In the Summer of 2007 I realized my dream of selling my business. The help of my Vistage group members, speakers and my fabulous Chair, Cheryl McMillan, were critical not only in making the sale happen, but in helping me grow the business to a point where it was worth selling.
Over my 15 years as a member, I learned so much and received so much great advice. I became much more focused on the important things in my business and my life, started to regularly set goals, built a much stronger organization and started tracking important metrics. In the process, I became a better listener, and a much more astute business person.
I was also able to witness dramatic positive changes in my fellow members’ lives and assist in their business decisions. I watched them overcome obstacles and saw their businesses blossom. My Vistage experience was extremely rewarding, and one where I always learned while being able to help my fellow members.
The Vistage model is very powerful when done correctly. Cheryl was my Chair for four of my fifteen years as a member. She is continuously learning new techniques and approaches to helping her members become the best they want to be. She is a truly extraordinary Chair and is rated among the top 20 Chairs worldwide on a regular basis for good reason.
Vistage Chair and Former CEO, Swiger Coil
CEO, HGR Industrial
My first Vistage meeting was on April 4, 1995. My last meeting was December 19, 2013.
In between those two meetings, my life was changed in every way. There were lots of factors that changed my life and my business, but none as powerful as meeting with my peers for one full day a month, and my Chair for another two hours a month…..When I started with Vistage in 1995, my company had annual revenues of $2 million, 14 employees, was named to the INC. 500 and lost money. That year, my wife and I had been together 20 years and our children were 11, 15 and 16. I paid myself $48,000 in what was my seventh year in business.
Since then, my first business was sold into private equity for $45 million. I’ve started another three businesses and a foundation and between them we manage about $60 million in assets. Half of our investments are in marketable securities and the other half are active investments in socially conscious companies. Our three children are all married and all are running their own businesses….
Most importantly, I’m happier than I ever dreamed I could be. I have health, love of family and an incredible fortune. And daily, I live my dream of serving those who serve the ;poor, the focus of our foundation, The Business of Good.
When I told my chair, Cheryl McMillan, that Vistage had helped put millions in my pocket, she suggested I write a testimonial about it. Here goes.
First, it definitely did that. Meeting monthly with 10 to 20 fellow CEO’s absolutely gave me more assurance when I faced difficult decisions. Where else can you get that much quality time with other entrepreneurs/business owners? They were in different industries, and some were more useful than others. As fellow business leaders, though, they all faced similar problems.. My bottom line increased every year from 2004 to 2010, including during the “great recession,” and many ideas that I ran by my fellow Vistage members helped me do this. I recently sold m company for much more than I had ever thought possible, in a large part because of this help from my Vistage membership.. But my rewards from my Vistage membership went well beyond the money.
The networking was fantastic. When I wanted to sell my company, fellow Vistage members steered me to the best local people to advise me about ESOPs, management buyouts, private equity buyers, etc. The Vistage Village web site was also valuable. When I was buying new factories, I ended up learning from remote Vistage members about specific issues like how vapor degreasers can cause millions of dollars of pollution cleanup. I could get answers from Vistage for almost any business question.
I especially enjoyed my one-to-one meetings with my Vistage Chair, Cheryl McMillan.. I learned to prepare for these. It forced me to regularly think about the most important things I had to worry about, distasteful as that might have seemed at the time. Finally, there were the speakers. Most provided valuable advice. They improved the way my company approached such things as recruiting, pay, key performance indicators, goals, Board memberships, banks, and practically everything else.
So exactly how does Vistage make one’s company more valuable? I don’t think it’s anything specific. It forces you to think about your company strategically,. Eventually I conquered the “tyranny of the urgent.” I learned to compare notes with my peers. These contacts and Vistage process allowed me to gain valuable information more quickly , more easily, and less expensively.
And as I learned more about my fellow members’ companies, I was able to help them too.
Vistage forces you to have an open mind and be accountable as well. One reason I joined Vistage was to acquire a degree of accountability for my stewardship. I have worked with a Board as the CEO of a company owned by Private Equity, and I can tell you it was easier to pull the wool over my Board’s eyes than those of my fellow Vistage members. In Vistage they get right to the real issue quickly, and then recommend appropriate solutions. You then have to follow through and report back to the group. There’s no place to hide. After awhile, your group knows more about your operations than your Board.
In relation to the value it provides, the time Vistage requires is insignificant. I always found our monthly meeting to be productive. Whatever our group discussed, I reflected back on my own company as viewed through their eyes.. I believe Vistage calls it “working on your company instead of in it. Some say the dues are expensive. I say “Relative to what”? I picked up valuable ideas from each meeting. The cumulative positive effect on my bottom line was far more than the cost of my dues..
Since I am now “retired,” I dropped my Vistage membership. I think that you have to be a working CEO to get true value from Vistage. Otherwise it’s like looking in an opaque mirror and seeing no reflection. However, if I acquire another company, you can be sure I’ll immediately renew my membership.
Former Owner and CEO of Avtron
During my years as a member, I’ve debated with myself have value really gets created in a Vistage group. Occasionally, the serendipity of a great speaker presenting on a topic very timely to my business creates a great meeting and a great take-away value. At other times, the chance to process my business issues and get moments of challenge, clarity and fresh ideas makes it all worthwhile. And to be able to learn about and learn from the business issues of others and benefit vicariously from the strengths and weaknesses of the other members can, at times, seem like the real key. And to that the more focused discussion and feedback in a productive “one-to-one” meeting and the answer of how value really gets created can get complicated.
Looking back on my nearly eleven years with Vistage, the common element among all of these benefits is an environment of commitment, trust, discipline and candor. That environment attracts and retains the best kind of members. That environment enables members to share difficult issues both professional and personal and to both challenge and encourage each other. And, I’ve learned that environment is not created accidentally nor is it sustained casually. Your skills as a Chair are the foundation for the value and productivity of this group. You have my profound appreciation for your leadership of 321. Thank you so much for all that you have done.
Vice President of Marketing, Q-Lab