Planning for the future was the focus of the fourth annual FNB Franchise Leadership Summit supported by Franchising Plus.

Seldom has the future seemed as interesting, albeit unpredictable, than at the close of 2015. Yes, business and consumer confidence are at 16-year lows, but there are signs that the bottom has been reached. South Africa’s expected GDP growth for 2015 of just above 1% is, as FNB Chief Economist Sizwe Nxedlana noted, considerably better than many other major economies whose fortunes are similarly linked to China’s growth story. At the same time, the political and business worlds in South Africa are experiencing disruption from unexpected directions and on a scale seldom previously seen.

In this environment, one in which consumers more than ever are seeking value for money, companies are coming to realise that the only way to grow or even retain market share is through innovation. All the franchise systems profiled at the 2015 FNB Franchise Summit had defied tough economic conditions not by cutting costs alone, but by innovating their way to a healthy top line. Franchise opportunities abound, and that is why this year’s FNB Franchise Leadership Summit chose planning for the future as its focus. South African businesses, including franchisors, need to start planning now to capitalise on tomorrow’s opportunities.

Even the most rigorously disciplined franchisors remain hungry for new ideas, creating scope for franchisees to put their own imprint on their business. We were privileged to host some of South Africa’s leading franchise systems as well as experts in scenario planning for the future, drawn from the broader business community, to explore the factors that franchisors and franchisees alike need to be considering as they plan for growth.

A highlight of the day’s programme was the keynote address by McDonald’s South Africa CEO Greg Solomon. He project managed the first McDonald’s restaurant in South Africa exactly 20 years ago, and his theme was one of how a global culture of innovation at the group had enabled the company to grow for five consecutive years in one of the toughest economic environments seen since the Great Depression, and at a time when healthier eating habits were becoming the norm. One of his key messages was the importance of the franchisor keeping franchisees in their confidence through a culture of transparency and trust. He emphasised how the best innovations came from those at the rock face of the business – the franchisees and their staff.

Planning for an uncertain future was a golden thread throughout the FNB Franchise Leadership Summit, from how disruptive technologies (such as Uber) could blindside any business not prepared – and planning – for change. It was impossible to predict where change would come from.

In line with this theme, some highlights included:

Dion Chang’s theme, ‘The business of disruption: the ripple effect of game-changing technologies’, described a world in which on-demand goods and services would increasingly disrupt entire industries and how participants in the value chain of any industry needed to position themselves for nimbleness. He predicted three sectors – financial services, the auto industry and healthcare – where such disruption was imminent.

Author Max du Preez delivered his views on the political future of South Africa, one where after a period of turmoil the ANC’s hegemony was expected to end, resulting in a more democratic country – and more accountable government.

Tasha’s founder Natasha Sideris outlined the journey of her ‘anti-franchise franchise’ from one outlet in Rosebank to the Gulf’s Dubai, all the while doing everything contrary to most franchise systems. Innovation was built into the DNA of the brand.

The irreverent John Vlismas (Chief Disrupter, Whacked Special Project) challenged people’s thinking, advised them to stop blaming the president for all the country’s problems and learn to admit when they’re wrong.

A panel discussion on the topic of ‘convenience and fast food trends in Africa’, included: Joe Boyle (Commercial Director: FreshStop); Warren Adams (Head: FNB Global); Stephen Walters (founder and COO: Fernridge Consulting); Arnold Meyer (Director: Nera Capital); and De Wet Oosthuizen (Master Licensee Namibia: Famous Brands).

Finally, CEO of mall management company Pareto, Marius Muller, described what the shopping mall of the future would look like, with expanded food courts.

This is the fourth year that Franchising Plus has co-hosted the FNB Franchise Leadership Summit. It has grown to become the leading conference of the industry with insights from some of the industry’s top players, as well as networking opportunities with the most respected franchising systems in the country. With over 200 delegates attending, the dedication of industry stalwarts and FNB’s continued commitment to South African franchising, the FNB Franchise Leadership Summit is set to remain a fixture on the annual industry calendar.