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Pearl Akomas is originally from Nigeria. She joined Oxford Brookes in January 2014 and her thesis title is ‘An Evaluation of Relational Control in International Franchise Networks in Emerging Markets’.
I heard about Oxford Brookes University through a friend who was studying in the UK when I began making enquiries about undertaking a PhD research programme in the UK.
I had studied all my life within my country and so applying for admission into a PhD research programme outside of Nigeria was something where I needed advice from a friend who not only studied but also resided in the UK. I emailed my friend asking him to advise me on recommended universities in the UK within the field of Hospitality Management. My friend replied and gave me the web links of over seven universities in the UK. I then started my enquiries and what made me stick with Brookes was the prompt and clear information I received which I needed to kick off the application processes and proposals.
I was teaching at a higher institution in Nigeria, where I had the opportunity to access funding to undertake my PhD research.
Settling into the research environment was not so easy for me because I was trying to adjust to an environment that is different from what I was used to. However I must say that the support I received from my supervisory team and some of my colleagues made the settling process quite manageable.
My research evaluates relational control in international franchise networks in emerging markets. It aims to investigate the development of relational control in international franchise networks within the hospitality sector. Business format franchising is an arrangement in which an independent franchisee, who is typically a small business owner, licenses an entire way of doing business under a brand name from a franchisor (the business format owner) for a fee. The franchisor sells not just the trade name but the processes and methods of operation of the business, which implies that an on-going interaction has to be in place for the franchisor to ensure that his business format is upheld to reflect the image it stands for. Franchisees must adhere to the franchisor blueprint in order to maintain the brand image and uniformity across the franchise network. The franchisee, who takes advantage of the franchisor’s successful business blueprint, pays on-going royalties to the franchisor in addition to the initial fee. The franchisor on the other hand assists the franchisee by providing the business know-how, training, marketing and continual support. The franchise agreement involves a principal-agent relationship in which the franchisor (principal) depends on the franchisee (agent) to undertake the responsibility of maintaining his brand standards on his behalf.
Franchising is recognised as a hybrid business form that places the franchisee somewhere between being an employee, subject to monitoring and control by the franchisor, and an entrepreneur with a desire for some degree of autonomy. Franchisees generate new business ideas but the problem with them exploring their ingenuity lies with controlling their behaviour in order to maintain brand uniformity. The franchisor strives to control the franchisee in order to protect a successful brand from distortion. The franchisee on the other hand desires to adapt the business format to suit local market conditions. This generates the standardisation-adaptation tension in a typical franchise system. The issue of control becomes more complex with the existence of cultural and geographical distance between franchise partners. How then can the standardisation–adaptation tension between international franchisors and franchisees who operate dispersedly at multiple sites be resolved? The control challenges encountered by international franchisors bring to light the significance of relational control of a franchise system. Relational control refers to self-enforcing agreements between firms based on acceptable social norms that emerge from interpersonal or inter-group interactions motivated by expected value of future relationship.
Previous researchers who examined relationships in franchise networks recognise that the quality of relationship develops over time as trust, mutual commitment and relational norms develop and facilitate flexibility within franchise networks. There has only been limited research which has tried to investigate relational control in franchise systems across national borders. Particularly there is the need to investigate relational control in new emerging markets. Franchising in emerging markets presents unique challenges due to political instability, lack of franchising legislations, regulatory uncertainty, corruption and undeveloped infrastructure, lack of supporting industries and availability of supplies. These challenges increase the risk and cost of doing business and are important components of the uncontrollable environment of international franchising. These conditions reinforce the importance of control for international franchisors, particularly relational control. Against this backdrop my research seeks to make a contribution for relevant stakeholders to understand, refine and improve the relational control in international franchise systems. It will also contribute to knowledge by developing an understanding of how geographically and culturally distanced franchise relationships develop.
The geographical context of my study: Nigeria is a franchise market which, though in an infancy stage, is considered by analysts as having a potential market value worth over a hundred billion US dollars in annual revenue from products and services. This economically attractive scenario, however, is not without the daunting challenges indicated above. There is, therefore, clearly a huge risk in entering emerging markets like Nigeria. This risky situation calls for the use of franchising arrangements with strong local partners with local know-how as a huge asset to the franchisor.
My interest in my research is informed by my observations of the business environment in Nigeria as well as the literature gap regarding relational control in international franchise networks in emerging markets. Industry estimates and market reports (e.g. reports of international organisations such as International Finance Corporation(IFC) of the World Bank Group) shows that small, medium and large enterprises constitute about 87%, 9% and 4% of businesses in Nigeria respectively (The West Africa-USA Business Opportunity Forum, 2014). A key success factor and biggest challenge facing Nigerian business enterprises particularly small-to-medium ones is the lack of basic understanding and commitment to business process-management. This singular and critical factor accounts for more than 80% of business failure in Nigeria (The West Africa-USA Business Opportunity Forum, 2014). This challenge drives my passion to enquire on how relational control may be applied in international franchise networks in Nigeria and ultimately contribute towards achieving better business-process management and sustainability.
Being a research student has afforded me the opportunity to invest my time in extensive studies aimed at addressing the problem in my research area. This being the fourth year of my research, I am writing up on my findings and discussions from my field work and I’m beginning to feel a sense of excitement at my findings. I am looking forward to contributing to knowledge in my area of study soon.
The opportunity of studying for a PhD comes with the challenge of solitary hours of study on a daily basis. I try to overcome this challenge by taking breaks to chat with my colleagues. We share ideas about our various research topics and definitely find each other’s comments about a particular research issue helpful. I also enjoy meeting up with my South East Nigerian Igbo community in Oxford (Oxford Igbo Union) where I assist in teaching the children Igbo language during their monthly meetings. Attending meetings with my Christian community in Marston Neighbourhood Church is also part of my strategy that enables me to take a break from my research study in order to come back to it later with a fresh mind. But honestly, some other times, I just keep pushing myself.
I think the research training offered at Oxford Brookes has been very helpful in terms of developing my research skills and enabling me go through the various stages of my research and ultimately facing the daunting task of writing up my thesis.
Some of the training is not just helpful for the present task of completing a PhD but goes a long way to prepare you for the future. I found the media training particularly resourceful as it equipped me with skills for effectively communicating knowledge about my research to a non-specialised media. I can also make mention of the career training that taught me to think in broader terms about my career. These are just a few examples of the wide range of training provided by Brookes to ensure both academic and career progress for now and the future.
Before taking on the PhD programme, I was teaching. After the programme I aim to return to teaching and researching with more enhanced skill. I look forward to spending an exciting and rewarding time researching, discovering and disseminating new knowledge through publications and presentations at conferences.