The WHY behind setting up my own company

A story of parents, failed training courses and THE magic ingredient

In this article, I share what was the underlying motivation behind setting up Expression for Growth back in the year 2000.

Three out of four of my parents were teachers (and the other a salesman), and having been brought up in that environment, I swore that I would never enter that profession; the stress, the hours, the commitment, far, far beyond (what I saw as) the call of duty, put me off.

So I became a mining and explosives engineer, and then a salesman (obviously!).

Here I am, 45 years later, at the other end of my career journey having created and run an award-winning multinational management development organisation operating in six languages, with a base in the UK as well as the Americas and a presence in APAC…..and for most days in the past 25 years…what have I been doing? (albeit in the corporate world)…That’s right…teaching.

I have been asked so many times “why did you set up Expression for Growth?”…now is the time for me to answer.

Training does not work (most often)

Training gets a bad rap; last time we counted, there are in excess of 50,000 ‘training companies’ in the UK market alone – most of them one-person-bands, many doing amazing work. But the majority just don’t cut it. When I first entered the world of ‘management development’ in the mid-nineties…a then colleague of mine wrote in my leaving card (from the big American corporate with whom I cut my ‘sales teeth’) “those who can, do, those who cannot, train”. Whilst it was meant with affection (I hope!), it stuck with me and I reflected on it frequently as I entered into this brave new world (for me).

I learnt my craft, mostly working with commercial teams, helping them work better with their customers. What I discovered was shocking to me.


Having given up a secure corporate role and taken the plunge into a (much) smaller organisation…this was unnerving, to say the least. I still have the picture my (then) boss presented me with to encourage me to make the leap – it was one of those ‘motivational pictures’ so popular back in the day – it simply said: “you cannot discover new oceans unless you have the courage to lose sight of the shore”. I will be indebted forever to him….as, for me, it summed up exactly what I needed to do. The irony is, that that picture still hangs in our offices to this day, having taken on a much more significant meaning when we set up Expression for Growth.

To change behaviour, you must work on changing beliefs, first

I learnt SO much from that new role…and what I learnt most of all was that I had found exactly what I had been put on this planet to do. I loved working with groups of adults helping them be better at what they did….I realised then that I had a ‘knack’….that the experience they had was definitely not what they expected, and made a lasting impression.

However….still sticking in my throat was the discovery…that training does not work; I say it provocatively….of course, there are plenty of examples out there where training does work….it is, after all, alive and kicking today. However….there is one common factor where training actually does succeed in changing behaviour (after all that is what it is designed to do). I realised that the vast majority of training interventions failed in this regard…people just got back to work and carried on (one of my colleagues uses a wonderful phrase that beautifully sums this up “Agree – Ignore – Carry On”).

So what is this magic ingredient? What is this common factor?

It’s simple; in the corporate environment, we are dealing with adult learners. They learn very differently than when they were at school….they will change behaviour if (and only if) they make the choice to do so. Successful training initiatives have this belief at their core….so few deliver this. No number of new processes, motivating speeches by senior leaders, glamorous venues, or great ‘team bonding’ nights out will fundamentally change what people believe about what is the ‘right right’ way of working.

Inspire, enable and support

In short, I wanted to create a business that would change this. I wanted to create a business that would Inspire, enable and support (still our purpose, to this day) adult learners in a corporate environment to want to change the way they worked so they could be the best they could be at what they did. (See my article (Leading the Adult Horse to Water) for more ideas)

There were many, many inspirations for me (covered in subsequent articles) – the one person at the centre of this was my wife, who agreed to take the leap of faith with me back in the year 2000 and to this day is by my side having helped create this wonderful business we have the privilege to be part of.

So…for those of you who asked…now you know the ‘why’ behind what we started, what seems like a lifetime ago.

If you found this article interesting please share it…..and if you would like to find out more, have a look around our website for inspiration and more information about what we do.

Alex Selwood