A Question of Trust

Two weeks ago I was heading to Denver, for the annual TAB conference.

The plane was circling Denver International, I could see the Mile High Stadium in the distance and I was feeling reflective.

It was 9 years since I’d first flown to Denver. I’d come as someone who’d just bought the TAB franchise for York. I’d pushed my breakfast round my plate in the service station, told myself there had to be a better way, looked at a hundred different businesses and opted for TAB.

“Are you sure?” my wife had said, looking at our newly increased mortgage and feeling the serious pressure to keep working.

“Yes,” I said. “Absolutely.”

But let me be honest. During that initial training in Denver I had some doubts. Would sceptical businessmen in the UK really pay for peer to peer coaching? And I’d bought the York franchise – surrounded myself with hard-bitten Tykes, people with a reputation for being careful wi’ t’ brass…

To use a well-worn cliché, the rest is history. Building TAB York was hard work, but it was simply the most rewarding experience of my business life. And I am now privileged to be in the same position with TAB UK.

This was my second conference as the MD of TAB UK. Looking back to last year, here’s what I wrote about the 2017 Conference:

The long flight took me to Denver, for TAB’s annual conference – as many of you know, one of my favourite weeks of the year. It was great to meet so many old friends and (as always with TAB) make plenty of new ones. The best part of it for me? It was simply going back to basics. After the whirlwind of becoming the MD of TAB UK – after spending so many hours with solicitors, bankers and accountants – it was wonderful to be reminded of the simple truth of why we do what we do.

And later in the post…

TAB is now in 16 countries and is becoming a truly international organisation. The latest country to launch is India.

Well, that needs updating for a start. TAB is now active in 19 countries and we duly had our ‘national CEOs’ meeting – which prompted an obvious question at the start of our two days together. ‘Is 19 too many for a meaningful meeting, especially as an increasing number of people don’t have English as a first language?’

The answer – which was obvious in the first few minutes – was an emphatic ‘no.’ The reason was simple – and in many ways that reason was the main message I took away from Denver this year.

Summed up in one word it was ‘trust.’


Trust is simply at the heart of what TAB is, what it stands for and the benefits it delivers to everyone in the ‘family.’ (Yes, another cliché but with TAB it just happens to be true.)

The annual conference means a lot of old friends for me – of course trust exists with them. It’s like the very best relationship with someone you’ve known all your life. You may only see them for three days out of 365 but instantly you pick up the conversation where you left it a year ago.

But this year there were a lot of new friends as well, especially those who’d made the significant decision to buy the franchise for a whole country. And what struck me was how immediate the trust was with them.

The atmosphere for our two days CEO meeting was unbelievably positive. We shared, we co-operated, we exchanged ideas and we trusted each other implicitly. Language barriers? They simply melted away.

So when I talked about ‘back to basics’ last year, what I was really talking about was trust – just about the most basic, and essential, human currency.

It’s the willingness to sit round a table with half a dozen other people and tell them the most detailed information about your business and – in many cases – to open up to them in a way you haven’t opened up to your professional advisers, your bank manager or even your partner.

I’ll confess it now: that was another worry of mine all those years ago. Would one Board meeting be much like the last one? Were there a finite number of business problems to solve? Would a Board – would I – eventually go stale?

I know now that nothing could be further from the truth. I’m renewed on a weekly basis as I meet with the TAB franchisees in the UK and continue my work with individual TAB members. And once a year I get a double-espresso shot of renewal in Denver – this year from the most important business commodity there will ever be.

Letter from America

The harsh, useful things of the world, from pulling teeth to digging potatoes, are best done by men who are as starkly sober as so many convicts in the death-house, but the lovely and useless things, the charming and exhilarating things, are best done by men with, as the phrase is, a few sheets in the wind – H L Mencken

So here I am on Broadway. No, not that Broadway. I’m at 1675 Broadway, Denver, Colorado – the British Consulate. And very shortly I start my new job as a waiter, fully intending to make sure several Americans are rendered wholly unfit for pulling teeth and digging potatoes…

Before you rush to the conclusion that I’ve left my wife and fled to the colonies, I should explain that I’m here on business. Well, yes, technically, today was sunny and 88 degrees. And yes, if you want to be pedantic tomorrow is forecast to be, er…sunny and 90 degrees.

According to my guide book, Denver has the best climate in the US, easily on a par with Southern California. The 15th step on the west side of Denver’s State Capitol Building is exactly one mile above sea level and 92.1% of the population have high school diplomas. What it doesn’t say is that 70 to 80 Americans will shortly be getting impatient if I don’t dish out the Pimms fast enough.

So, the glasses are polished, the nibbles are strategically strewn around and…You heard me. Pimms. With lemonade. And lots of fruit. Jack Daniels? Budweiser? No chance.

Let me explain. I’m here for the annual conference of The Alternative Board. TAB started in the US in 1990. Right now there are more than 450 boards, with a total of nearly 3500 members. So if I can’t learn something to help my York members in the few days I’m out here then I probably shouldn’t be doing what I’m doing.

Five of us have flown over from the UK – do you ever grow out of the sense of excitement you feel when you touch down in the US? – and we thought we’d entertain our American colleagues. And yes, we could have done white wine and red wine and a few bottles of Milwaukee’s finest, but let’s serve something essentially British. So it’s Pimms – despite the fact that all that fruit in a drink may confirm some American beliefs regarding the sexuality of British men. It’s a risk we’ll have to take.

Much later…

The Pimms party was a huge success. And afterwards we staggered downtown to The Appaloosa Grill.

Several of our American colleagues, never having come across alcohol-disguised-as-fruit-salad seemed to have difficulties pronouncing ‘Appaloosa.’ I might admit to slight co-ordination problems of my own. It seemed simplest to order steak.

Equally I might admit to a slight hangover the next morning. And as I was in a strange bed, I inevitably woke up ridiculously early so I could appreciate it. Five o’clock.

There was no chance of going back to sleep. So I drank all the orange juice in the mini-bar and headed for the hotel pool. At least I’d have it to myself at five in the morning.

Fat chance. Or rather thin chance. The guide book had said that Colorado was the only state where 50% of the population weren’t obese. No wonder. They were all in the pool. Several of my new friends who’d decided that the “App-sluice-ia Grill” was a fine idea were now remorselessly hammering out lengths. Clearly men determined to dig up potatoes…

And men determined to help. I cannot thank my American colleagues enough for all their kindness. I left Denver with the words, “No problem, Ed, I’ll do it as soon as I get back to the office” ringing in my ears. And over the coming weeks I’ll share some of their ideas with you.

But for now, let me leave you with this thought. If you want help, ask for help. What did I do in America? I simply said, “I’m relatively new, I’m learning. Can you help me?” And it works nearly every time – even with starkly sober men who spend their day pulling teeth…