Getting Maximum Value From a CEO Peer Group
Listen to Episode 47:
Episode 47 Transcript:
Chris Curran: Growth Igniters Radio, Episode Forty-Seven: Getting Maximum Value From a CEO Peer Group − a Case Study. This episode is brought to you by Business Advancement, Incorporated, enabling successful leaders and companies to accelerate to their next level of growth, on the web at www.businessadvance.com. And now, here’s Pam and Scott.
Pam Harper: Thanks Chris. I’m Pam Harper, Founding Partner and CEO of Business Advancement, Incorporated, and with me is my business partner and husband, Scott Harper. Hi Scott.
Scott Harper: Hi Pam. It is always great to be joining you for another episode of Growth Igniters Radio, and if this is your first time listening, our purpose is to spark new insights, inspiration and immediately useful ideas for leaders to take themselves and their companies to their next level of success. So, Pam, what’s the topic for today?
Pam Harper: Getting Maximum Value from a CEO Peer Group. If you go all the way back to Episode One of Growth Igniters Radio, we discussed the power of a business community, which of course can include peer groups.
Scott Harper: That’s right.
Pam Harper: If you join one, it’s very important to find a group that fits with your highest needs. That could be location. It could be size of the group. It could be whether it’s a trade association or a professional association.
Scott Harper: Culture, personality, purpose; all those things, yes…
Pam Harper: All those things − right. When a group really works and provides maximum value to their members, what I’ve seen is they become passionate supporters, and they can go to great lengths to keep it going. Today we have a case study of what that can look like.
In the year 2000, Fred Green, often referred to as “a leader of leaders,” re-established the Boston chapter of a national association called the Chief Executive Officers Club, an organization of which he was a member when he was a CEO of insurance companies. Today the CEO Club provides business, educational and networking opportunities to its sixty CEO members who qualify if their firms attain annual revenues of two million or more.
The CEO Club of Boston also offers small group support in the form of Presidential Advisory Councils, which Fred facilitates. Fred is author of the article Why CEOs Need a Watering Hole, Benefits Abound When Top Executives Get Together, and the subject of an article called Presidential Advisory Councils Offer CEOs Support, Counsel and New Ideas, both published by CEO Refresher.
Over the last thirty-two years, Fred has been elected to the Board of Directors of over thirty organizations, serving in leadership roles in seventeen of them, including the New England Association of Mutual Insurance Accountants − where he was president, The Stone Hill College Executive Committee for Development, and the Metropolitan Council for Educational Opportunity.
Scott Harper: A very involved guy…
Pam Harper: Yes, and you can find out much more in his biography under Episode Forty-Seven of Growth Igniters Radio. Now, let’s get to the conversation. Fred, welcome to Growth Igniters Radio.
Fred Green: Thank you Pam and Scott. I appreciate that very much.
Pam Harper: Fred, how did you get to be involved in the CEO Club of Boston?
Fred Green: I was CEO of an insurance company for eleven years − a thirty million dollar company with sixty-five employees. At the time, I joined the CEO Club of Boston, and I met other CEOs from other industries, and discovered that they had many of the same problems that I had.
Pam Harper: Okay. You came to being a CEO through some interesting kind of ways, right?
Fred Green: I was a graduate of the Massachusetts Maritime Academy and a former engineering officer in the United States Merchant Marine during the Vietnam war. I was a former lieutenant in the United States Navy. I was a former instructor of the Dale Carnegie Course. I’ve been a lecturer on leadership. When the companies were sold that I was CEO of, I was looking for something that would be my next career, I guess basically. I kind of fumbled around doing some consulting work and I remembered a time I had with the CEO Club of Boston and called the President of the club in New York City and said that I’m available to reactivate the club in Boston, and he was very supportive of that. That was fifteen years ago.
It gave me a chance to pay back those mentors that gave freely of their time to me; many of them had passed on. It’s sort of an opportunity to pay forward to others who benefit from my experience, advice and connections. It allows me to stay in touch with those outstanding business leaders who I’ve known as Chief Executive Officers.
Scott Harper: That’s great. You first were part of the CEO Club of Boston, as you said, when you were a CEO for the insurance companies. What was it like back then? What caused you to join that particular club, and what was it about that experience that made you want to reactivate it?
Fred Green: There was an education there for CEOs which I was very much attracted to. I needed some help with strategic planning and was directed to a firm that fit the bill for this. I had some questions and got some answers about organizational structures for my high growth company. I basically benefited from the quality of speakers that the club provided and the friendships that were created.
Pam Harper: Fred, were you also considering, say, trade association CEO groups and other kinds of CEO peer groups?
Fred Green: I was in a number of different trade groups − probably too many actually. The thing about a trade group is you’re in there with your competitors and it’s really not a place where you can share your innermost feelings and so forth. It’s good to learn about the industry, but this is more of a personal thing. CEO peer groups basically are support groups that work together. Ours meets bi-monthly. We hear speakers with information pertinent to positions as top leaders. In addition to speakers, we provide an opportunity for CEOs in small groups to present issues and their fellow CEO peers to get feedback from them.
Pam Harper: I guess if you’re thinking about when you were back in those days and you were considering all the different options, it sounds like this was the option that really best suited you, when you considered all your needs.
Let’s take a quick break. When we come back, we’ll speak more with Fred Green, Chairman of the CEO Club of Boston, about his experiences in helping his members get the most out of this peer group. Stay with us…
Scott Harper: You’re listening to Growth Igniters Radio with Pam Harper and Scott Harper, brought to you by Business Advancement, Incorporated, on the web at www.businessadvance.com. We enable successful companies to accelerate to their next level of innovation and growth, and if you like what you’re hearing, spread the good word. Go to growthignitersradio.com, select Episode Forty-Seven and use the share links for Facebook, Linkedin and Twitter on the top right of the page to tell your social media communities all about us. Use #Growth Igniters for your social media. This will help extend our reach to all of the people who can benefit from this series.
Pam Harper: Welcome back to Growth Igniters Radio with Pam Harper − that’s me − and Scott Harper. Today Scott and I are speaking with the Chairman of the CEO Club of Boston, Fred Green, about his experiences in enabling his members to get the most out of this peer group. Fred, how can people find out more about you and about the CEO Club of Boston?
Fred Green: They can refer to our website, which is www.ceoclubofboston.org. We have a telephone number − it’s 508-944-4442. That should do it.
Pam Harper: That should help. Also, for our listeners who are in different parts of the world, the CEO Club is part of a global group?
Fred Green: International. That’s true.
Pam Harper: International; okay. Getting back to our conversation − we were talking about the specialness of the CEO Club of Boston. Of course we know that there are many different types of peer support groups and organizations for middle-market and entrepreneurial CEOs to choose from; but what have your members told you about why they chose to join the CEO Club of Boston?
Fred Green: This is a great opportunity, because just last month we celebrated our fifteenth anniversary and I have here a few testimonials I’d like to read, if that’s okay with you?
Pam Harper & Scott Harper: That’s great.
Fred Green: These are all in quotes here. “The CEO Club of Boston is that rare council of exceptional leaders who are striving to fulfill their potential and that of their team.” “Our Chairman has given me personally more support than I can ever thank him for.” “I look forward to the meetings, the wonderful speakers and the positive conversations that take place each meeting.” “Our Chairman has given deeply of himself over the years that I have know him both to those who belong to the CEO Club and those who would like to belong.” Finally, “Today there are many peer group choices, but none come close to this club for depth or know how.”
Pam Harper: Congratulations first of all on the accomplishments.
Fred Green: Thank you.
Pam Harper: Also, it sounds like leadership − your leadership specifically − was a very important part of what drew people to the CEO Club of Boston.
Fred Green: I got all these accolades, which kind of swelled my head a little bit.
Scott Harper: That’s great.
Fred Green: I’m a facilitator basically. I bring people together. I bring in speakers and just try to make it as easy a path that it can be for CEOs, who tend to be lonely at times. This is an opportunity for them to come with questions that they have and ask their peers what their ideas are on various issues.
Scott Harper: As Pam talked about at the top of this episode, all of these different groups have different characteristics and different cultures. What would you describe as the culture of the CEO Club of Boston that has evolved, and how does that support your members?
Fred Green: We provide a nurturing and non-threatening environment to CEOs for sharing ideas and learning that cannot be gotten from Boards of Directors or employees or friend. One of our members described the life of a CEO, no matter the size of the organization, is a stressful and difficult and lonely job. We believe that it’s okay to be independent, but there is no reason to be alone.
Pam Harper: Can you tell us what it’s like at a typical meeting? Are they called meetings or events?
Fred Green: Yeah, meetings. They’re four hours in length. We start off with a speaker that has a subject that is of interest to CEOs, such things as leadership or strategic planning, Board relations, sales management, marketing, team building, branding, culture, customer service, succession planning. All of those things that are pertinent to CEOs we cover in the speakers.
We start off with one speaker. Then we open it up to what we call our roundtable discussions. We put three or four CEOs around various tables and have them present issues to each other and they get feedback from their peers. Then we go around the table so that everybody has the chance to do that.
Pam Harper: So there’s a lot of participation. Fred, what do you do about the issues of confidentiality? How does that work?
Fred Green: We sort of have an unwritten rule that if you want to say something outside of the meeting you really have to get permission from the person that said it. In fifteen years we’ve never had a problem with that. When we deal with our smaller group − the Presidential Advisory Council, or PAC − we actually sign confidentiality agreements so that we don’t share information without getting the permission of the person that gave it.
Pam Harper: I think that’s so important. How would you say that this peer group has enabled your members to deal with their own business situations? For example, is there a story that you can give us about this?
Fred Green: There sure is. I call it the Charlie Knoll story. Charlie was one of our founding members back in the year 2000. He ran a small company that did local and wide area networking. He came to our meetings and he literally devoured the information that he received from the speakers and his fellow peers. Over the next five years, he was able to grow his company exponentially, train another person to be the CEO, and exit his company to pursue his dream of helping other people less fortunate than himself. He credits what he learned from the CEO Club for his remarkable success.
Pam Harper: That’s amazing. It’s always wonderful when people get that kind of value out of it and they can trace it right on back. That’s excellent.
Fred Green: Right. We introduced a couple of our members to a book editor, Ken Lizotte and two of those members have written books about their business.
I have kind of a funny story here, if you don’t mind…
Pam Harper: Sure.
Scott Harper: Go ahead.
Fred Green: There was an example of a CEO − he showed up to our meeting and he was furious. His reason was that somebody had made an accusation against his company and he was going to put a full page ad in the newspaper [defending his company]. One of the CEOs at his table said that he recalled a similar situation where a restaurant owner put an ad in a newspaper saying, “There are no rats in my restaurant.” This CEO said, “I don’t know about the restaurant before, but I would be reluctant to go there now.” Of course the message was do not draw negative attention to yourself; it’ll worsen the situation. Needless to say, that irate CEO did not take out the newspaper ad.
Scott Harper: Okay. So it gives people a chance to work through issues…
Fred Green: Exactly. Yeah. Who do you talk to? If you try to talk to your spouse, she or he is fed up with the discussion anyway. You can’t talk to your employees. You can’t talk to your Board of Directors about certain things, so who do you talk to? You can just go into a shell and you just talk to nobody and you make decisions in a vacuum, which is very dangerous.
Pam Harper: Yeah, that’s definitely true. Of course, a peer group is part of a range of resources that are available, but so very important to be able to share with people who are facing similar situations.
Scott Harper: And you get out of it what you put into it. There’s no question about that.
Pam Harper: And that is what we’re going to talk about in the third segment. We’re going to take another break right now. When we come back, we’ll talk more with Fred Green, Chairman of the CEO Club of Boston, about his experiences and how to get the most value from a peer group. Stay with us.
Pam Harper: During this holiday season, Scott and I want to thank you for being part of the Growth Igniters Radio community. This has been a real learning experience for us, and we want to hear from you about the value you’ve been getting from what we’ve been producing every week since February of this year. Go to www.growthignitersradio.com and click “contact us” at the bottom of the page. Who knows? Your feedback may end up featured on our website. Along those lines, do you have an idea for a guest you’d like to hear in the coming year? We’re always on the lookout for more bestselling book authors and innovative CEOs of successful middle-market companies that we can learn from. Again, go to www.growthignitersradio.com, click “contact us” at the bottom of the page, and we’ll get back to you to follow up.
Pam Harper: Welcome back to Growth Igniters Radio with Pam Harper and Scott Harper. Over the last two segments, Scott and I have been speaking with Fred Green, Chairman of the CEO Club of Boston, about his experiences in helping his members get the most out of this peer group. Fred, can you tell us again how people can find out more about you and about the CEO Club of Boston?
Fred Green: Yes. They can refer to our website, which is www.ceoclubofboston.org, or give us a phone call at 508-944-4442.
Pam Harper: Okay. Of course this is US hours, so keep that in mind. Let’s get back to our conversation. At this point we like to ask our guests for three pieces of immediately actionable advice to get the most value out of any peer group they join.
Fred Green: The first one is learn from the experience of your CEO peers. Second, keep up-to-date on what is happening in the outside world. Third, you will form friendships that will last a lifetime.
Scott Harper: Okay. The first one is “learn from the experience of your CEO peers.” Have your members talked to you about specific instances where your group has been particularly helpful, versus any other venue that they’re part of?
Fred Green: Yes. We have a number of folks that have benefited over the years. When you get together and you learn from the experience of others, it is the best learning there is.
Pam Harper: You bet; you bet. You know, Fred, I was just thinking about something. I’ve been part of CEO groups over time myself, and one of the things that at least one of them really had as a value was getting together one-on-one with people outside … Because there’s so much that’s going on, just making that time … They used to call it “house calls.” Does your group do anything like that? Do you value that?
Fred Green: We encourage our members to call each other and have lunch together and share ideas with each other, visit each others’ plants. Those things are greatly encouraged and a lot of our members do that.
Pam Harper: Maybe one thing they could do is they could make an appointment right now with one of their colleagues in the peer group they belong to.
Fred Green: Right. Right.
Scott Harper: Yeah, because as valuable as the structured programs are and the speakers are − and we believe in that − that unstructured time is so important. I know that when I was in corporate, and even now, I would frequently quote my own father who used to say, “I’m always smarter in somebody else’s office than I am in my own.” It’s that give and take, and that serendipity like, “Oh, you do this? I didn’t know. That’s a great idea. I’ll try that here.”
Pam Harper: And it builds trust.
Scott Harper: It does indeed.
Pam Harper: That’s great. That second piece of advice you were mentioning was…
Fred Green: Keep up-to-date on what is happening. We select speakers that have a message for CEOs. If it’s a technological message, we want the people to speak in English. A lot of the things are leadership, strategic planning, Board relations, those sort of things where they don’t get good advice on the outside. Maybe they’re dealing with it for the first time. Maybe they’re an experienced person passing on to a younger CEO the things to do and the things not to do.
We’ve had almost two hundred speakers in the last fifteen years. What I like to do is I like to get speakers that have written a book about their subject. We give them forty-five minutes to speak. If they’ve written a book about it, they ought to be able to speak for forty-five minutes I say.
Pam Harper: I would think so. In what you’re talking about then, it sounds like one of the other important things that people have to do is to put on a priority that they need to show up for these meetings.
Fred Green: Absolutely. There’s no value in just paying the dues and not showing up. That doesn’t make any sense at all.
Pam Harper: Yes. So often I’ve seen … One of the things I didn’t like in some of the peer groups that I was part of was there were people who just weren’t showing up. Amazing programs, but people not showing up. In order to foster trust, you really have to show up and be there for the other people who are part of the CEO peer group.
Scott Harper: Not just show up, but participate.
Fred Green: Right. This is really a favor to yourself. You should carve out that time. We meet six times a year, every other month for four hours one morning. Carve out that morning for yourself. Don’t schedule anything else around it. It’s a half a day. You can go back for the rest of the half a day and make some money. We start early in the morning and we’re out by noontime. It’s really something you owe yourself to not only help your own company, but to help yourself.
Scott Harper: So you’ve got to really take that time to say, “It’s not breathing down my neck, but it will really contribute value to me and my company if I do it.”
Fred Green: Right. You’ll feel good when you come to the meeting and when you leave the meeting. There’s no reason you can’t feel good every once in a while.
Pam Harper: I would think so. And what was that third piece of advice?
Fred Green: The third was the friendships that you form with other CEOs. When you become a CEO − a lot of people build walls and don’t let you get to them because they think that you’re the boss, and they like to talk bad things about the boss. When we put the bosses together, they can then share their own ideas and their own thoughts. They may have similar interests, but the basic thing is that they want to be the best CEO they can be, and you learn that from the experience of other CEOs.
Scott Harper: An important part of building that friendship is to get into a mind frame where you can let down and reveal.
Fred Green: Exactly.
Scott Harper: If I’m revealing myself to you, that takes trust, so I’ve got to work on building that trust. But if I’m giving, then that’s going to open up people and they’re going to say “this is not just a CEO. It’s a human being with human concerns −“
Pam Harper: And interests.
Scott Harper: −and interests. Yeah.
Pam Harper: You talk about work/life balance. Do you get into a little bit of that too − helping people to maybe get the full life balance?
Fred Green: We try to. These folks are kind of driven folks and are Type A personalities. They have a tendency to work very hard. But you know, if you work hard you can play hard too.
Pam Harper: That’s right.
Fred Green: Give yourself a break. Come to a meeting where you don’t have to know all the answers. We don’t expect you to know all the answers. Where you can ask stupid questions and receive information that can be invaluable to you either in the present or in the future.
Pam Harper: There are never any stupid questions, just questions.
Fred Green: Right. The only stupid question is the one you don’t ask.
Scott Harper: There you go.
Pam Harper: Maybe another idea to me when I think back, is when I came to a meeting and I had my questions written down so I didn’t forget them … Because sometimes what happens is people go in, they get distracted and they walk away … When I didn’t actually have the questions written down I’d invariably go, “I wish I’d asked that question.” This was a place I could have asked it, so put my questions down and keep them handy so I can share them with my peers.
Fred Green: That makes a lot of sense, although we do give the information from our speakers so that they can get in touch with them later on.
Scott Harper: That’s good too.
Pam Harper: That’s important. Any final thoughts, Fred, about how people who are listening can get the most value experience from any CEO peer group that they join?
Fred Green: We already know that CEOs enjoy the feeling of being independent, but our mantra is that doesn’t mean you have to be alone. My suggestion is do yourself a favor, align yourself with a CEO support group, reduce that feeling of loneliness. You learn from the experience of other CEOs, you’ll be kept up-to-date on what is happening in the outside world, and you will form friendships that will last a lifetime.
Pam Harper: Okay. Fred, thank you so much for joining us on Growth Igniters Radio.
Fred Green: Thank you.
Scott Harper: Thanks Fred, and thanks to you out there for listening to Growth Igniters Radio with Pam Harper and Scott Harper. To check out resources related to today’s conversation, including links to CEO Club of Boston and Fred’s articles, share on social media, find out about upcoming episodes or open a conversation with us, go to growthignitersradio.com and select Episode Forty-Seven.
Pam Harper: Until next time, this is Pam Harper…
Scott Harper: And Scott Harper…
Pam Harper: … wishing you continued success, and leaving you with this question to reflect on:
Scott Harper: What type of peer group is right for me and what do I need to do in order to get maximum value out of it?