New song: School of Rock replaces its boss with ex-Wawa executive

“Ch-ch-changes
There’s gonna have to be a different man”  — David Bowie

School of Rock, the suburban Los Angeles-based franchise for aspiring rockers, has long had ties to Philadelphia. Its current CEO and his predecessor were both Philly-area executives.

Rob Price, who will take the reins on July 6, was chief operating officer of Wawa, the expansive Delaware County-based convenience store chain with a cultlike following.

And Dzana Homan, whom he abruptly replaced at School of Rock amid complaints about her leadership, had been recruited from King of Prussia-based Goddard Schools, the private-school chain, in 2014.

Homan’s departure “to pursue other interests” was announced to franchisees in a letter last week from School of Rock chairman David Zucker. It was made public on Sean Kelly’s entertaining Lancaster County-based Website, Unhappy Franchisee, which has chronicled franchise owners’ criticism of Homan’s assertive management style.

SoR, founded in 1998, traces its roots to Paul Green’s School of Rock on Race Street in Center City, the subject of a 2005 Don Argott-Sheena M. Joyce documentary, Rock School. And it’s often assumed — though not acknowledged — to be inspiration for the 2003 Jack Black comedy movie, School of Rock.

Now owned by Chicago investment firm Sterling Partners, the school claims 185 franchises, mostly in North America, including in Center City and the suburbs.

Price holds an MBA from Harvard Business School, where he serves as an alumni board member. He left Wawa in 2006, and went on to work at drugstore giant CVS and most recently as CEO of Edible Arrangements, the fruit basket people. He was also a visiting Wharton professor. Price still claims “many warm memories from my Wawa days,” he emailed me. Working at “the Red Roof,” aka Wawa, Price says he learned “a brand is shaped primarily by what happens between the team members at each location and every guest.”

For Price, great brands are “a living thing fed by the bonds” between customers and company people, like you and the Wawa person who pours your morning coffee or builds your fast-food hoagie facsimile according to computer-aided instructions.

“The most enduring companies are anchored in purpose. Wawa stores are fanatical” about their customers, and School of Rock franchisees and corporate team members are like that, too, Price affirms, with “a burning passion to help students perform on the stage and in their lives.”

Burning passion, or something like it, was among the characteristics attributed, for better and worse, to Price’s School of Rock predecessor, Homan. After joining SoR, she was showcased in a sympathetic Q&A in Forbes and an adoring column in Cosmopolitan. But what made Homan good magazine copy as a CEO who had risen far from her war-refugee background didn’t help her last beyond three years atop the chain.

In his letter to franchisees, Zucker also called Price “a longtime fan of all music genres” who will work for franchisees “in support of rapid business growth.”