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Tackling European Development from 'A-near'


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TAB's Michele Fishman's tiny efficiency apartment in Madrid, where she accomplished her European outreach.

Sometimes to get it, you just had to be there.

Such was the case with Michele Fishman, vice president of International Development with The Alternative Board (TAB), when she decided to tackle the European market back in late 2014. Her ideal candidate is a consultant, but rather than try to network from afar, Fishman leased an apartment in Madrid, Spain, for six weeks.

“My daughter had just started college, so it was a good time to go,” she said. Michele Fishman - TAB

TAB is a Denver-based franchise that brings together leaders in noncompeting industries to form an advisory group or unofficial board of directors that helps grow their businesses and address challenges and opportunities.

From her home base in Madrid, Fishman could easily cover six countries. “As people wanted to meet, I could say, ‘sure I’ll meet you next week,’” she said. Or in the case of a prospect in Germany, she caught a relatively inexpensive flight at the last minute to accommodate his schedule. Fishman worked primarily with brokers and Angela Turrin, an international specialist in the U.S. Commercial Service office in Madrid. But in a business where who you know is as important as what you know, spending time acquainting yourself with the lifestyle and the players sped things along.

Before putting a deposit down on the apartment she found online, Fishman researched the countries she was targeting in depth. When a franchise goes into a new territory, she said, it needs to have its systems in place, manuals ready and a detailed rationale for why it’s needed in the marketplace. Foreigners look at “how pulled together your organization is,” she cautioned.

The interactions she had with businesspeople in Europe “have helped us up our game,” she admitted. “Every country we go to brings some quality to us.”

Until five years ago when her father, Allen Fishman, who started TAB, decided on an international push, Michele Fishman was a history professor. She has an advanced degree in international relations and has lived abroad, working for corporations, as well as leading study-abroad programs.

In between business meetings, she said, she walked the city at night. “People eat so late there,” she said. “You see kids at restaurants at 10 p.m.” Weekends were for sightseeing. Her apartment, while charming, wasn’t a long-term proposition. The washer and dryer were a combination machine—“turn the knob right, it’s a washer; left, it’s a dryer.” However, it took two hours to dry two towels. The bedroom had enough room for a bed, and her home office was 5 feet by 6 feet. “It was a wonderful little world in that apartment,” she said.

Six weeks is enough time to begin to feel like a European, but too much time to be away from family and her dogs and horses.

While the experiment was successful for Europe, Fishman said she has no plans to repeat it in Asia. “I’m taking some smaller trips (there),” she said.

Editor's note: Since doing this interview, TAB closed a deal for a master franchise for Austria and the German-speaking territory of Switzerland. 

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