Up Close Article

The Business Journal newspaper featured the following article on December 10, 2010.

Up Close: Allan Younger
Premium content from The Business Journal – by Catherine Carlock, Staff writer

Allan Younger feels right at home in the county government building in downtown Winston-Salem. A newly appointed member of the Winston-Salem/Forsyth County Planning Board, he jokes and laughs with county commissioners and staff after the commissioner’s meeting. Younger, an up-and-comer in the ranks of Winston-Salem leadership, started professional development consulting firm Grace Consulting about two years ago. He also wears several hats with Forsyth Technical Community College, including presenting and facilitating leadership workshops at the school’s Small Business Center as well as serving as adjunct instructor.

What compelled you to start your own business?

I’ve always had some sense of entrepreneurial spirit, just not always willing to take the risk. As I’ve gotten older, it didn’t feel nearly as intimidating. In this economic environment, there are a lot of people and organizations who are willing to pay for an outsider to help see themselves better. There is an opportunity out there that I believe I’m meeting.

What does Grace Consulting offer that other consulting firms don’t?

One of the things I focus on is our emphasis on relationships. Our desire is not just to complete a project. There are many consulting firms who will just complete a project and that’s it. My desire is to really make a positive impact on Winston-Salem. I like being involved in the community in which I serve. I want to make a positive impact on people’s lives.

What are the challenges facing the City-County planning board?

Maintaining a balance as we look at additional development or, in areas that are developed, how they’re used. There are some people in our community who would prefer additional commercial development. Where it makes sense, we should do that, especially if the result will be additional jobs. There are others who don’t like to see as much development as we have now and don’t want any more.

Where do you stand?

Generally speaking, I want to see development if it helps the community, not if it harms the community. It’s hard to always be for something or always be against something. I try to maintain a balanced approach to it.

How do you strike the balance between preserving neighborhoods while leaving Winston-Salem open to opportunities with companies such as Caterpillar?

The Planning Board’s role is not to be the paternal person saying, “We know what’s best,” but it is to be the body that understands longer-range plans for Forsyth County. And we don’t always see eye to eye. There are many times when all nine board members vote the same way, and then there are times when there’s a five-four split. It doesn’t mean that any of the nine people are not being reasonable in their decision-making. It means that everyone views the situation a little differently.

What kind of knowledge and experience do you bring to the board?

I bring a perspective that is balanced, is fair and is consistent. There are some times that people are so dead set on their ways they cannot think objectively. A lot of times, people are very quick to decide which side they’re on. But my business … requires that I think objectively and think broadly.

Who are your role models in town?

Two people that are personal friends, and in some ways I try to be like them, are Allen Joines, the mayor of Winston-Salem, and John Bost, the mayor of Clemmons. Both of them are consistently fair, approachable, and personable. Both care more about the community that they serve than their own political affiliations. Although there’s a reality that there will be a next election, it never felt to me that either of them interact the way they interact for political expediency.

Grace Consulting is registered as a Minority Business Enterprise. Why did you feel that registration was necessary?

I don’t think we live in an age where people say “I don’t want to work with this person because they’re a woman or they’re black or they’re from wherever they’re from.” But sometimes the normal channels don’t quite reach certain people. Many people feel “if the group doesn’t look like me, act like me, talk like me, I don’t need to talk to them.” So, many businesses decided to increase the amount of business we’re doing with historically underutilized businesses, and make a concerted effort to find them.

What are some challenges facing the city?

The racial divide and the socioeconomic divide that exists within Winston-Salem. There’s one community that believes that it’s all good, and it is for them. And there’s another community that believes that it’s all bad, and it’s all your fault. Neither are right. There are issues that we all need to overcome, but we’re not going to overcome by pointing fingers.

Do you see a need for specific MBE outreach in the Triad?

There’s definitely a need for more MBEs and (Women-Owned Business Enterprises) to be invited to the table. However, the onus should be placed on MBEs and WBEs to find those tables and find those invitations. Sometimes invitations are there and people don’t hear.

You spent nearly 10 years working for GE Capital. What’s the most important lesson you took away from your experience there?

Understanding business from a broad perspective and understanding how quickly change can happen. Some of the takeaways were a personal relationship approach to business. I have some clients who really hunger for partnerships, relationships with either their customers or others in the industry. One of the things I learned at GE was it’s an integral part of doing business.

What’s something you’ve read recently that’s made you think?

I’m in a book club, and we’ve read a Leonard Bernstein essay called “The Mountain Disappears.” It’s part of a collection of essays called “This I Believe.” The essay views change as an important thing, defined by righting wrongs. It says the dignity of another is intertwined with mine. If you’re successful, I’m successful. I just loved it.

What’s something you’re proud of?

My children. As they grow and I watch them develop their personalities, preferences, hobbies, even little quirks. I’m most proud of the opportunity to shape members of a future generation… and that does make a lot of stuff worth dealing with.

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