Every month over 20,000 highly successful CEOs and key executives head to a very private, highly confidential meeting with a small group of peers, where they discuss the issues and challenges they are facing and seek out understanding, advice and help.
There is an old adage that, “it’s lonely at the top.” CEOs worry about their families, their employees, their vendors, their customers and often their boards of directors. No one worries about CEOs. That’s why these executives come to the table each month to care about each other and address their common struggles.
Back in Wisconsin in the 1950s a group of CEOs faced the “lonely at the top” challenge head on and formed a group called The Executive Committee, “TEC.” The group soon morphed into an incubator for many more like minded groups over the years. More recently Larry Ellison and Michael Milken took control of TEC and rebranded it into “Vistage International” and put it into overdrive.
They passed it on to private equity companies who continued their vision. Today, Vistage is the oldest, largest CEO organization in the world, operating in 16 countries with more than 20,000 members. The Bay Area is home to about 40 Vistage groups from Monterey to Santa Rosa. The North Bay has five CEO peer groups covering Marin, Sonoma and Napa counties.
Each peer group is comprised of 12 to 14 members who come from non-competing industries offering totally different and unique perspectives. This allows for the confidentiality that members need in order to share information freely, without fear of compromising proprietary business data. There are three classes of peer groups, one for small business CEOs, less than $5 million in sales, a second for larger business CEOs and a third for “Key Executives” who report to CEOs.
Many of the members of the CEO groups rely on the key groups as a leadership training and succession program for their executive teams. While each peer group avoids members from competing industries, Vistage also provides “vertical networks” where members from the same industries can collaborate with each other around the country and around the world.
Peer group members typically struggle with rapid growth, controlling their financials, culling and building their teams, while keeping them fully engaged, managing millennials and every other complex business challenge imaginable. They also have personal issues affecting themselves and their families that make it difficult at times to keep it all together in a world that imposes stress at every turn. The ability to take these concerns to their trusted peer group each month helps them to work things out, become better leaders, make better decisions and get better results.
Members typically start every meeting by “checking in” on what has happened over the previous month, personal and business. They also raise issues for which they would like some “face time” later in the meeting. The checking in process helps all of the members develop a deeper understanding of each other and the world in which they live. Over the years this understanding deepens the bond each member feels for the others. In a peer group it’s all about bonding and transferring trust to the group so that when really tough issues come up, each member is willing to bring it to the table and know that their peers will have their back.
Joseph Destein is master chair of Vistage North Bay. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.