I have had the privilege and honor to be the Program Administrator for the CEO Roundtable program since its inception in mid-2005. Over the years I have seen it grow from a concept in a conference room to a regional program serving over 40 local CEO with 4 active tables. I am impressed by the world-class caliber of the local CEOs, the businesses they have built, and their personal agendas. These are the most talented individuals in our community sharing best practices and developing professional relationships that make our business community more competitive. The CEOs are energized by different perspectives leading to fresh approaches to complex challenges. At times it’s an amazing process to be a part of.
A prospect member CEO asked me why Your People Professionals (YPP) built the CEO Roundtable program and I must admit I stuttered a little answering the question. The program is modeled after the one in Milwaukee where it is run by the Chamber of Commerce. I had belonged to the program in Milwaukee for several years as a member CEO before moving to the Central Coast. I had friends within that program that assisted us in building the local program by sharing exactly how the program worked. The Milwaukee program has been around since the 1950’s and the roster of member CEOs reads like a Who’s Who of the Region. For an organization like a Chamber it is easy to understand why they would start and run a CEO Roundtable. It helps promote and advance the business community and this is core to their non-profit mission. YPP on the other hand is a private for-profit company that provides Human Resource Services to other businesses. They saw a requirement to help their client’s CEOs develop professionally and they saw peer groups as a key element to their executive development strategy. So they decided to take on the role of the community HR Executive and find a way to bring this resource to the community. Their vision was, and is, that a stronger business community would be better for their business.
There was plenty of discussion in the early days about keeping the program within YPP and making it a profit center. There are plenty of examples in the market place where private businesses have monetized programs like this. Examples abound in the market with national programs like Vistage and many other consulting groups that use this concept to create billable hours. However, the goal and intent was to serve and improve the business community, not to create a revenue stream. As the concept developed it became apparent that in order to grow to the community level that the program would have to be community based. To serve the YPP clients it had to involve business leaders beyond the client list of any one company. This strategic decision to partner with others allowed the program to build relationships with Softec, the Economic Vitality Corporation, and the Santa Maria Chamber of Commerce. These non-profit partners allowed the program to connect to the regional business community. YPP partnered with BLHK, which is now known as Caliber Accounting Group and Longcrier & Associates. This partnership provided us with additional networking reach and many other resources.
To understand what a CEO Roundtable is and how it serves it members you first have to understand the world of a CEO. CEOs are unlike any other person in an organization because they have to provide leadership on the tough decisions that cross multiple specialties. CEOs do not have the luxury of taking one perspective to a problem because they have to bring together the diverse specialties and get everyone headed in the same direction. All CEOs were at one time in sales, finance, operations, IT, accounting, administration, human resources, manufacturing, or some other department. However, as CEOs, they have to balance all these areas and they have to reasonably come to a position that everyone can support. It’s a tough job when you consider some of the natural conflicts in every business. CEOs must be fair and consider all perspectives and then lead people through the decision and implementation.
Business leaders need to continue to develop as professionals and for CEOs this is a tough challenge. While far from a complete solution the CEO Roundtables give them a unique peer environment that allows them to challenge themselves. The program gives them opinions from respected peers that do not report to them. The honest and sometime brutal opinions can be absolute eye openers on decisions that are critical to their business. While not every meeting is a home run I have witnessed many exchanges that I know later helped shape the CEOs decision and it helped improve the business. There is just something magical about a room full of highly talented natural leaders that just makes taking a problem apart seem simple. CEOs share how they have addressed specific areas, what has worked, and more importantly what has failed. The level of honestly is, at times, amazing.
In a recent meeting the discussion was on data security and as everyone knows there is no perfect solution to security. The tighter you make the security the more problems you create for operations and the higher your costs. It was fun to watch a room full CEOs tear this problem down and look at the pieces. It will take time before the meeting has any impact but you could tell by the conversation that people in the room were being exposed to solutions and perspectives they had not thought of themselves. Will something change, will one of the businesses get better? Who knows but what is clear is that CEOs absorbed one more aspect of the business puzzle.
The other thing that this program has done is it has created relationships between these highly talented people. As we all know it not what you know but who you know. I have seen some major issues tackled with relationships built in the program. While the details are private I have seen major improvements in costs, operations, new business, technology, and negotiations. I have seen members transition from one phase of their life to another with support from their roundtable.
The program has not been without its challenges. The biggest problem has been finding openings in the tables for all the CEOs that want to be involved. We have 4 active tables and for the first 3 years the vast majority of support came from YPP but with just a few actual clients being served by the program there have been growth limits on the program. This month we put in place, with the full approval and support of the members, a small administrative fee to allow the program to grow. With this we transferred the program to Softec, one of our non-profit sponsors. This provides a program oversight by a highly respected independent Board and paves the way for other companies to step up as program sponsors.
The program is healthy and ready to grow!
If you are interested in getting involved contact Bob Dumouchel email@example.com