I am often asked after lectures, PodCasts and/or seminars on Strategic Alliances, “Randall, how did you get into this?” Let me start at the beginning. I believe you are already familiar with the fact that I’ve had a great professional career. I started at Shell Oil Company without a college degree. I attended college at night and worked a full-time day job. After earning my degree, I was promoted from support staff to staff at Shell. This meant at that time, I had a career path to the very top of Shell. I had numerous assignments in supply chain and purchasing. I then left Shell and went to Wesco Distribution (formerly Westinghouse Electric Supply Company). Eventually, I landed at a company called Pantellos, which was a “dot.com”. After Pantellos, I started Dobbins International. By that time, I had amassed skills in forming strategic alliances - as they are known in the supply chain world. Strategic alliances are the most intimate of buyer-seller relationships that really drive, and very often determine, corporate performance for both short and long-term.
Most business owners start with the model of getting as many sales as they can and grow the business as fast as they can. They want to be sure that they take care of the business and feed it. I knew, however, that with Dobbins International, I wanted to do something fundamentally different. I wanted it to be more than just one-dimensional in terms of what I could get for myself. I wanted to build it with legacy in mind. Some business owners give back before they even start their businesses, and some wait until the business gets into a position where they can give back in what they believe to be a meaningful way.
In my case, I chose to give back from the very beginning. When I was a buyer, I had been assigned to my local business council as a corporate representative, and when I became a business owner I actually decided that it made sense for me to join the business council. So, I became a member of the council’s Strategic Team Alliance Committee. One of the things the committee recognized was that a number of the members were being told by larger corporations that their businesses weren’t big enough to secure contracts. These larger corporations declared that they had not found a qualified minority or diverse business with whom they could develop a strategic alliance.
The committee drilled down on that statement to understand if and why it was the case. We asked, “ Why is that the perception of corporations? Why do they believe that the vast majority of diverse/minority businesses cannot handle the needs of a large corporation?” We realized that the perception was wrong, and we endeavored to change it. As a result, we put together a curriculum to address that misconception - that preconceived belief that someone can’t do something, without any basis for that belief. It is an inherent bias, and we endeavored to address that bias.
As with most beliefs however, there usually is some evidence, fact or experience belying the belief. In some cases, the belief is founded in prior experiences with small businesses that tried and failed to demonstrate what the large companies needed to see. Thus, the large corporations did not feel comfortable getting into those kinds of relationships with them. Additionally, there is the matter of scale to size. How many had actually had the financial wherewithal and backing to go after the type of strategic alliances that member corporations of this council were seeking? The curriculum that we devised had to address those very issues. We successfully put the curriculum together and started rolling it out in 2004, and it’s still ongoing to this day. I was more than happy to be a trainer and just do this for the council. But people kept coming up to me and saying, “Randall, you have to do this as a business. I kept saying, “no, no, no”. I didn’t want to do it as a business for just one fundamental reason.
It’s something that I learned back in the late eighties. I was traveling to California on an assignment and I was reading the business column of the Orange County Register newspaper. The author made a very interesting point. He said when you go into business, go into business doing something you are passionate about, because when the bad times come – and they will – your passion will see you through. I’ve never forgotten that. Never. By 2010 I knew that I was not passionate about teaching, but I was more than happy to come in and share what I knew because I was helping somebody.
I didn’t really think twice about helping, but that is fundamentally different from developing a business around something - which requires a stronger degree of commitment - and the passion just needs to be burning to make it plausible. So, I kept saying “no, no, no I’m not going to start a business”. I was okay with going in four, five or six times a year, sharing what I knew, and leaving, but I was not comfortable making it a business.
Then one day about three years ago, a lady who had been encouraging me to make a business out of what I was teaching said to me, “Randall, you need to stop being selfish”. I responded, “What do you mean being selfish?” She said, “there are a lot of people out there – more than just the members of this council - that really need to know the things you are sharing”.
I thought about it and I realized that she was right. This information needs to be in the hands of more people. I understood that I had been given an amazing gift. You see, I really and truly grasp how this all works – how it all comes together. It’s really not that difficult. It’s just one of those things you have to study and wrap your mind around. You have to learn the secret handshake - and yes, there is a secret handshake and the people who know it aren’t telling anyone. Once you know it, corporate contracting takes off for you, and it doesn’t matter whether you go towards a corporate business or you go towards consumer business.
I took about a year and a half to start thinking through how I would actually wrap a business around the program in a way that wouldn’t kill me, because I’d heard of people trying standard business models and it seemed like they were working 80, 90, or a hundred hours a week. Sacrificing everything else for the business. I didn’t want to make that kind of commitment, but I realized that there were some things I could do upfront that would truly benefit businesses.
In 2018, I decided to go global with the business, and that’s what I’ve been doing. I now serve a broader global, diverse business owner community because the principles of what we share are exactly the same in any corporation, anywhere around the world. I offer Strategic Alliances training under the Business Partner Blueprint brand right now because it’s so fundamentally different from what we started with in the committee. It has expanded greatly, and it just makes sense that it needs to be something that stands on its own.
I really believe that we are at an amazing point in time. We small business owners have an extraordinary opportunity to make a bigger contribution, and it’s making a contribution for the purpose of us getting the rewards that allow us to make a greater impact in our personal lives, in the lives of our families, and in the lives of our community.
As for the passion projects that we want to support, I don’t think that we, as diverse suppliers, need to go to the top 500 companies in the world and get their support for our passion projects. If we actually build successful businesses, we can fund these projects ourselves. So, if there’s something I can share with other business owners that helps them get their company to where they would like it to be so that they can be of greater service to the things that are important to them - their community, their passion projects - then I will have played the role that I was put here to play. So, really and truly, I’m just being an obedient servant and trying to share what I know, pass it forward, and hope that someone like you takes it and does amazing things with it.