A second bite of the cherry

Pam Bader was married at 16 and had her first child at 18. By the time her offspring had grown up and flown the nest, a unique opportunity to grow and run a franchise presented itself - and Bader grabbed it with both hands

A second bite of the cherry

In some ways, Pam Bader was an early bloomer. She married and had a family at a young age. Having dated a boy for a number of months, they were encouraged to marry by both sets of parents when they were just 16. “My parents were petrified of unmarried mothers,” says Bader. “There’s no stigma now, but years ago that was a mortal sin.”

Though she was young, Bader took her vows seriously. “I did think it was for life and that it would be all wonderful. It really wasn’t, but at the time I was very happy with what I was doing,” she recalls.”

From 16 until she was 18, Bader had worked as a nanny. After taking some time out to bear the children – she had two in quick succession – she had a plethora of jobs that fitted around childcare. “When you were working back then you had to have jobs that worked around the childcare, there was no such thing as flexible working. So we’d do all sorts of things to earn money: like dishing up school meals, working in hotels, catering. And when the summer holidays came, we’d have to give up work because somebody had to look after the kids.”

Bader’s career played second fiddle to family life until her mid-30s when she began to think again about how she might earn a crust. “When I got to 35 or 36 my children were grown and opportunities began to come my way. Life is like this: opportunities open up for you and you have to move into them. I started off running a restaurant for somebody else, I had my own boutique and my second husband had a building company so I got involved in admin and running a small company,” she says. “It was all about life qualifications.””

But it was only after her second marriage ended that there was a substantive upswing in Bader’s fortunes. “I was on my own and a mutual friend said, ‘I’ve got somebody I’d like you to meet’, and introduced me to a guy called Malcolm Tall, who’d just purchased the master franchise licence for Molly Maid, which provides a cleaning service, in the UK.”

As they embarked upon a romantic relationship, straight off the bat, Tall asked Bader if she’d like to run the franchise that he’d purchased in 1983. “I got involved when he’d had the pilot scheme running for a while. He just said: ‘would you be interested in part-time running this small company I’ve just bought?’ I didn’t have a clue about franchising at that point but I looked at Molly Maid and I said, ‘that sounds lovely’.” Bader’s formative months were spent absorbing all she could about the franchising industry – as well as the company itself – and she headed to Molly Maid HQ in Canada to train.”

Once she felt she was fully up to speed, the search for franchisees began in earnest. In those days, the 1980s, the business was marketed as a part-time business opportunity and a second income earner that could fit around taking care of a family. As a result, many of the first franchisees were women. “I’m still friends with our first franchisee. It was a lady called Pat Bryant from Essex who worked as a franchise owner for ten years and then came to work here as a business advisor for ten years. In franchising you build friendships with franchise owners you’ve known for many years.””

Bader said that she frequently had to persuade women that they were up to the job. “I would meet women and they’d say to me: ‘do you really think I can do this? I’m only a housewife.’ And I’d say to them, ‘only a housewife? You’ve brought up kids, run a home, managed money. Of course you can run this franchise.'”

But women with fundamental confidence issues were often reassured by a tried-and-tested franchise model, says Bader. “Molly Maid is a business format franchise: you follow the format, listen to the advice and you’ll be successful. That’s the way it operates – our franchise owners will tell you that.”

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<p>As the business develops and becomes successful, this can give women an improved sense of confidence and self-esteem – amongst all age groups. Bader gives the example of a 60-year-old former franchisee. “The reason she wanted the business was because her husband had swapped her in for a younger model – and she was furious. He had always said he wanted to run her business and she wanted to get her own back: she wanted to prove to him that she could start a business, run it and be successful,” explains Bader. “She developed a very successful franchise business, she had six cars operating and then when she was 65 she sold it. All she wanted to do it for was to show him she could do it because she felt worthless. Women come into business for all different reasons.””</p>
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<p>As the franchise has grown, it has attracted more male franchise owners as well as male colleagues at Molly Maid HQ. The company’s president is a man, as is its general manager. But this isn’t symptomatic of a sea change in franchising at large, says Bader. “I’m the only woman chairman of the bfa [British Franchising Association] in all of those years. There’s lots women in franchising now; do none of them really want to go for this? We should be there, visible. It took me ten years to be chair but it’s got to be easier now. I think women have to look at these opportunities and go for them.”</p>
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<p>Bader has certainly gone for it with all guns blazing herself. Under her stewardship, the company has expanded exponentially, with 70 franchises, 850 staff and £16m turnover. She says she owes much of her success to Tall – not only did he purchase the master franchise, but he was a mentor too. “Malcolm was wonderful. He let me get on with it. I think that’s why our relationship was so good: he allowed me the freedom to develop as a person. I was middle-aged when I came into Molly Maid and he allowed me to do all the things I wanted to do and to try things out in the business.”</p>
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<p>Sadly, Malcolm Tall passed away in 2000. It was a horrific period for Bader: she lost her mother, father and her partner in the space of 14 months. “It’s running the business that keeps you going,” she says. “I just threw myself into the company and worked my way through it. But the loss of somebody doesn’t ever get easier. I think it actually gets worse as time goes on because it is a big void in your life. Although I have my family and I’ve got lovely grandchildren, that sense of loss remains.”</p>
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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Hannah Prevett
Hannah Prevett
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