Chris Lim: Grand franchising ambitions

Philippine Franchise Association (PFA) president for 2022 and 2023, Chris Lim, knows he has big shoes to fill. He shares more about his upcoming plans, and what it's like to be the head of an association that was started by his father and other industry pioneers 27 years ago

Please chart the growth of the PFA since its inception.
My father was one of the founders, along with Jose Pardo, Bing Limjoco and Vicente Paterno. Most of them were part of the Philippine Retailers Association (PRA). They decided to create a sub-segment, which is the Philippine Franchise Association (PFA), when global studies showed that franchising was the next big thing in the Philippines.

We were probably one of the smallest franchise markets back then. But the market has grown to about 2,000 brands now, making the Philippines the seventh-largest franchise market in the world. The franchise industry contributes 7.8 per cent to the Philippine gross domestic product (GDP) and employs, directly and indirectly, over two million people.

Now, we are the pioneering franchise association, the largest in the country and globally recognised. We have over 300 franchisor company members representing 800 brands, where half of our members are small- and medium-sized enterprises. PFA is also a member of the World Franchise Council (WFC) which recognises only one association per country. It was voted the secretariat of the Asia Pacific Franchise Confederation (APFC).

Could you explain what CFE (Certified Franchise Executive), appended after your name, means?
I’m officially a CFE. That’s like CPA (Certified Public Accountant) in accounting. This is given by the International Franchise Association in the US, which has authorised PFA to offer the Certified Franchise Executive (CFE) Programme. It takes three to four years to become a CFE in the Philippines.

That’s something that PFA has been investing heavily in for over a decade, as part of talent building. That’s why the Philippines has the highest number of CFEs outside the US.

A total of 212 CFEs have graduated in the Philippines, although some hail from countries such as Malaysia and Thailand. We have another 100 or so participants currently undergoing the course.

What is it like to have big shoes to fill, given that your father, Samie Lim, is known as the father of Philippine franchising?
All the leaders of PFA are tough acts to follow. These mentors are some of the brightest minds in the industry, and together they represent some of the biggest brands in the Philippines. The PFA is highly respected internationally thanks to them.

My father always taught us that we have to honour the past. One way is by giving awards and by telling their stories. I honour the past by building on their successes.

I like a quote (by Isaac Newton): “If I have seen further (than anyone), it is by standing on the shoulder of giants.” As the current PFA president, I am not trying to reinvent the wheel; but I am trying to stand on my predecessor’s shoulders and plan for the next steps.

Initially, the founders had their hands full in getting the association up and running. Now that the industry is more mature, I am on the lookout for the next generation of leaders. As of now, I’m already thinking of who can be the next president and the next chairman. This is the way we continue to move forward.

Is your father still active in the industry?
An entrepreneur, he’s always involved. He is currently the chairman emeritus of the PFA, and he continues to provide insights and inputs in terms of broad strategies and directions, especially when it comes to matters that involve the WFC and APFC.

Does PFA allow franchisees to be members?
Not yet, but this is something we are looking into. We have started to lay the groundwork for this by starting the Franchisees Summit in 2021 and 2022 where we get top global speakers to share their experiences with franchisees.

We are also looking at the next generation of franchisees. While only franchisors are allowed to join PFA, we want to make sure we can inspire the next generation to do franchising correctly. Although they are not yet eligible to be members, we want to engage them the same way we are engaging franchisees and entrepreneurs.

It seems that the franchise industry is not regulated. Could you share more about the association’s code of ethics?
We are self-regulatory, and everyone has to abide by the global Fair Franchising Standards. If there are complaints, they come to the PFA and we connect the complainant directly to the franchisor, which is typically the owner.

I believe the industry – at least among our members – many issues arise due to miscommunication, not out of malice or deceit. We help to open the communication lines with the franchisor and let them settle it. If it’s can’t be settled amicably, we then call a meeting between the two parties.

This is another thing we’re working on this year – the creation of a formal arbitration or mediation committee. If both parties cannot come to an agreement, the issue can be referred to official mediators instead of it reaching the courts. The mediator doesn’t have to be in the association but we want to shortlist some who have good knowledge of the industry.

How do Filipino franchise brands fare abroad?
One of the key things I want to do is to promote more Filipino franchise brands globally. We’re already quite strong in the Philippines but when you mention a Filipino global franchise brand, there are only a few – Jollibee, Potato Corner, and Max’s. These are strong brands which are under-represented globally.

To achieve that, we have to grow our members locally and internationally, enhance their knowledge through more training programmes which focus on both international expansion and new markets, as well as advocate for the industry as a whole. Currently, we get very little financial support from the government.

How was 2022 like, and what are your plans for the association this year?
The year 2022 was when we implemented new programmes after two years of the pandemic.

Aside from the yearly Franchise Asia expo in Manila, we conducted a seminar on how to franchise a business for 150 pax in Cebu and for 140 pax in Davao. We also held our first-ever expo at Xavier School, where a number of Chinese-Filipino business owners previously studied.

We continue to run webinars on Thursdays once a month or every other month, not just for owners and their staff, but also for their franchisees.

We also restructured the organisation to take on more projects to involve other members. We have 15 board members and a strong secretariat, but we have another 280 members whom we are encouraging to participate in our more than 20 available committees.

Overall, the industry is doing really well and a lot of brands, especially food brands, are doing better as compared to pre-pandemic. We have also seen a lot of demand in purchasing franchises, while investors wanting to franchise their businesses.

In 2023, I plan to build on and strengthen those programmes that we established last year. My focus is also on membership numbers. We added 24 new members in 2022 and I want to double that.