Dr. Steve Drury of The Alternative Board Talks About How He Helps Businesses Address Challenges
December 12, 2018
Erik Wolf: Hello and welcome to another episode of The Denver Executive Association Trusted Advisor Podcast. We’re live on tape from Denver University’s Ritchie Center where 30 of Denver’s top business executives meet twice a month. We have a fabulous breakfast, we talk, we share knowledge, we share connections and we share business. And twice a month one of them must endure my microphone. My name is Erik Wolf and I’m with the digital marketing agency estound. We serve small and midsize business owners with CMO-level digital strategy, website design and development, Search Engine Optimization, pay-per-click advertising, marketing automation and just so much more. But my guest today is Dr. Steve Drury. He’s a recovering dentist if that’s a thing. But now Steve has traded working inside people’s mouths to working in their businesses instead. He’s the co-owner of a local chapter of The Alternative Board, an organization that helps entrepreneurs talk about and address their business challenges. Welcome to the show, Steve.
Steve Drury: Thank you, welcome. I’m glad to be here.
Erik Wolf: I’m glad to have you. So before we get any further I must ask, how do you draw that line from being a dentist to what you do now working with businesses? How does that path work?
Steve Drury: So the short version of that story is I was working with other dentists and healthcare professionals while I was running my dental practice and I saw that there were some things that they were missing that I actually was able to organically bring to them. And so I started the consulting concurrent with running my dental practice and then I eventually found that I couldn’t do both so I chose to work with other business owners.
Erik Wolf: Well you made it work, you drew the line. I appreciate that. So what’s the Alternative Board and what do you guys do.
Steve Drury: So The Alternative Board, a lot of people call it TAB, the acronym.
Erik Wolf: Like the soda!
Steve Drury: Yeah exactly like the soda except it’s not calorie-free, it’s calorie rich because we actually help business owners and executives take like a 30,000 foot view on their business, make the right decisions at the right time, that unleashes their potential in the business and in themselves and have more fun while they’re doing it. So we bring together these owners in a peer advisory board setting, a maximum of eight owners or executives per board and we meet on a regular basis to make sure each other is focused and successful, making the right decisions at the right time.
Erik Wolf: And so maximum eight people on a board. How many boards do you guys run?
Steve Drury: We have six boards now.
Erik Wolf: OK. So six boards, eight people per board. What is the makeup of a board typically look like and how do you decide if someone says, “Put me in Dr. Steve.” How are you matching a person with a board and all of that?
Steve Drury: Great question.
Erik Wolf: I know it’s a great question. I asked it!
Steve Drury: Great Question. So it’s divided into several things. So we don’t just go on the gross revenue of a business, however, that’s one of the influencers. It’s about the mindset of the owner, what they’re trying to achieve, and the complexity of their business. There’s only one per industry. One owner per industry on each board because we want to have a very diverse set of inputs and challenges to each other.
Erik Wolf: And of course I’m sure you want people to feel safe to where they’re not thinking that their competition is listening in.
Steve Drury: Yeah so everyone signs a nondisclosure agreement before we start, before they join a board, and then based on the complexity of the business and the size we put them on the board that best fits.
Erik Wolf: Gotcha. So you’ve got close to 50 people that your team is working with right now at TAB, like the soda. As someone who’s talking to these folks on a regular basis and listening to their stories, what’s one of the most regularly occurring challenges that people talk to you about?
Steve Drury: Well that’s very interesting. What they talk about at the beginning and what’s really going on are usually two different things. So on the surface, it’s things like, “How do I get more clients?” And those sorts of things, which are really serious issues. But what’s really deeper is, for example, one would be how do I get my employees to have an all-in mindset, a co-ownership mindset and make decisions that way?
Erik Wolf: You make them co-owners, done!
Steve Drury: They don’t necessarily own a piece of the equity but they do think like owners. But most important is, how do we cause ourselves as owners to stay focused on the things that are most important and that’s what the board causes each other to do. They bring them back to, here’s what you said was important. You’re off track a little bit. Should you be off track or do we need to come back to that? So really re-assessing that.
Erik Wolf: Well to go full circle with dentistry it’s treating a symptom versus treating a cause. You don’t have enough clients. That’s kind of like going to the dentist and say I’m really not happy with my bad breath situation. Can you recommend a mouthwash and that’s maybe not the reason that they’re having a problem right?
Steve Drury: Right right. Yep.
Erik Wolf: Give me a good example of, I’m sure that there have been times, but give me a good example of a time where you made a really strong, really profound impact on the life of a business owner in a tangible way.
Steve Drury: Yeah. And like you said there’s been a lot of them, but one in particular, fairly recent. The owner had a full-time CFO and the CFO was actually underperforming, in other words, the owner was not getting appropriate ROI, or return investment from that full-time employee. And so the members of that owner’s board challenged him to think out of the box and said, “How about a fractional CFO? You really don’t need a full-time CFO.” And he was totally against it for a lot of reasons and his promise to the board was that “At least I will research it.” So after researching that possibility, he let his CFO go, who was really not performing and not worth what he was getting paid and actually the owner of the company is more satisfied than he ever thought he would be. The new CFO fractional is bringing great ideas, lower cost, and is doing a better job than his full-time CFO was. So that would not have happened had the board not challenged him with that sort of out of the box idea.
Erik Wolf: Now in terms of, so I I heard a couple of things. So the board challenged him. So that was a positive thing that happened and then he promised to do the research, which is also a very good thing. Where a lot of advice goes sideways is in the accountability. So a challenge was, a gauntlet was thrown so to speak. A promise was made. How does the board handle things like accountability to say, “Okay well you said that you are going to talk to X number of fractional CFO companies. What did you do?” How does that part work?
Steve Drury: Yeah that’s the fun part. At the beginning of each meeting, there’s a share out. Each member gets five minutes to share out what they did on their deliverable, their promise, a commitment to the board and the progress achieved on that. And if they didn’t take it all the way home, then what got in the way?
Erik Wolf: Does everybody make a commitment to the board? How often do you meet?
Steve Drury: Once a month. And each member makes a commitment to the board and that’s a real distinction because they don’t make a commitment to me, the consultant. They make a commitment to their board and we call the board members, they’re tab clients, but they’re the board members of each of the owners and they make a commitment to the board members and in truth they will not let their board down because they believe in each other and they trust each other.
Erik Wolf: That’s really terrific. So you’re meeting once a month. My board is going to be I imagine somewhere between five and seven other people. How long are the meetings? What’s covered at a typical meeting? Just a very sort of high level.
Steve Drury: We meet once a month for about four hours. Each owner brings a topic, could be a challenge could be an opportunity that they want to check into. And so they bring that to the board and they have about 20 minutes, each owner has about 20 minutes to find solutions to that challenge or ways to unleash that opportunity and then the next member, the next member, it goes around the roundtable and at the end each member commits to the board, what they’ll do over the next month. One thing I have not mentioned yet is in between each board meeting, I meet with each member one-to-one and it’s more like business coaching, executive coaching or I would even call entrepreneurial coaching. What’s really going on behind the scenes and how do we bring that promise, that commitment that you bring, how do we bring that to life and hopefully have more fun while you’re doing it. So there’s the one-to-one that’s in addition to the board meetings.
Erik Wolf: Gotcha. Certainly out there in the marketplace, there’s no shortage of options for business owners who want to talk regularly with other business owners. And of course, I’m sure that you have a preference as to which organization that someone should choose. But in terms of someone who’s looking and someone who is trying to find the right fit, this is the trusted advisor podcast, let me ask you some free advice. What’s a piece of advice that you would give somebody who is starting the process of looking around and trying to figure out where they belong in this kind of galaxy of options?
Steve Drury: Yes so you’re right there are many many options and all of which are good. It’s better to seek any option than to try to do it on our own. And a lot of us as owners have tried to do it on our own.
Erik Wolf: Being an entrepreneur is very lonely work.
Steve Drury: Yeah. And so this changes that. So I would say look at a board of advisors, peer advisers who are all owners or in a similar type of responsibility role from diverse industries that have enough experience to help you and the facilitator or/and coach brings years of breadth and depth of experience that will help you tap into your team. That potential that maybe is unleashed so far. So really looking at and shopping for a board made up of committed business owners and executives who would be committed to you and you would be committed to them at a high-level trust. You mentioned the emotional safety earlier and so really trying that out and to see if there’s a fit where you would feel comfortable sharing vulnerable business concerns.
Erik Wolf: Well Dr. Steve I can’t thank you enough for being here. This was fun. It felt like it just flew by. So I appreciate your time. How can the folks listening at home get in touch with you?
Steve Drury: So two ways are very easy. The first one is the e-mail. So Steve.firstname.lastname@example.org or my mobile which is always on 303-916-1555.
Erik Wolf: Okay well everybody go ahead and call Dr. Steve in the middle of the night. He’s always got his phone. Thank you, seriously, thank you for being here. This was good. And thanks to everybody listening to the DEA Trusted Advisor Podcast, we will talk to you next time!