What does a business coach say to their high-flying clients to make them perform a bit better? It was a question I was keen to pose to Frank Docherty, the founder of Career Associates but recognised as one of Scotland’s leading executive team-builders. We agree to have lunch in the Galvin Brasserie De Luxe, so I can learn some more about this mystical process.
Surely, those at the top already have the skills to succeed, so how exactly does a coach add value and earn their crust? Frank is rather coy about how he helps his clients, nevertheless, the proof is in the pudding, because he has worked for many years with a top tier of executives in Standard Life, the Miller Group, AEGON UK, Scottish Power and SSE.
“I think you really have to ask people I’ve worked with for many years what exactly I bring to the table,” he says, sipping a glass of sparkling water.
And, having done my research, I did. I quote Martin Pibworth, managing director for Energy Portfolio Management at SSE, who said: “To paraphrase Churchill, human behaviour is an enigma wrapped in a mystery and wrapped again in a riddle. Frank is like a child on Christmas morning devouring the
Or Sandy Begbie, chief operating officer at Standard Life, who said: “Frank is an industry leader in the provision of coaching. Personally, he has supported me at ScottishPower, Aegon and Standard Life with great success.”
Then Steve Dunn, the group HR director at Miller Group, who is clear. “Frank continues to deliver after many years what the client wants in the way they want it. He tries to find out exactly what you need and delivers it in a way that delivers real value. He changes people’s lives for the better.”
Or Gregor Alexander, the finance director of SSE, who says: “Great coach and mentor, who really understands the team and business dynamics. His ability to listen and provide sound advice at the right time is his great strength. His two favourite words are preparation and planning. His good sense of humour helps him interface strongly with the management team, almost as if he is part of the team.”
But he’s also had reflected success in working with Alistair Phillips-Davies, the chief executive at SSE who has taken over from Ian Marchant. As I read out these comments, Frank laughs nervously and I can see him squirm a little in his chair as tucks into his crab lasagne. He believes all of the clients he coaches would have reached the zenith of their careers. “Perhaps I’ve been able to help get them there more quickly. People of the calibre of Alastair Phillips-Davies will always land in the top job. I just help people get there.”
He is clear about the role of the coach: “Simply, to make a good player play better. Why does Andy Murray need Ivan Lendl? Andy’s a great tennis player but he needs someone to add that extra something to the performance. I see myself in a similar kind of position.”
Despite living in Edinburgh for over 30 years, he speaks with a distinct Glaswegian accent, remaining a loyal fan of Glasgow Celtic, and playing five-a-side football into his fifties. One of his key weapons is a well turned sense of humour, an appreciation of the ridiculous and an ability to tell a good story. Coupled with this is a love of golfing and you get a sense of the vital ingredients for a coach.
“I can see a lot of metaphors for what I do emerging from the golf course and from sport. Hard work and practice is what makes great sport people.
“I think it’s how you practice and use your time to best advantage that makes a difference. Again it’s planning and preparation.”
Iwan Tukalo, the former Scottish rugby winger and part of the Grand Slam winning team in 1990, who has worked with rugby legends Sir Ian McGeechan and Jim Telfer, is another of Frank’s clients. “You have 15 really good players on the park and these coaches got them to play together. Frank is good at telling me what I can achieve rather than what I can’t achieve,” he says.
For Frank, it is all about personal credibility and building a rapport. “I don’t think I should blow my trumpet. It’s a great feeling to know that you can play a part and that it is genuinely appreciated,” he says.
How did he morph from his outplacement into coaching? “My father’s generation had strong Irish roots and he ran a family business in the East End of Glasgow. I worked for him when I was in my early twenties as a chauffeur. What I learned was that it was important to treat your clients with dignity and respect. That’s something that has always stuck with me.”
He moved across to Edinburgh running a trendy bar and nightclub in George Street, which taught him how to handle difficult situations. He married Alison, his wife a tapestry restorer who worked with Henry Moore Institute, with whom he has two grown-up daughters, and then moved into the outplacement business 27 years ago becoming the managing director of national group in Edinburgh. With an entrepreneurial streak, he set up Career Associates in Randolph Crescent 17 years ago, working with many of Scotland’s blue chip organisations. Gradually, he was asked to help with building teams around the boardroom table. It was an easy transition into helping with personal development.
“I was simply trying to make a living but it became so enjoyable listening to what leading business people were doing – and the challenges they face. I’ve always adopted a common sense approach. I’m not hung up on text book theories. Everyone is an individual with different ways of approaching a subject. But the satisfaction from this has been wonderful,” he says.
Of course, there are trace elements of human psychology in what he is doing. He reminds me that Sir Alex Ferguson didn’t even talk about football when he was trying to motivate his players, he uses nuggets of wisdom that are easily digested.
“Preparation and planning are my two favourite words. Busy business people don’t
do it enough, yet they have to find the time,” he says.
After lunch, he’s off to prepare for another of his clients. Frank Docherty doesn’t want to take anything by chance.
A book which should be judged by its cover
The Galvin Brasserie De Luxe is part of the exceptional refurbishment of the Caledonian Hotel, which now wears the luxury badge of the Waldorf Astoria. The Caley has always been one of Scotland’s grand hotels but the iconic Princes Street hotel was looking increasingly tired. Now the £multi-million facelift has been outstanding, with spacious Peacock Alley in the former covered platform area for the old Princes Street station, and now the in-place for afternoon tea, with a plates of scones and cream, and finely-cut sandwiches.
While the entrance to the Galvin Brasserie is in Rutland Street, you can enter from Peacock Alley. Fraser Allan, head chef of the Brasserie, wants diners to savour an hour or so with friends over lunch and the menu is competitively priced for such fine surroundings. He’s proud of the shell-fish display and the kitchen’s attention to detail on the plate. Having worked with the team at Ondine, he’s keen to develop the seafood offering which includes langoustines, razor clams, brown crab and Loch Creran oysters. In the Brasserie there are two options. For a quick bite, there is the Prix Fixe, with two courses for £16.50 or three for £19.50, available until 7pm.
This might be roast tomato veloute or salad of endive, orange and Milano salami for starters, followed by fillet of Coley, toasted pearl barley, piquillo peppers or confit chicken, salad Lyonnaise, with baked banana parfait, chocolate cremeux or brie de Meux, oatcakes and chutney. A great way to have that rapid city centre lunch. Or for those with more time there is the main menu. For an entree, Frank enjoyed Lasgane of Berwick crab and beurre Nantais, while Genevieve had six Loch Creran oysters in shallot vinegar and rye bread. On the Plats Principaux, Frank had char-grilled feather blade steak, Pommes Anna, haricot vert and beurre de Montpellier, which he declared was ‘finely cooked, fresh and an enjoyable treat’, while Genevieve selected Poulet Roti with Pistou vegetables.
The white wine was a delicate Gruner Veltliner, Weingut Wess, at £36 a bottle or £6 a glass. Genevieve enjoyed a heavenly and fluffy Oeuf a la Neige, with praline rose. And both finished with coffee. Lunch came in at around £80.