More than a quarter of a century ago, Allen E. Fishman retired to Denver, Colorado, after successfully growing and selling a series of increasingly large businesses. Allen always recognized the advice and support he had received from the boards and non-executive directors in these companies.
When most men would be settling into early retirement, Allen began dreaming about a way to bring this same advice and support to smaller privately owned businesses.
He envisioned a company that would help leaders bring about a new, positive culture in their businesses, embracing opportunities and challenges with energy and a thirst for learning.
This company would be different. Not just another management consultancy. And it would be based on 3 core principles.
Firstly, it would need to make a real difference and truly add value, in a way that business leaders could experience and quantify.
Secondly, he wanted this advice to be based on real world experience from a diverse range of perspectives. From personal experience he knew that businesses learn best from other businesses, not from management theory. And that once business owners are brought together they truly want to see each other succeed, and its this that could create a positive learning space, open to change and motivated by the experience rather than feeling ‘beaten up’ by the process.
And finally his belief is grounded upon the foundation that business owners need to identify and clarify their personal vision first. Then build a business which delivers this for them. Put simply, he wanted to help business leaders to first identify their vision for success and then provide tools, coaching, advice and support to empower them to focus relentlessly and enthusiastically on delivery.
Allen acted on his dream and established one board of 8, non-competing business owners. It was a board with a difference, and it became – The Alternative Board.
The concept quickly caught the attention of the business community and grew over the next 18 years to became the USA’s leading advisory board company.
Meanwhile in another part of the world…
All this was happening 4,500 miles away and though I had no idea, Allen’s dream was just what I needed.
At this time I was pursuing a once in a lifetime opportunity and loving it. Building a fast growing business in a new and emerging sector. When we reached 50 people I was learning more about business than ever before. The challenges were coming thick and fast. I tried out every bit of business theory I had ever been taught. I made mistakes but it didn’t seem to hold us back. The hours were long, but being part of a great team, with a vision and purpose was exhilarating.
But it wasn’t balanced and I lost track of some of the things that mattered most. A divorce came and a long rebuilding process began.
When our business bubble burst, we were unprepared and tentative in some of the tough decisions we needed to make.
Around me and around us as a leadership team during those difficult times was a lack of real honest grounded advice. Though we paid hefty fees for advisers somehow they never got to the heart of our business challenges. And never in a million years would anyone have asked me about my personal vision, or ‘was the business delivering the life I most wanted’.
In the end we down sized and split into three units, one continuing and two merging with other companies. And again I learnt a huge amount. I completed by MBA and coaching qualifications and worked as a consultant and small business owner with some successes.
That brings me to two years ago, at the Head Office of The Alternative Board in Harrogate.
Paul Dickinson, CEO of the The Alternative Board (UK) showed me a picture of a bicycle and everything changed.
He explained that the back wheel is the business. “its where all the energy and commitment of the business leader goes, to drive the bike forward. But what’s most important, and what comes first for The Alternative Board, is the front wheel, the business owners personal vision. This must set the business direction, just like the front wheel steers the bike.
Our job at The Alternative Board is to help a business leader, build a business which delivers their personal vision.”
And I understood for the first time what I had needed and what I had missed out on by not knowing The Alternative Board existed.
I started running TAB Boards in Ilkley and Bradford and now own The Alternative Board (Bradford West). I can’t imagine doing anything else.
I have the real pleasure of working with Nick Howcroft who has been delivering TAB boards for 7 years now. Together we work with local business leaders across the Bradford, Aire Valley, Skipton and Ilkley areas. And as part of a world-wide community, with 32 coach / facilitators in the UK, I’m still learning.
With our passion for learning and coaching, and working with people to help them achieve what they want from their business and their life, our members are getting tremendous value from being part of The Alternative Board.
Most importantly these benefits include tangible business results, real clarity about strategy but are balanced by our focus on developing and achieving their personal vision’s.
It’s a hugely fulfilling role for me personally. And I know that Allen is rightly proud of how his dream has unfolded around the world, and changed many lives. Mine being just one of them.