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30 Best CEOs of the Year 2021

In Conversation with Joe Rafter, Business Change Leaders Inc. CEO: ‘Our Focus is to Build the Transformational Athleticism that Every Company Needs to Respond to the Marketplace’


“Our approach enables us to uncover new insights for our clients’ transformational plans.”

Business Change Leaders Inc. is a boutique management consultancy. Their clients engage them to help execute enterprise-level transformational change. Is your business model still working for you? Is your Board looking for improved results? Does the CEO expect dramatic improvements in the coming year? Business Change Leaders, Inc. helps you meet and exceed those expectations. Driving change in organizations is what their team has done for twenty-five plus years in some of the world’s largest organizations.

The firm is headquartered in Larkspur, CA.

Joe Rafter, Business Change Leaders Inc. CEO, spoke exclusively to

The Silicon Review. Below is an excerpt.

Q. Can you take us through the company’s journey right from its beginning to where it unwaveringly stands today?

After over 24 years in corporate America, I founded Business Change Leaders Inc. to give companies a unique alternative to “big consulting firms” for their transformational initiatives. As a boutique consultancy, we bring an owner-activist mindset to our work. We consult as if we owned our clients’ company while also challenging the current state. We care about our clients’ customers, business, and people beyond the terms of a consulting agreement to fulfill our purpose—to help others achieve the greatest version of themselves as individuals and large corporate systems.

Launched in August of 2016, we focus on helping great leaders, companies, and people do remarkable work by solving their most complex business challenges. For each client, we have implemented our Business Change Leadership Capability Model® to deliver more efficient and effective results for their executives, Board, and customers. Our capability model is the most complete, actionable, and configurable enterprise transformation model available to companies and their leaders today. Our consultants give you a competitive advantage based on leading practices assembled from real-life experiences in the trenches of some of the world’s largest transformations because we have walked in our clients’ shoes before. We help our clients raise their “transformational athleticism” at an enterprise process and technology, leadership, and individual contributor level through our advisory, project delivery, partnerships, and leadership coaching services.

Q. How do you measure whether an organization is approaching its strategy well? How do you make sure that your clients are increasing their success rate?

Our clients typically engage us with new strategic plans that are Board approved and with significant pressure to deliver quickly. We frequently start discussions with our clients to understand the “why” and “what” of their strategy. Usually, the “what” is sufficiently defined. However, the “why” is rarely defined, and addressing the “why” provides the most significant leverage to accelerate their transformational success. We help our clients see the bigger picture and critical success factors required to build what we call the “transformational athleticism” needed to deliver on their aspirations—building transformational athleticism in our clients bridges the strategy-execution gap between Board-level goals and enthusiastic adoption by employees and customers.

Just as an athlete sets new aspirations to more notable achievements, they put themselves on a developmental path for success, and we find corporate transformation to be similar. When a company sets a new strategic direction, it represents something they have yet to achieve. The key to delivering their goals is developing their “transformational athleticism,” just like an aspiring athlete develops their ability to compete. Like a player-coach, we go beyond helping our clients play the transformation game to help their people become stronger corporate athletes or Business Change Leaders.

Q. How do you manage to understand the operational environment of a business in-and-out before strategizing a transformation plan?

Our ability to understand our clients’ environment starts with ensuring we are in an aligned relationship. We seek relationships with clients ready for an open and candid dialog that confronts difficult facts while maintaining confidence in our ultimate success together.

We operationalize this understanding by implementing our transformation diagnostics in a trust-building manner while engaging an owner-activist mindset. We build and maintain diagnostics that we tailor for each client to increase our understanding of their end-to-end business model, including culture. We implement our diagnostic as a trust-building activity via listening tours. We rapidly launch our listening tours, completing over 100 interviews in the first 30 days of an engagement. Our approach enables us to uncover and test new insights for our clients’ transformational plans. Finally, embracing our owner-activist mindset, we pressure-test our clients’ strategies and implementation plans with straight talk and peer feedback to round out our shared understanding of a situation.

Q. To enable continuous innovation, the operations of a business/organization should be flawless and streamlined. Do you help companies patch their internal inefficiencies?

Our focus is to build the transformational athleticism that every company needs to respond to the marketplace. We hold flawless execution in higher regard than flawless strategy because your ability to rapidly respond to changing market conditions and execute is the greatest competitive advantage. Further, it is our opinion that your customer should tell you if your strategy is correct, not your consultant. Using our Business Change Leadership Capability Model®, we determine our client’s ability to respond to the marketplace (e.g., transformational athleticism). We then help them become more athletic by identifying the most significant levers to accelerate their transformation. Finally, we craft the roadmap to implement the organizational muscle to deliver transformation.

Q. Success is not guaranteed if you don’t have the required budget and resources. As a highly experienced influencer, how do you manage to ensure success with limited resources?

We prefer to apply two techniques to address resource limitations. First, if a company needs to transform, multiple activities need to be stopped. Stop the lowest value activities, redirect the resources to the transformation, and resourcing the change process becomes more manageable. Securing budget and resources is a matter of prioritization and is one of the first exercises in becoming a transformational athlete. The company that fails to prioritize is wasting what limited resources they have today. In a time of decreasing resources, your ability to prioritize elevates in criticality, enabling you to do more with less. We help our clients establish priorities grounded in concrete financial, product, customer experience, and operational terms. Second, embracing the flawless execution concept above, we utilize rolling 18-month roadmaps with periodic course-corrections to plan, re-plan, and pivot priorities quickly based on emerging financial and business conditions. When prioritized roadmaps are routinely revisited, companies gain economic and market agility.

Q. As the CEO, what do you feel is the biggest strength of your company right now?

Our clients tell us that our greatest strength is our culture and relationships. Our culture is grounded in a willingness and ability to speak truth to power authentically and humbly, grounded in facts that enable our clients to see their situation more clearly and comprehensively than they did without us. Our work requires that we develop strong relationships with our clients, as we continually seek to be our clients’ most trusted advisor.

Q. What do you think is the most memorable moment in your career?

Throughout my career, I have always sought opportunities to do something unique, to make my mark. My most memorable moment was from my pro-bono work with the California Youth Football Alliance (CAYFA). As co-founder and Chairman of CAYFA, we defeated a ban on youth tackle football in California, on our way to sponsoring, writing, and unanimously passing the California Youth Football Act, the first youth tackle football law in America. In doing so, we honored the history of football, improved the safety conditions for thousands of football plays, and advanced a new safety standard for youth tackle football in America. This experience was memorable because I am a life-long tackle football enthusiast currently volunteering for two non-profits in this space with sons who play the sport. As Americans, we need to make the world a better place by combining our passions with our communities.

Q. What does the future hold for Business Change Leaders, Inc and its customers? Are exciting things on the way?

We see a more substantial market in 2021 than in the past for digital and business transformation. These past four years showed us that we have the model, leadership, and results required for growth. We added three new partners to our eco-system. Our insights and messages are resonating with a more extensive portfolio of clients.

We look forward to growing beyond ‘a well-kept secret in Transformational Consulting’ to bring new unique value to the market and our clients.

The Leader at the Helm of Business Change Leaders Inc.

As the CEO of Business Change Leaders Inc., Joe Rafter is deeply committed to helping his clients implement the digital strategies and the leadership breakthroughs required for sustainable success.

Joe dedicated his career to developing team members, processes, and solutions to radically shift a business and how it operates. He offers a unique multi-disciplinary approach that integrates C-suite disciplines and perspectives with leadership coaching capabilities.

Joe’s personal commitment is to unleash others’ potential by embodying emotional intelligence, passion, courage, and teamwork.

“We seek relationships with clients who are ready for an open and candid dialog that confronts difficult facts while maintaining confidence in our ultimate success together.”