Larisa Walega was named vice chair of the International Franchise Association’s Women’s Franchise Committee in February, which she describes as “literally one of the honors so far in my career.”
Walega, who is vice president of marketing at car care franchise Ziebart, admitted she was blown away when Robin Gagnon, co-founder of We Sell Restaurants and chair of the committee, asked her to be a leader.
“I joined this committee for a specific purpose; it was just to surround myself with very positive, driven women,” said Walega, who became involved with WFC about five years ago.
“It’s such a wonderful committee. We are dedicated to the idea of inspiring and encouraging women in franchising with a number of different networks and sub-committees, but it is about building their success in franchising.
Based in Michigan, Ziebart has about 400 locations, only 84 of which are in the United States. The chain specializes in automotive aftermarket services, including auto detailing, paint protection, window tinting and exterior body rust protection. The company made $180 million in systemwide sales in 2021, an increase of 5.9% from the previous year, according to data from the Franchise Times Top 400.
Walega attributes this growth in part to being deemed an “essential business” during the pandemic, and also to the broader change “within the automotive sector recently of not being able to get new vehicles, which means that people are keeping their vehicles longer and are more interested in the appearance and protection of their vehicles,” she said.
Walega is the only woman on Ziebart’s management team, which is pretty typical in the male-dominated industry. Although women make up nearly half of the U.S. workforce, they make up just 26.1% of the automotive workforce in 2020, according to Catalyst, a fact that Walega says is “slowly changing. “.
Walega enjoys being part of the WFC not only for the camaraderie, but also for the opportunity to “look at a different angle sometimes,” she said.
“Whenever I look at myself, whether from an individual or professional perspective, I always assess myself,” Walega noted. “Where are there opportunities to complement me? What am I not sure that I could learn more about or add diversity to the group of people I consider my network and close peer group to make me even more complete? »
In her new role as Vice President, Walega will help increase the participation of WFC’s two dozen local chapters called Women’s Franchise Network.
“It’s really important to me,” she said. “We want to bring these big conversations to the local level to keep everyone involved, franchisors, franchisees and suppliers alike.”
Walega is also involved in the new Women in Franchising Club on the Clubhouse app, which meets every Wednesday at noon EST to discuss everything from labor and operations to development and leadership and is open to women passionate about franchising, regardless of the IFA. member status.
“For us, it comes down to relevant content. How can we empower future women leaders in franchising and keep them engaged, motivated, and just helping them succeed like the committee did for us? said Walega.
Walega is a mom to twin girls in high school, so she attends their track and field and volleyball games and choir recitals in her spare time. “I try to be the best possible role model for them, showing them that hard work and dedication pays off,” Walega added. “I already see that in both of them.”
Find out how Walega will help female franchise leaders in her new role in the June/July issue of Franchise Times.