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CEO Networking Associations: Helping leaders thrive

|Jul 5|magazine13 min read



As Chief Executive Officer, you’re responsible for making the vital decisions that can affect the short- and long-term success of the company. Where can you turn for unbiased advice or ideas to drive your business? Executive associations provide a platform for business leaders to exchange ideas, advice and solutions within a community of their peers in an environment of trust and respect. As a result, their members thrive, making confident decisions and becoming better leaders within their industries.

“In today’s global world, changes that affect your business can come from anywhere, so it’s vital to be well-connected throughout the world,” said Jill Belconis, 2010 -2011 Young Presidents’ Organization International Chairman. “You may sell exclusively to the U.S. market, but your supplier in Mexico may have an issue that obliges you to find a manufacturer in China.”

CREATING VITAL CONNECTIONS
Executive associations, such as the Women President’s Organization, the Young Presidents’ Organization and Vistage International, are comprised of business leaders from diverse industries around the world. Meetings are held monthly with CEOs and presidents of non-competing companies. In each of the aforementioned organizations, members meet monthly within local chapters to share ideas, experiences and resources to improve their businesses.
Vistage’s members spend an average of 10 hours a month participating in meetings with the Chapter chairs. “This is an opportunity for them to take their toughest issues and be with other people whom they respect, and it helps them figure out what to do,” said Rafael Pastor, Chairman of the Board and CEO of Vistage International, the world’s largest for-profit CEO membership organization.

“It is a fertile ground to learn about ideas that can help to accelerate the growth of the company and enhance its competitiveness,” said Marsha Firestone, Ph.D., President of the Women President’s Organization. As a peer-advisory group, WPO meets monthly to share experiences and expertise, and to learn from one another in a respectful environment of other entrepreneurs. Members use their challenges to drive the agenda of the meetings, which are led by a paid professional facilitator.
“It’s a personalized approach to business experience and business development,” said Firestone.

According to the WPO’s survey of its members, over 82 percent of WPO members expect an increase in revenue in 2011. Similarly, Vistage members have grown their businesses 5.8 percent from 2005 to 2009 as compared to the average Dun & Bradstreet company in the United States. This growth is often credited to the peer advisory model.

OVERCOMING CHALLENGES
Sharing common challenges is important for several reasons. First, many of the same issues arise in business, regardless of the industry. Executives can hear how another CEO handled a similar problem and adopt a version of the solution to fit their own challenge. “It’s not so much that they network with one other; they get together to solve problems together, which goes beyond just networking,” said Pastor.

Second, the meetings involve business leaders from non-competing businesses, creating an environment of safety and trust in which the people are more likely to share their business challenges. Executives are more likely to open up and discuss business problems with respected leaders who do not have a stake in their company. “With a trusted platform of business leaders who are committed to one other in more than 100 countries, it’s easy to see the incredible advantage of solving an unfamiliar problem with two phone calls rather than spending hundreds of hours and thousands of dollars trying to research the issue yourself,” Belconis noted.

Third, a sense of community is created when business leaders come together to share information and experiences that can be used to help others tackle challenges in their own businesses. Trust runs deeper when connections are made in person, a benefit that sets it apart from social networking websites, where executives may never meet in person. “We bring the human dimension into the conversation. Because it’s rare, it’s valuable,” said Pastor.

INFLUENCE OF SOCIAL NETWORKING
Though social networks such as LinkedIn provide a platform for executives and business leaders to network with one another, personal interaction away from the computer isn’t necessarily encouraged. Vistage sees social media as a supplemental component to the greater organization for member generation, to promote events and for webinars. According to Pastor, Vistage does not allow the use of social networks to replace the heart of their organization—the human connections made between executives. “Social media supplements the knowledge that’s delivered inside of the Vistage group meeting,” Pastor said. “We’ve been connecting people offline for a long time.”

“There are a lot of opportunities that are presenting themselves now. It is [the businesses’] best chance to make the most of these opportunities by being creative and involving their teams in dealing with the challenges. If they can do that they end up on top,” Firestone said. Executive associations provide the opportunity for business leaders to meet with others who have faced similar challenges and find solutions to prosper as the economy recovers. “The basic point about Vistage, and I’m very proud of it, is that in good times, bad times, or in transitional times, it plays a very important role in making our members better leaders who make better decisions and achieve better results,” said Pastor.