It’s now nearly ten years since I pushed breakfast round my plate in Watford Gap services and decided something had to change.
…And I’ve no doubt that at the same time several business owners up and down the UK were thinking, ‘I need someone to share these problems with. I need someone to bounce these ideas off. I need someone who understands me. Not my bank manager. Not my accountant. Someone who truly understands what it’s like to run your own business.’
What none of us knew was that the answer was just around the corner. Something that gave me exactly the change and the opportunity I was looking for: something that answered every question any entrepreneur could have. As I pushed my breakfast round my plate, as the entrepreneurs looked for someone who understood, Paul Dickinson and Jo Clarkson were founding TAB UK.
Ten years later Monday this week found almost everyone in the TAB UK family – about 35 of us, plus another 15 friends, advocates and supporters – gathered in Manchester to celebrate our 10th birthday. Paul and Jo officially launched the company on 5 June 2009.
I joined a few months later on 24 October 2009 and, over the years, franchisees and business owners up and down the country have added their expertise and experience to the team.
But – you all know the story by now – Paul wasn’t with us to celebrate. It’s now more than a year since he died and I still find myself thinking, ‘Ah, I must tell Paul that.’ I’m not sure the feeling will ever fade – and what most certainly will never fade is the legacy Paul left us, and the company he and Jo created.
I looked around the team on Monday night – franchisees, the head office team, support staff – and I could not have been more proud. Why has TAB UK been successful? A good part of the answer was right there in the room: the people. I’ve worked for a few companies and I have never – by some distance – worked with a more focused, determined and talented team.
But however good the people, the idea has to be right as well. And TAB meets a simple need: the need to belong. As I sat in Newport Pagnell an entrepreneur sat in his office and wondered where he could find the right support network.
We all know Maslow’s hierarchy – physiological needs like food, water and warmth at the bottom, then the need for safety and security. But after that comes the need to belong – friendship and relationships.
For the majority of entrepreneurs, the need to belong means the company of other entrepreneurs. I’ve written many times about the loneliness of the entrepreneur and that’s especially true in SMEs where there is a very good chance that the boss knows everyone – and feels personally responsible for them.
There’s another basic human need – and I guess it is also part of Maslow’s ‘need to belong.’ That’s the need to have people you can trust: people with whom you can be totally honest, and who in turn will be totally honest with you.
Sometimes that’s a hard sell for a franchisee, and it’s a tough concept for a business owner to get his head round. ‘You’ll be sitting at a boardroom table with half a dozen business owners and you’ll be able to tell them everything.’
‘Yeah, right. There’s simply no way on earth I’m telling other business owners my profit margins. Or my plans for the future. Or my problems…’
It’s wonderful to see the trust and loyalty develop in a TAB board – and I know from my overseas colleagues that the same is true in the 20 countries in which TAB now operates. It’s not just North America and Western Europe: the need to have a support network and to find other entrepreneurs you can absolutely trust is just as relevant in Mexico, Israel and India.
So what of the next 10 years for TAB UK?
There are any number of things we’d like to achieve, not least filling in the geographical gaps. We have no-one in the Leicester area. That extends down the M1 corridor. Given that it was a breakfast in Watford Gap services that ultimately led to me joining TAB, I find it particularly galling that I can’t stick a metaphorical coloured pin just above Northampton.
We’ll also need to deal with the changing aspirations of both our franchisees – many of whom are now building significant businesses that they might want to sell or split – and our TAB Board members. We’re already seeing some early members of TAB starting to exit their business and that trend is bound to accelerate. I’m absolutely certain that TAB members who do sell or pass on their businesses will have a far better exit strategy in place than the vast majority of entrepreneurs.
…And of course, we’ll also need to deal with what Harold Macmillan famously called, “Events, dear boy, events.” The winds of political and economic change will continue to blow. Goodness me, ten years from now Brexit might even be settled and we could have a stable government.
But, whatever happens, our members will react as they always do. By getting on with it.
Yes, there was some uncertainty in the period leading up to March 29th but when that deadline came and went most people simply saw it as a signal to crack on. There was no point delaying plans indefinitely, and many TAB members are now taking on more staff. It’s certainly a trend we’re following at head office, as we’ll move from six to eight in the next month.
The willingness of our members to expand and invest in their businesses – irrespective of the current turmoil – reflects a real confidence. It’s an inner strength that comes from knowing your business is on the right track, and that you’ve got exactly the right support in place. That you’re surrounded by people you can trust and that they’re honest enough and wise enough to give you exactly the advice you need. In short, that you’re part of TAB UK.
Here’s to June 2029…