Man on a Mission: Alex Tyler is the 2023 Noble Cause MVP
Name: Alex Tyler
Company: A-Train Swimming Co
Units: 8 Goldfish Swim School
Family: Wife Anna Tyler, daughter Lucy, 2
Years in franchising: 11
Years in current position: 11
Alex Tyler is the 2023 Noble Cause MVP (Most Valuable Performer), awarded for passionate, unwavering support for those in need.
For Alex Tyler, learning to swim was, as the saying goes, as easy as falling off a log. “All my favorite memories have been around a pool,” he says. Not only were both his parents competitive swimmers, his father started his orthodontics practice right next to the very first Goldfish Swim School. Add in all those hours Tyler spent at the pool as a youth and it’s no surprise that after college graduation he decided he wanted to own his own Goldfish Swim School. He’d gotten an inside look at that first Goldfish school, and he was confident it would work for him.
What Tyler didn’t expect was what happened on his first trip to Belize. The beautiful setting, where many people earn their living by fishing, had an element that touched him: Swimming was not a widespread skill. He decided to change that. The next year he brought a few goggles and swim toys and set himself up in a shallow lagoon. Only a handful of people showed up, but the next day there were 40, and the next day there were 70. “Everyone had a blast,” he says, “and it really took off from there.”
As his Goldfish Swim School expanded, so did the Belize version. Tyler began to bring Goldfish employees with him, and they were changed by their experiences. “I watched them have an enlightening moment and leave a different person,” he says. What began simply has evolved. “I have brought 85 owners and managers from around the country down to Gales Point, Belize, to build homes, classrooms, libraries, and septic tanks and teach every kid in the village to swim.”
While Tyler has goals to establish more Goldfish locations, the unofficial swim school in Belize remains close to his heart. “My mission work shows my compassion and love for what we do,” he says. “I’ve given many an opportunity to experience a deeper meaning to teaching kids to be safer in and around water.”
Why do you think you were recognized with this award? My mission work stands out in our system. In the past decade, I have brought 85 owners and managers from around the country down to Gales Point, Belize, to build homes, classrooms, libraries, and septic tanks and teach every kid in the village to swim.
How have you raised the bar in your own company? I set a standard as one of the first franchisees that you can make a big impact as an owner operator. I was the GM for 2.5 years and worked every position. It was very important to me that the community I served knew who I was personally, and that I knew every member.
What innovations have you created and used to build your company? As a competitive swimmer and Olympic trial qualifier, I have had a hand in developing the curriculum we use to teach swim lessons.
What core values do you think helped you win this award? Integrity, compassion, and trust. My mission work shows my compassion and love for what we do. I’ve given many an opportunity to experience a deeper meaning to teaching kids to be safer in and around water.
How important is community involvement to you and your company? Extremely important! Goldfish Swim School franchises are hyperlocal businesses. We are there to provide services to the families in our community, but we also want to get to know them beyond what we provide in the pool.
What leadership qualities are most important to you and your company? I have always been someone who likes to lead from the front lines. It gives me an opportunity to understand more of what to expect from my team and connect to them more genuinely.
Formative influences/events: I joined my church on a mission trip to Gales Point, Belize, where we built a homeless shelter for the village. While working in the village, I noticed that no one had formally learned how to swim, and most admitted they would be unable to save their own lives if they were to fall into deep water. Even crazier? The village is surrounded by water! I have returned every year since to teach more than 80 kids in the village how to swim and how to be safer in and around water. This mission over the past decade has hands down been the most formative influence of my career because it allowed me to zoom out and realize that our company’s mission spans beyond our four walls.
Key accomplishments: I opened my first Goldfish Swim School franchise at 22 and was named IFA Franchisee of the Year in 2022.
Next big goal: Open six locations in Portland, Oregon.
Hardest lesson learned: I’ve learned many tough lessons over the years, but the first monumental lesson was giving control and ownership of tasks to those I had hired and trusted. As an owner/GM, I wore many hats and found it natural to have a hand in every decision in the beginning. It was difficult for me to step back and let my team run with what I had started at first, but once I committed and trusted my team members, I was able to expand to another location, rinse, and repeat. It is easy to see now, but if you don’t genuinely trust your people, your business is going to struggle.
Best advice you ever got: Find a mentor! Running a business requires a wide range of skills and expertise. As a collegiate athlete, working with a coach was second nature to me. The same rings true to me as an entrepreneur. Find someone you trust to provide you with advice, answer questions, and help build your network of connections.
Favorite book: Traction by Gino Wickman.
What’s your passion in business? My favorite thing about being an entrepreneur is that I get to be part of something I believe in. The services I provide are services that I love, and it’s so fulfilling to be able to bring them to those who need them.
Business philosophy: We do the right thing, make the right decisions, and treat people with integrity, compassion, and trust.
Management method or style: I run a coaching style of management because then our team is really a . Coming from an athletic background, I find it natural to lead my team to achieve goals and perfect their skills so everyone can reach their full potential. This style of management gives us room to focus on long-term growth that will overshadow short-term mistakes.
Greatest challenge: Navigating through the Covid shutdown. I felt helpless in the face of government mandates and public perception. We were forced to shut down for 100 days and were only able to open with less than half of our previous operation. During the forced shutdown, I made it a mission to keep in touch with every employee and did everything in my power to give them as much stability as I could. We reopened with an even stronger company culture and an unbreakable bond of trust between ownership and staff.
How close are you to operations? I am involved in the day-to-day but empower my leadership team to take 51% ownership of their specific areas of accountability. I tend to guide each manager of the business using KPIs that relate to their expertise. It is easy to get stuck in the weeds, and data-driven metrics help take emotion out of decisions that are not black and white.
How do you hire and fire, train and retain? Things have changed dramatically over the past few years in this department. We’ve had to adapt to hiring shortages and the ability to retain employees. During this time, we saw an opportunity to invest more in our employees who were committed to staying with us. We have given them chances to stretch for new heights that weren’t on the table before. We have found some great managers and supervisors this way. Our training is extremely hands-on with approximately 80% done through shadowing. Training is complete upon passing a scored evaluation. Also, it’s important to note that we evaluate our new team members monthly during the first 6 months to ensure consistency. Retention is a product of good culture combined with individual opportunity. We created a 6-month road map to show new hires what they can accomplish with great performance.
What have been the biggest impacts of Covid-19 on your business? It’s very hard to pick just one. I would say we are still dealing with staffing shortages and limitations in comparison with the pre-Covid world.
Annual revenue: $4.5 million.
2023 goals: Select site #1 for Portland, Oregon.
Growth meter: How do you measure your growth? Year-over-year KPIs.
Vision meter: Where do you want to be in 5 years? 10 years? In 5 years, open 3 locations. In 10 years, expand to 5 more.
What are you doing to take care of your employees? Listening! We bring in employees from every position to make sure we weigh all angles when making changes.
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