The Fixer: Getting professional thieves out of Trouble

January 6, 2009

fixtweedProfessional criminals have always relied on  The Fixer.

He is someone of high political, economic and career influence who solves a professional thief’s problem for a fee.

Secrecy and deceit are required because of the extra-legal nature of some of the work.

A historical example of The Fixer would be  William M. (Boss Tweed) Tweed of Tammany Hall. [see above]. Tammany Hall, likened often to a machine, ruled the City of New York from 1790 to to the 1960s.

People wonder why franchisors, franchise bankers, sales agents, the franchise bar, etc. can get away with [almost] bloody murder. A study of history of professional thievery can provide some hints:

The professional thief generally has a record in the Bureau of Identification as long as your arm, but after most of the cases “dismissed” or “no disposition” is entered. This is due to the thief’s ability to fix cases.

In order to send a thief to the penitentiary, it is necessary to have the co-operation of the victim, witnesses, police, bailiffs, clerks, grand jury, jury, prosecutor, judge, and perhaps others. A weak link in this chain can practically always be found, and any of the links can be broken if you have pressure enough. there is no one who cannot be influenced if you go at it right and have sufficient backing, financially and politically.  p. 82

Professionals within franchising make more money by fixing problems (sabotaging valid claims) than they do by solving them (reducing opportunism). It’s that simple: Less money is deducted from the theft when you fix a case, even after paying The Fixer’s fee. It is very easy for a franchise legal expert to lie to complaining investor [Credence good cheaters]. The lawyer knows that he is not under any legal duty to tell the truth until a solicitor-client relationship is created. And the proof is in the pudding: In 10 years, I know of no franchisee-lead case that would be considered a success by the investors themselves.

The fixer acquires his position with professional thieves by service. He tries to maintain a batting average of one thousand. Not all of them can do this, but their record is so good that the thief feels secure if a regular fixer is on the case. [Blonger, the Denver fixer for confidence men, had the reputation of not having one man sent to prison in twenty years under his protection.] p. 88

Modern franchising runs on political and economic influence. Our Australian friends are simply the latest who have been wised to that reality. Again, from the past:

Fixing is a mixture of finance and politics. It is primarily a financial transaction, bought and paid for by everyone concerned. But it is made possible by politics and often involves political favors as well…For the thief, fixing is almost always a financial transaction…from the point of view of coppers, clerks, and bailiffs, fixing is primarily a financial transaction…The prosecutor and judge are probably handled with more finesse.  p. 98-9

I have already used a tree as an analogy for Big Franchising (vast weight of organism is below ground: iceberg). Modern franchising has a visible and invisible nature (Overworld :: Underworld):

From the point of view of the fixer, also, this is a financial transaction. One fixer said to a thief: “Everything I get is bought and paid for, just as you pay me. No one gets any political or other favors.” The fixer can operate only if he has the consent and good will of those who are politically powerful. he may get a start on the basis of old friendships, but he can keep his position as fixer only if he kicks in. He must turn over to the political barons the larger part of what he gets from the thief, and his standing is determined by his reliability in dealing with them. p. 100

Thieves of nominally independent corporations (ie. franchisors, lenders, sales agents, legal, supply, etc.) would NEVER act with such arrogance if it were not for The Fixer’s protection racket. The weakest link is always the franchisee who 99% of the time goes away thinking they had a one-off bad luck with a cartoon-character type of franchisor thief. They are satisfied to receive 10% of their own money back and remain in silence via shame and contract. Professional franchising practitioners are, however, experienced and shrewd students of human nature.

No thief ever expects to have the bad luck to run into a case that cannot be fixed in some manner. This conclusion is not formed because of he thief’s conceit but because of his knowledge of the weaknesses and limitations of the average citizen and public official. p. 106

National franchisor associations act as a forum for coordinating Overground and Underground activities. The Fixer usually enjoys a very influential role such as Chief Counsel or Chairman of the franchisor controlled association. The Fixer is a lawyer because solicitor-client privilege harbours his clients’ extralegal activities. Politicians who are very often lawyers, know their political career is short and are not foolish enough to destroy their future legal earnings by crossing a mandarin partner of the some of the most influential and aggressive internationally-based, multi-line law firms.

It is sometimes believed that he fixer is the general boss of the thieves. This is an error. The function of the fixer is to get thieves out of trouble, not to control them. He often gives some advice to out-of-town professionals, after agreeing to take care of them. p. 107

The Fixer runs a monopoly on the most lucrative and industry-challenging cases [national, well-funded franchisees group or class-actions) while allowing the tactical fixing to happen to Tier 2 law firms who are seen as franchise experts within the franchise bar. The Fixer operates a protection racket that has the appearance of a law practice.

There is in every large city a regular fixer for professional thieves. He has no agents and does not solicit and seldom takes any case except that of a professional thief, just as they seldom go to anyone except him. The centralized and monopolistic system of fixing for professional thieves is found in practically all the large cities and many of the small ones. p. 87

Source: — The Professional Thief, Chapter 4: The Fix, The University of Chicago, 1937 [my emphasis]

I am at a serious disadvantage when discussing the subterranean nature of franchising. I am not a member of that brotherhood and have only caught glimpses of behavior that has piqued my interests over the years.

  • Professional thieves and modern franchise executives function in a similar way, in so much as they are primarily profit-making activities that need to manage risks and returns, under stealth.

They are highly energetic, charming, some exceptionally well-educated people who hold 2 conflicting ideas in their heads: They know they prey upon society but also want not to be an enemy of the state (which as profiting from crime, they surely are).

  • This internal, unresolved conflict (cognitive dissonance) accounts for their bullying, arrogant, irritable, defensive and plain mean behavior. They can’t ever quite buy their acceptance into respectable society.

They:

  1. possess highly migratory and portable special skills (especially persuasion, and communication),
  2. rely primarily on on-the-job training (often passed down from father to son, mentorship, tutelage),
  3. are highly congenial and supportive of other professional thieves (including competing trademarks, are compelled to warn and bail out even those they personally dislike),
  4. steal in a full time, planned and methodical manner,
  5. converse privately in a highly-specialized language (argot: legalese, mumbo-jumbo)
  6. achieve recognition for competence from other peers (who you know is important),
  7. operate in a very rigidly adhered to code of behavior, and [above all else]

8. particularly loathe anyone that (a) would inform “squeal,” or “squawk” and/or (b) has yet to lose their integrity.

They inhabit a modern version of The Waste Land or purgatory. Their only defense is confusion and attempting to degrade those impertinent enough to hold up a mirror to their face.

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Franchise bankers are Always there for you (whoever you are)

December 23, 2008

friendIn August I wrote a post called Why Australia will get a McLaw.

WA Today ran a story this week by Chalpat Sonti called Franchising inquiry slammed as golden opportunity missed.

Perth-based Narelle Walter, a former franchisee who claims that an induced breach of contract left her out of pocket by $5 million, said the committee did not go far enough:

“Franchise renewals have not been addressed properly and I am distressed that the apportion of good will has not been determined,” she said.

“Franchisors can misuse this loophole in the franchising code and the (Trade Practices Act) to steal the assets of small business investors (through a process known as “churning”, when the franchise is on-sold by the franchisor to someone else).”

Interesting that Ms. Walter draws specific reference to franchise bankers co-operating closely with franchisors:

There was still a big incentive for banks to support the franchisor in the churning process, because they would rewrite loans with an [newer] “unsuspecting” franchisee, she said.

These allegations echo others, especially MP Jo Gash in my September post called Collusion allegation: AUS bank and franchisor.

I wrote about the very cozy franchise banker :: franchisor relationship in a paper to Industry Canada in 2005 called  Franchising Opportunism. It is also a good summary of how the Canadian and Australian franchise industry really works.

  • Feel free to download a pdf copy of Franchising Opportunism right here.

With friends like these bankers, investors do not need any enemies.


Solicitor-client relationship: When does it start?

December 23, 2008

looselips1Congratulations.

You’re just finished your initial meeting with a franchise lawyer. You chose the baddest ass, most franchisee-friendly sob you could find. He was “kind” enough to give you 30 minutes of his time and you told him your whole story. The great man asked a few questions (actually a fair number about your net worth) but alas…unless you can rally another 9 other losers: Too bad, so sad; you’re shit out of luck.

Great bed side manner…regret to inform how weak the law is…best to put this all behind you (my most favouritest thought-terminating cliche).

You’ve just shot your mouth off to an industry insider that may very well use that information against your best interests. What?

I’ll explain with a real-life example.

1. Seven distributors walk into the most “pre-eminent” CDN franchisee lawyer’s office and tell him their story. His response: No case here go bankrupt. No if ands or buts: Do not pass Go…

2. The Group of Seven wants a second opinion. They call to me, I meet the group at their home and talk to a then-independent 2nd lawyer (just new into franchisiing but quite keen). We conclude: Excellent case. U.S. franchisor was too lazy to give disclosure documents after the Arthur Wishart Act (Franchise Disclosure) was passed in 2000. These are franchisees not distributors and therefore they can rescind their contract, dissolve their relationship and get their money back. Easy peasy.

  1. One set of case facts PLUS
  2. one Ontario law EQUALS
  3. 2 irreconcilably, diametrically opposed legal opinions?

How is this possible? Simple it has to do with duty and the timing of when a solicitor/client relationship is formed.

Fiduciary Duty: I am not a lawyer and the Upper Canada Law Society website wasn’t much help so here is a definition from the Canadian Encyclopedia.

The legal system recognizes a multitude of special relationships in which one party is required to look after the best interests of the other in an exemplary manner. These relationships, which include solicitor/client, physician/patient, priest/parishioner, parent/child, partner/partner, director/corporation and principle/agent, are called fiduciary relationships.

Fiduciary relationships entail trust and confidence and require that fiduciaries act honestly, in good faith, and strictly in the best interests of the beneficiaries of such relationships.

Solicitor/client Relationship: This relationship ONLY starts when you formally enter into a contract for legal services. The signs are when you cut the cheque for a retainer, sign an agreement, etc.

Anything that you say to a lawyer before you are his client (when you or the relationship is consummated) does not have this legal protection (ie. the information you provide can, and in franchising is, be used against your interests).

This is how an internationally known franchise lawyer can give you knowingly false advice at the first meeting:

There is no legal duty for him to do so because the solicitor/client relationship has NOT been created yet (before contract for legal services started).

But why turn away work? The franchisees were steered away from defending themselves because there were (and still are) literally hundreds of franchise systems in Ontario that are ignoring the Wishart Act. These are called accidental or unintentional franchises (true franchisors who don’t want to bother with some stupid provincial law) .

The first lawyer knew that by exposing the Group of Seven’s franchisor  in public (ie. in Superior Court) he would be very unpopular at the next franchisor-only national trade association golf tournament. (Please don’t tell anyone but this is why this organization [ie.] has an Ombudsman program [ie.]: To have you come in and be convinced you have no case. Skim off the biggest floaters. That’s why the banks are the biggest sponsors based on the theory that they have the most damaging facts to conceal, like, Predatory franchise lending.)

  • It would be bad form for the franchise law expert to showing the other 32,000 Ontario lawyers (the unwashed masses: 99.9% of the province’s lawyers who are not in the cabal) where the juicy billable hours are.
  • Let alone the risk of dozens of copy cat lawsuits against franchisors, banks, sales agents, lawyers, etc.
  • And the inconvenient lawsuit against the franchisor’s lawyer for contempt of a provincial law that he is, as an Officer of the Cour, duty-bound to respect (should have dropped his masquerading client if they refused to self-identify accurately).
  • This would not do when the franchise bar pays so lucratively when run as a credence good monopoly (see Winand Emons, Credence Goods: The Monopoly Case).

hermanngoeringWhen you hear these words together: You should use an expert franchise lawyer

…you should “reach for your gun

(Hermann Goering’s advice when you hear the word culture).

Yes you should trust your lawyer. But you should qualify him or her first. Trust but verify is a very good idea.

Since being a lawyer means having to survive in business to practice another day, you should determine where the vast bulk of his future earnings are coming from (franchisee, franchisor or non-franchised commercial law).

  • Based strictly on economics (95% of legal services paid for by franchisors and friends and credence good cheaters who are run as a monopoly), a franchise expert lawyer should be the last person a franchisee talks to.

I always say talk to a 60-year old regional commercial lawyer with his name on the building. Anyone else is more than likely to torpedo your perfectly watertight case.


Don’t pay your Royalty fees: Pay mine instead.

December 10, 2008

boypee

Whenever you hear your lawyer say those words, you should:

  1. stand up,
  2. clear your throat and say in a clear, proud and noble voice
  3. (when he questions you why you are urinating in his ear):
  • “Les Stewart told me to do this.”

His brain is on fire because of the bill collector: You’re doing him a great service.

What you are doing is technically illegal but is entirely justified. Chances are you’ll never be brought forward on account of the reporting policeman’s laughter.

If he sues you, God doesn’t have enough bandwidth to handle how quickly his Statement of Claim .pdf would be sent around the legal world’s  community.

  1. Lawyers are the most incestuous, unhappy, vain, catty group of individuals on the face of the earth.
  2. The franchise bar? Same times gazillions.

Your advocate is a liar, a scoundrel, is counseling not a criminal act but is intentionally sabotaging your claim and has breached their fiduciary duty.

  • Reporting his conduct to appropriate Law Society (in Ontario that would be the Law Society of Upper Canada: what they lack in ethics they make up in in officious naming exercises). It won’t make you any money but the resulting website’ll send a message will be reward enough.
  • btw: This is the same union that maintains that sleeping with clients is not an ethical issue. The physical as opposed to the economic act being differentiated here, I suppose.

Pawn Store example: A little birdy told me about a group of pawn store franchisee that were spun this con by their “brand name” Toronto franchise lawyer. Because the franchisees didn’t bother to call me 1st, they followed his advice.

When entirely reasonable claim surfaced at Trial, the Ontario Justice  just exploded: At the franchisees.

  • The Justice did not look at the cause of breach (based in time, space: the relationship).
  • He simply saw franchising as a spot-trade type contract (complete) and saw one side’s blatant breach (franchisees’ not paying) and that was enough to get the case off the docket.

Every sentient lawyer knows that franchisees have to vestal virgins (pay every cent, cross every “t”) as soon as a dispute become serious, even though the franchisor is the worst whore imaginable. Breach a technicality and your cheap knock-off Charles Manson franchisor is out on unsupervised day parole at Discovery Day.

This goes to the heart of the difference between:

  • a Court of Justice (which most franchisees think they are in) and
  • a Court of Laws (where the Justice can use any pretense to get clear the docket.)

I have a good deal of sympathy for judges: The law has never been appropriate for the sorting out of franchise disputes. It is only used as a mechanism for filtering out disputes (ie. franchisees “settle” because of their impending bankruptcy). I think a simple paper-rock-scissor contest, best out of three would be preferable. Instead of the unprofessional fees, hookers and Vegas. Marginally less demeaning then listening to your own lawyer threaten you for the next payment, but that is for another day.

If you know of any lawyer that’s running this con by saying: Pay me instead of your franchisor

  • let me know too.
  • I collect these stories and I promise not to tell anyone.
  • Honest.

Note: If you receive a set of ear muffs as an office gift…


Undue Influence: The Case of the AUS Professor

October 20, 2008

Publicly funded institutions can become co-opted or captured by special interests.

Some university faculties have a better or worse reputation for pandering to special interests when compared to other disciplines. Business schools are not well respected by other faculties for their independence of thought.

I’ve seen it at my old school and confirmed it in other universities as well.

The Greeks defined 3 modes of persuasion:

  • logos (reliance on facts and figures: can be true or false),
  • ethos (authority, honesty of speaker, morality), and
  • pathos (appeal to emotions, sense of injustice, outrage).

Franchisees appear in front of public hearings and rely almost entirely on the rhetorical device of an appeal to justice: “It’s not fair that they did this and that.” Policy makers listen and judge its “truthiness“.

  • Generally, their narratives are concrete, visceral and credible.

Big Franchising responds if they have any remaining credibility, directly with at times shaky logos and ethos.

1. Consider the following article in Australia’s SmartCompany: Survey reveals drop in franchising disputes as franchising inquiry continues.

It says:

A new survey of Australia’s $130 billion franchise sector has shown disputes between franchisees and franchisors have declined, with just 2% of Australia’s franchisees classified as being in dispute.

Let’s stop there and list the persuasive assumptions that this single sentence relies upon:

  • survey: a scientific, logical, rational, independently verifiable academic study that is reviewed by other academics [did it appear in a refereed academic journal? no],
  • $130 billion sector: size matters: infers that big = successful, growth is good [uses social proof, is a huge credit crisis and run-away cancer growth good?],
  • declining number of disputes: situation is getting better [what is a dispute? how many have abandoned? is the mean dispute big or small?],
  • just 2% of franchisees in disputes: tiny problems, inconsequential, minuscule [can use anchoring to deceive].

This opening sentence is strictly a blatant misrepresentation, lacking in any connection to formal logic or any verifiable measure. The “just 2%” is a hallmark give away as to lack of any journalistic standards or any pretense of editorial oversight. Shame on SmartCompany but why is a university named?

If the 2008 Report is similar in method to the 2006 Report, it may be junk science: bought and paid for by its funders, the Franchise Council of Australia. Franchisor-controlled associations are well-known for blocking any changes to a statute, regulations and public regulatory body mandate.

You decide.

2. Next, let’s take a look at more detail into the role of the Griffith University. See the FCA’s media release: THE POWER OF ONE STRONG SECTOR REVEALED IN POSITIVE RESEARCH FINDINGS

Authority is clearly defined as another Weapon of Influence by social psychologist Robert Cialdini that can be applied to universities. They can be used to give the impression of academically rigorous research when really the work is simply a consultant’s report.

  • I don’t begrudge business admin profs or their peers earning the vast majority of their income from consulting to one or the other industry.
  • What I wonder is whether it is appropriate for an academic to overstates their conclusions (either intentionally or unintentionally) during a time of national lawmaking?

    You decide if Professor Powell has exercised undue influence or abused his duty:

    “The continued growth and maturation of Australian franchising is impressive, particularly considering the current economic outlook, a recent change of government, and a franchising sector that has faced close government scrutiny” said Professor Michael Powell. Pro-Vice Chancellor (Business), Griffith Business School.

    Did Professor Powell interfere with the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Corporations and Financial Services’s Inquiry into the Franchising Code of Conduct? I checked the 140 written submissions and didn’t see his name.

  • The test could be: Did he know or would he be reasonably been expected to know that his publicly funded authority could be used used to influence [inappropriately interfere?] with the operation of a  parliamentary committee?
    1. True scholastic work is published in refereed professionally-recognized journals to ensure high quality (an editor and reviewing peers, correct methodology, usually a very, very narrow scope, transparent auditing, meets ethical and conflict of interests standards, vetted before publishing, etc.). There is a whole series of checks and balances to weed out biases [innocent and not so innocent].
    2. Consulting work, no matter how many PhDs are piled up, has none of these centuries-old safeguards in place.
    • Blurring these lines is not fair, especially during a time of a fairly controversial public lawmaking process.

    Academic research is a credence good and as we have seen, is susceptible to cheating because “Joe Public” cannot determine if it is the appropriate quality or quantity.

    I have read enough articles and progressed far enough in a good school to seriously question the validity and reliability of this work. I imagine any academic that values their reputation would not rely or quote this report in their submission to the Joint Committee.

    Unfortunately, some scholars are more closely attuned to serving dominant commercial objectives rather than the pursuit of reality-based truth (as opposed to power-based truth) as is their duty as a tenured academic.

    My qualifications only go so far to speak on behalf of academic rigour and the arguments not made [eg. sunk costs as the primary and unique source of franchisor opportunism] in the current Australian public hearing.

    If a second opinion were to be sought, I believe Gillian K. Hadfield might be an appropriate candidate. pdf CV


    Credit bureaus: How about a Market Memory for Franchising?

    September 23, 2008

    This is a good book for several reasons.

    One of them is the history it provides of the company that we see today as Dun & Bradstreet. It’s motto is Decide with Confidence and they one of the first companies to be in the information game.

    Lewis Tappan (1788 – 1873) started the Mercantile Agency in 1841 and was the first modern credit bureau. In effect, Tappan established a national bureau of standards for judging individual winners and losers.

    By 1857, Tappan was able to find and appraise the creditworthiness of a single businessperson within a population of 29 million 7 days of a request. The system managed identity on a case by case basis, while doing a volume business which is a unbelievable task.

    The marketplace was disciplined through surveillance and it now had a memory. New business relationships could be started without as much fear of default.

    Tappan was able to do this by a network of independent agents, often local lawyers, insiders and/or postmasters. By 1846, Tappan had 679 local informants; by 1851, his network had reached 2,000.

    The marketplace now had a memory, an archive for permanent records of entire careers. Each page looked more like a series of stories than a column of statistics. Individual cases spanned decades, while accumulating updates chronicled a subject’s beginning, middle, and end. When did he start, and where? What has he achieved? What happens next?

    Tappan meant to create an intelligence agency that would reward men of integrity and punish rash lenders and crooked borrowers.

    This is the type of service that is very much needed by those looking to invest in a franchise.

    • Unfortunately, potential franchisees in the class of people that are least likely to be willing to voluntarily support such a network. They do not know what they do not know (they are both unskilled and unaware of their lack of skills).

    Governments have a legitimate role in regulating the quality of market transactions as the unfolding worldwide depression will prove (again). Without the supporting information framework to reward good and punish bad franchise behavior, the industry will continue to die.

    They could do this by:

    • create a franchisee and franchisor national registry system (just tombstone information run by  an independent company),
    • limiting and registering confidentiality agreements (only for very rare “trade secrets”),
    • broadly defining what a franchise is,
    • making every franchise agreement contingent on both sides having independent legal advice (including spouses),
    • establishing a reverse onus on good faith (ie. when challenged, the franchisor is obliged to prove that they had not acted in bad faith; a much more realistic approach than defining what is “bad” faith), and
    • requiring lenders to support a private service that rates franchisor’ reputations.

    Accidental franchises: Sue franchisor and their lawyer

    September 21, 2008

    When a franchisor and their lawyers pretends that a franchise is a license or distributorship, sometimes they end up shooting themselves in the foot.

    An interesting article on FranchiseChat.com this week demonstrates how an Accidental franchise happens. And the consequences can be very profound.

    Kevin Tampone of The Central New York Business Journal (Make & Take, franchisees battle in court) starts off pretty hum-drum [Gosh, not another franchise misrepresentation case?]

    It warms up substantially when Michael Einbinder’s name is dropped as he is a very heavy-duty lawyer.

    Okay…These guys are very good. What next? So it seems the allegations are that the franchisor lied and failed to make a legal franchise offering: No disclosure documents were given and…

    State law, he says, forbids companies from making such earnings claims unless they’re contained in a specific document, called a uniform franchise offering circular. Make & Take did not provide the franchisees with that document before actually selling them franchises, Einbinder says.

    …the system was not registered to offer franchises in New York state (although there was a legal requirement to do so). The U.S. law defines a franchise very, very broadly and intentionally so, as to stop this weasel marketing efforts.

    This is why the franchisor’s lawyers are being sued:

    The firm helped Make & Take circumvent state requirements by creating licensing agreements for the company, the suit charges. The actions were part of a “schemeto sell franchises in violation of the law, according to the suit.

    While none of these allegations are proven, this is good example of an Accidental franchise (sometimes called hidden, inadvertant or unintentional franchises).

    • Accidental franchises are disguised as distributorships or licenses so as to avoid state and federal legal requirement and obligations [read: consumer protection laws].

    There is, of course, seldom nothing accidental or unintentional about these situations. These are all grown-up gentlemen and lady lawyers who have a duty to their client and their Courts not to be engaged in a conspiracy to commit fraud against specific investors and the good people of New York state.

    And the old “ignorance of the law” chestnut applies to everyone, right? Even lawyers in limited liability corporations, right?

    • With the operating losses in the $2-million for each of the three plaintiffs, you’d wonder why the lending institutions were not named in the lawsuit because they should have not released any funds without having on file the appropriate client paperwork [releasing the funds would have breached their lending duty]
    • Statements of Claim can always be amended, I suppose but…
    • Richard Solomon explains how proving predatory franchise lending is so tough.

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