want our culture to erode. Our culture is what has transformed our business over the last few years.
How can a CEO help their CMO develop and grow? We do not have a CMO. However, our senior brand manager is very experienced and self-sufficient. The primary way I attempt to “help” is by exposing her to other aspects of our business and to allow her to attend training courses and seminars to help her to stay relevant.
Where is the best place to prepare for leadership: an MBA school or OTJ? I have an MBA and it has helped me in some areas, but let’s face it, nothing is more effective than OTJ experience, especially if you couple that with mentors. I would have never made it to this point in my career without several key people who invested in me. At present I have two primary mentors. One is Glenn Duncan, Pirtek’s executive chairman, and the other is Ken Hutcheson, president of U.S. Lawns, where I worked before Pirtek. In my 16 years at U.S. Lawns, Ken taught me almost everything I know about franchising, and Glenn has taught me all about the Pirtek brand.
Are tough decisions best taken by one person? How do you make tough decisions? For tough decisions, I believe it is smart to consider multiple opinions. There is a proverb that says, “In the multitude of counselors, there is safety,” meaning that if you listen to many opinions you should be able to make the right decision. I really believe that. In addition, if possible, I like to give myself time to really think through the issue. I have become better at making quick decisions and then being ready to pivot if needed, because time is not always an option. And I have my mentors to call on if I really get stuck.
Do you want to be liked or respected? I really want both. However, I fully understand that being respected is more important.
Advice to CEO wannabes: (Not in any order.) 1) Pay attention to the soft skills. 2) Listen. 3) Stay relevant. 4) Surround yourself with a team who share your vision and level of passion. Then support them and help them become better leaders. I believe it is our responsibility to help those under our leadership become the best versions of themselves. 5) Be ready to give everything you have.
Next time: Part 2, Management, Operations, Personal, and Bottom Line