INSPIRED IMPACT™ features purpose-driven leaders and social entrepreneurs who are making a meaningful impact in their communities, industries, and around the world.
TELL US, WHO ARE YOU AND WHAT DO YOU DO?
My name is Jason Zickerman and I’m the president and chief executive officer of The Alternative Board, or as others may know it, TAB Boards International. We put together peer advisory boards of non-competing, privately held business owners, who use those boards as boards of directors for each of their individual companies.
Business owners who sit on these boards meet monthly and present challenges and opportunities that they are experiencing within their business and the other successful business owners who are sitting at the table share their ideas, thoughts, and perspective to help each other make better decisions and fewer mistakes with regard to the issues their peers present.
Many people ask, “How would a bunch of different business owners who are not in the same industry be able to be helpful?” The reality is that 75% to 80% of all businesses are exactly the same – it’s only 20% to 25% of what we do that makes us unique from each other. Sitting with different business owners from completely different industries allows them to get input on so many common experiences, but also challenges them to get out of the “industry think” and see their businesses through a whole different lens.
Each board is facilitated by a very experienced facilitator coach, who also meets privately with each business owner once a month for a one-on-one coaching session. In these sessions, we help them focus on their priorities, bring a level of accountability to the business owner, and coach them through any issues they may have.
We sell the concept as a franchise model to very seasoned, experienced business people who create these boards in their markets around the world – we currently have TAB boards in 21 countries.
HOW DID YOU GET HERE?
I’m the CEO and have been with The Alternative Board for 20 years, but I’m not the founder. TAB was founded by a gentleman named Allen Fishman who today still serves as our executive chairman. Back in the day, Allen lived in the St. Louis market and was asked to take over a struggling electronics firm that went into receivership with the hopes that Allen might be able to help them work them out of it. Long story short, Allen was very successful. Not only did he take them out of the trouble they were in, but he also helped build that business into a very successful company that ultimately went public.
After taking the company public, Allen retired. Only briefly though because he hated it, he failed retirement. But during his brief retirement, he spent time thinking about what the “X factor” was for him. What was it that really allowed him to move that company forward and then ultimately allow him to live out his personal vision of success for himself and his family?
He realized it was the idea that he had outside advice and guidance from people who were not beholden to him. To which he said, “What if I could take that same concept and turn that into an affordable model for privately held business owners? Would that help those business owners achieve their own vision of success?” So he started The Alternative Board back in 1990 and here we are just about to celebrate our 30th anniversary in 21 countries and with thousands of members around the world. It’s been very, very successful and we’re making a difference around the world.
WHAT DO YOU STAND FOR? WHY IS THIS WORK IMPORTANT TO YOU?
The ripple effect of the work we do is amazing. The privately held business owners of small to medium-sized businesses are the engine of any economy. Turn on the news and you hear what the stock market’s doing and whatnot, but anybody will tell you that the engine of any economy, the engine of any community is the privately held business owner. They’re the ones who are doing the great majority of the employment and creating that economy.
What we stand for and the difference we’re making in the world is for the privately held business owner and within the local economy and local communities. We’re helping business owners achieve their vision, which helps their family; but it doesn’t just help them, it goes much deeper to affect their employees and their families. I think that’s the energizing part of what we do.
WHAT IMPACT ARE YOU MAKING?
Our impact around the world is actually pretty significant. We have thousands of business owners around the world helping other business owners move their business forward in a strategic fashion and achieve whatever their personal vision of success is.
I think that the impact is pretty universal. We’re making a difference in people’s lives – and not just the business owners’ lives, but in all the lives connected to the business from employees, partners, vendors, and beyond. That’s pretty massive. Wherever I am around the world, I’m often hearing, “Thank God for TAB, it changed my whole business.” The employees say, “I thank God for TAB, it’s made our organization so much better. There’s more stability.” That is the impact.
From a more micro viewpoint, what we do changes the business owner’s whole experience in terms of running and leading a business and turns it into an incredible journey. Where many of us who are running businesses could find it to be overwhelming, super stressful, and all of that, what we do helps to change their experience altogether.
That’s not kumbaya though. I don’t take lightly the fact that I have a team that depends on me and this business for their livelihoods. I’m helping people and their families and their kids go to college and whatnot. That makes a difference. If you look at what we’re doing right now around the world, we’re impacting more than 70,000 employees and their families in the 21 countries we operate.
If that’s not impact, if that’s not reach, if that’s not helping, I don’t know what it is.
WHAT (OR WHO) INSPIRES YOU TO DO THIS WORK?
It’s the privately held business owner. We at The Alternative Board find that privately held business owners are some of the most interesting people in the world. Why is that? Because they had a vision. They had a vision, they had a dream, they took a risk and they went for it. When you’re with people like that, you see amazing things happen.
By surrounding yourself with privately held business owners, you’re typically surrounding yourself with very optimistic people. Optimism is contagious, ambition is contagious. When you’re seeing people go for it and they have a purpose for themselves, and they’re able to share that purpose, that’s a lot of energy to put into our emotional tanks.
Furthermore, I’m inspired by the people who are leading our franchises. These are people who want to change and help people. By the very nature of what we do, the people we surround ourselves with are people who are caring, kind, empathetic, and driven.
WHAT’S YOUR VISION, YOUR BIG DREAM FOR THE IMPACT YOU WANT TO MAKE?
We want to keep growing. Our ultimate vision is that we are in every capitalistic country that supports forward-thinking, entrepreneurial business owners. Because when we do that, we make a difference in people’s lives and in communities, and that’s the legacy that we want to create because that was Allen Fishman’s dream, a dream which has become very much my own.
As we grow, our focus is not just on the members who join us, but the franchisees who do as well. When you speak to these folks, they’ll tell you they’ve never done anything more enjoyable. To give somebody a purpose-driven livelihood, where they feel they’re making a difference and real human connections, is invaluable.
WHAT CHALLENGES ARE YOU FACING?
The world is getting busier and information is getting crazier and one of our central challenges is continuing to help business owners find the time and appreciate that spending time on their business is mission-critical for them to really grow it to where they want to be.
WHAT’S ONE THING YOU WANT PEOPLE TO KNOW ABOUT THE WORK YOU’RE DOING?
That for the privately held business owner, the single most important thing they could probably do in this crazy world where so many things are coming at them, is to move their business forward in a strategic way by joining a peer board. It addresses so many of the issues and questions so many of us who own businesses could be overwhelmed with. Because it’s a stressful journey.
And that by being more mindful, more thoughtful, and more strategic and leveraging the experiences and wisdom of a peer board can make that journey infinitely more enjoyable and ultimately more successful which allows them to not only achieve the personal vision for themselves but the larger vision of impact they want to have in the world and in the communities in which they work.
DO YOU HAVE A FAVORITE QUOTE OR WORDS OF INSPIRATION TO SHARE?
There’s an anonymous African proverb that I’ve always found to be very appropriate to what we do: “If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.” That really summarizes the peer boards, and how people generously share their experiences and wisdom to help others think through and solve their issues and move forward, together.
HOW CAN OTHERS SUPPORT YOU OR YOUR CAUSE?
They can encourage people to find an audience that shares their principles and values. Promote the idea of being on a peer board. It doesn’t have to be TAB, but for business owners, the most important thing they could be doing is be with other forward-thinking peers to help them make better decisions, to support them, and who understand what their mindset is like during challenging times. If you want to support the cause, you can share the wisdom that being with other like-minded folks in business is incredibly invaluable.
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