Dr Lynn Tanner is TEC Canada’s founder, CEO and longest-serving Chair. With a history in merger integration consulting, he found the TEC group he encountered in the US to be an extension of the work he’d already been doing, and an entrepreneurial concept that piqued his interest. Dr Tanner very kindly took the time to speak with me about how he came to the role of a Chair, and what he sees as the defining facets of the role. What follows is an edited transcript of our discussion.
The idea that I chose to be a Chair, that’s a wrong assumption. I chose the business, I didn’t choose the role. The role was merely part of the business. It was, in many respects, an extension of my work in merger acquisition integration and it allowed me to do some interacting with presidents and CEOs, which I’d been doing anyway.
So the real reason to be a Chair, I think is to allow that people who I call ‘generative’ people –‘Generative’ means that they ‘generate’. They generate and leverage who they are or what they know and what resources they have into more. So they actually generate jobs, opportunities, intellectual capital, initiatives, action plans and follow up. In other words, they make things happen. They build companies and they build learning opportunities, and they see to it out of their own vision and energy that things expand, as opposed to just taking a narrower path in life.
So, generative people are often people who do the start-ups and take the risks and see it to fruition so that, in fact, something happens and that before you know it, there’s something more than just them pursuing a goal or a direction or a path. So one of the main reasons to be a Chair is that you, in effect, make an explicit choice to be with people who sometimes we say are ‘lifelong learners’.
I think that’s a simplistic approach. I regard it as a decision to throw yourself up against yourself to see if you’re good enough to run with the wild horses. And actually have them perceive you as someone that they can learn from and that will bring them more generative ideas that together the two of you end up having what I call ‘yeasty relationship’ – it’s constantly bubbling up and the dough’s rising and whether the dough is employees, or money, or new markets or new cash flow, whatever it is, something happens that’s more than would have happened had there not been that relationship.
So choosing to be a chair is choosing to confront yourself, it’s choosing to force yourself to learn, choosing to have to be creative, to have initiative: You can’t just sit on your laurels and you have to continually be enough so that they want to stay around you and be with you over time. And so that if you have 12, 14 or 16 people in a group all from different industries, it sets up scenario that can be very very interesting and exciting. And people, just by knowing each other, will say, y’know, ‘I don’t have another group like this in my life.’
So by being a Chair you also bring upon you the responsibility to choose who it is who’s going to be in that group, so in fact, people respect the idea of being with all these other people.
And there’s another dimension to this. I also think that choosing to be a Chair is also choosing to be an active citizen of your country, in the sense that you are, as a citizen, fulfilling your responsibility to expand what’s happening in your country, community, social circle and in the lives that you are interfacing with.
And in order to do that, it means you’ve got to constantly be bringing new material in, and challenging old ways of thinking, not only implicitly by the material that’s being brought in, but also your role in saying, ‘well now, Phil, you’ve been talking about this now for six or seven months, and Jerry is bringing in a concept here that basically challenges your assumptions, so let’s have a little dialogue between the two of you to see whether or not in fact you’re both right or wrong’. And so the rest of the group hears that and you need to be working those kinds of things in the one-on-one you have with them, so that individual is constantly having to challenge, and rethink and refine their ideas, their actions, their strategy for themselves and their employees. So then the other dimension of this by being a Chair you actually have the responsibility of ensuring that new ideas go into all these different companies and enhance the lives of the people in those companies, not just the lives of your members.
So the idea of being a generative person means that you have not only a responsibility to be conscious of how and what it is that you’re bringing into their lives, and trying to push through various cajoling and humour and new ideas, serious discussion, pointing out relevant stuff in politics and economics, world affairs, so that in fact it comes together as a whole
Very often this process is like a layering on a forest floor. The leaves fall every year, you start to build a new depth to the earth and you build a new depth to peoples’ lives; they’re very often taking things in, they’re nodding, they’re conscious of, and periodically, will report out:
“You know what? I was in this meeting and we were talking about how someone was getting surer that the money that was being offered to buy their company wasn’t actually going to be paid, because it was the payout over a number of years, and we had that guy in to talk to us 3 years ago, and he was talking about a type of insurance that we could buy to insure a risk, and so suddenly that just popped into my mind, and that was the solution to our problem; a surety bond. And so that probably made me, or took away my risk on, fifteen million dollars that was hanging out there, that we weren’t sure how it was going to get paid.”
So, that story’s from the construction industry; he learned that from a contractor in a high-tech area. But that cross-fertilisation was just part of those leaves falling and layering information, education, over time, and it was there when we needed it. It just popped out. So that kind of thing really takes place. But you have to talk about that in the group so in fact people understand that they’re in a process of that kind of layering of information and cross-fertilisation, of different lives, different industries.
This is different from most organisations, or going to a seminar, because that seminar’s over in five days or even 6 weeks, however long it is, you’re not going to see those people again. Here, this is the same people month after month, year after year, they really have deepened their knowledge of each other and what they get from each other.