A True Option

This is the board for those who can’t.
It appears genius in concept for small business owners and heads of firms who may not be able to establish boards of their own.
The Alternative Board, 5314 S. Yale Ave., Ste. 400, strips away the hours of preparation, the presentations and the personal agendas associated with corporate boards.
What is left is pure interaction among business peers who get to know each other at a level that allows challenge and banter. And ideas.
Plus, as a nationwide franchise, it gives members access to facilitators and other business leaders in a network of a “hundred some odd” boards across the nation, said Tulsa facilitator and franchise owner J. Chris White.
“TAB brings business owners and executives into contact with peers in a way that immediately allows them to improve their management and grow their business. Through hands-on executive coaching services and proven small business consulting efforts you’ll learn how to dramatically improve your business’s potential,” the franchise Web site says.
White formed the first TAB boards in Tulsa in 1994 when he brought the franchise to the city under his Corporate Performance Group LLC.
One board even includes a Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Award winner.
Terry May, president of Tulsa-based Mesa Products, Inc., won the award for 2006. The award, administered by the U.S. National Institute of Standards and Technology, is one of the most coveted business awards and is usually presented by a president or vice president of the U.S.
All members are owners, founders, CEOs or presidents of their own firms.
What does a TAB board membership offer that a corporate board of directors or advisory board doesn’t?
“The candor. The openness. The lack of an agenda,” said White.
At a recent TAB meeting, board members were eager to share their thoughts:
Mark Ables, Selco Custom Time Corp: “We used to have a group of guys that we brought in periodically, every six months. It took a lot of planning on our part. It turned out be somewhat of a presentation, and we would get some feedback, but the guys didn’t really know us that well.
“This is scheduled. It happens. Because we have been together a while and meet monthly, we get to know each other, and you get to know their tendencies and their problems. That continuity really helps.”
Terry May, Mesa Products Inc.: “We don’t have a board of directors for my business, and I am going to take a guess that most small businesses probably don’t have an active board of directors. They probably tend to be dominated by family members, if it’s a family business.
“There’s no time for that, and as Mark said, if you try to assemble an outside group of people objectively then you wind up trying to impress them in a presentation as opposed to getting real input and feedback from them. With that kind of general background for most small businesses, there is really is no other place for an owner, president or founder to have a sounding board.
“(A TAB board) becomes more like a support group than anything else. It’s not like these guys know my business thoroughly enough to give me direct advice on day-to-day decisions, yet I can come in and present information about my business and they will challenge it and make me think about the direction that we are going and maybe even change the direction that we are going, based on the questions they asked and the challenges they made.
“Sometimes even this group can come up with a pretty good idea that I can take back and directly use. It’s like stealing their great idea and going back and putting it into play, and it makes an immediate difference. That’s happened to me numerous times.
“It’s not serious. I don’t prepare for this. If I have a burning issue, I’ll think about it in advance, but it’s not like I am going to spend three hours getting ready to try to impress these guys like I might if it was an outside group that may or may not have their own interests involved.”
Mark Tomer, Enardo LLC: “It doesn’t really matter what kind of business you have, you have a lot of the same issues. When you manage a business, one thing that TAB focuses on is building a strategy, making a plan and working a plan. A lot of people who have small businesses get so involved in day-to-day business that they forget about developing and working a plan. TAB brings that to table, and the group helps each other manage the plan.”
David Holden, attorney: “Think about the position of any small business owner or CEO, anyone who walks into his office or, in fact, when he goes home, anyone who asks him a question has an agenda. They may be good people and they may have an agenda that you agree with, but they are coming from their own direction. When you come to this board, the rest of us typically don’t have an agenda that relates to your situation, so we can be more open and more critical than you might expect in a different environment.
Burt Holmes, Leaders Life Insurance Co.: I always get more than I give in one of these deals. I am here because I want to learn from some really good businessmen who do the same things I do. All I am looking for is a really good idea every once in a while. And every once in a while I get one.”
Surge in Interest
TAB boards meet monthly in four-hour board meetings comprised of about 10 CEOs, presidents and business owners.
Membership is primarily targeted for small business, White said.
“The sweet spot is probably in the $1 to $10 million range,” he said. “The largest one we had was several hundred million.”
The Tulsa group has four boards and about 43 members and, with the recent addition of eight members, is creating a fifth board, he said.
While the Tulsa TAB group normally operates on word-of-mouth, White said the interest generated by May’s Malcolm Baldridge award resulted in a “sudden rush of members.”
He also noted that the down economy has generated interest in the group.
“Part of the attraction for people right now is that it is not a good time to be alone,” White said. “A CEO, president, owner of a company is a very lonely position anyway. When you are in an up market, that covers up a lot like a good coat of paint.”
He said the boards control their own membership.
“As facilitators we are like gate keepers,” he said. “We do initial screens and interviews and go to the board and everybody votes on it.”
Applicants pay a $750 diagnostic fee and monthly dues are $500 – “the equivalent of a part-time person sweeping up in the back,” White said.

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