Alan was born in 1948, went to a grammar school in Reading, and studied English Language and Literature at Oxford University 1966-69. He comments “Those three years were an intense awakening after a pretty lousy adolescence. The music and politics of the time are still for me deeply entwined with the beauty of the city and with my love for poetry and literature, from the Anglo-Saxons through Shakespeare to George Elliot.”
After Oxford, Alan joined Procter and Gamble, one of the world’s leading marketing companies, as a graduate trainee in Newcastle-Upon-Tyne. Adding value to soap powder felt a million miles away from the hippie life among the dreaming spires, but Alan learned his new trade well, and kept sane by going home and creating a giant Yellow Submarine mural on his living room wall. In 1973, Alan startled his bosses by dropping out and took a year off, studying Buddhism, and travelling right across Africa from Algiers to Mombasa, and then on to Afghanistan and India.
In 1974, Alan won a scholarship to do a 2-year MBA at Harvard Business School. He had three reasons for this choice. Firstly, to learn from the best US examples how increasing people’s fulfilment at work could improve their productivity too. Secondly, to get some American perspectives on the parlous state of British industry, and thirdly, to own a Ford Mustang convertible. He fulfilled all three of his dreams.
After Harvard, Alan turned down lucrative job offers from big consultancies, choosing to work in the real world of line management in manufacturing companies. His first job was Marketing Manager for Hygena Kitchens in Merseyside, a former market leader, now loosing money heavily. Alan comments “In my management career, I know that I’ve learned even more from companies in total crisis than from those that work well-run. In a problem business, you have to take risks, make educated guesses, and you learn very fast.”
The peak of Alan’s management career was with Caradon Plc. In 1985, he was a founder-investor in this large management buy-in, which consisted of a group of struggling building materials companies. Alan was appointed Managing Director of Twyford’s Bathrooms, the largest of these, with 1500 employees. He was given free rein to apply his ideas about personal fulfilment and job satisfaction, and successfully turned the business around, restoring moral, profitability and market share. In 1987, Caradon had a highly successful share floatation on the London stock exchange, and Alan’s founding investment produced the capital which has enabled him to start a series of innovative projects since 1990.
In 1990, Alan gifted a large chunk of capital to create a business he founded, to create an educational charity and a 130-acre organic farm, to offer learning programmes for adults and schoolchildren. Magdalen Farm was where Alan learned about organic growth, and how such approaches can help people with their own happiness and resilience. In 1992, another big intuition led Alan to start an education centre at Hazel Hill, a beautiful 70-acre wood near Salisbury, and to evolve it from a commercial plantation to a conservation woodland. With a few colleagues, Alan set up Wisdom Tree, which runs trainings in natural happiness and resilience at the wood for individuals, work organisations and communities.
Alan’s next big adventure came in 2004: founding the UK’s first low-impact, affordable co-housing community, The Threshold Centre and living there for five years. Alan says, “living in a community taught me lots about myself, and about the value of groups. Our community market garden gave me a lot of gardening experience, and a lot of good meals.”
Alan is a widely experienced workshop leader. He has led many groups for businesses and other work teams, and many personal development groups and retreats. These groups have been a catalyst for his books. The Natural Advantage: Renewing Yourself was Alan’s first book, published in 2000. It shows how the principles of organic growth can improve resilience and performance in the workplace, drawing on Alan’s experience at Magdalen Farm. His second book, in 2013, was Out of the Woods: a guide to life for men beyond 50. This drew on learning from his long involvement with men’s groups.
Alan was born in 1948, married in 1971, divorced in 1998, re-married in 2012. He has two daughters in their thirties. His inspirations include Alfred the Great, Pete Townshend, Mary Magdalen, Groucho Marx, Sufi poets, and his daughters. He has two first class degrees, an MA in English Literature from Oxford University, and an MBA from Harvard Business School. Alan lives in Bridport, West Dorset, with his wife Linda, a keen gardener and complementary therapist, where they have transformed a rundown one-acre garden.