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Value for Your Time

A few months after joining PeerSpectives, Chris Willis left a roundtable she had belonged to for several years. "Up to then, it had been one of my favorite groups," says Willis, CEO of Media 1. "But I didn’t have time for both, and I was getting more value out of PeerSpectives, which is geared to second-stage companies."

The emphasis on sharing experiences is one reason Willis finds PeerSpectives so effective. "If someone gives me advice, it closes my mind to other possibilities," she explains. "Instead, PeerSpectives members ask questions that make me think about my situation and resources, which empowers me to see things differently."

Experienced-Based Learning

"The most valuable business lessons stem from being in the trenches. Sitting around a PeerSpectives roundtable with seven other business owners and drawing from their experiences not only has helped me get through a couple of jams but also see how to avoid some in the future." —Steve King, president of Anderson Lubricants Inc.

"It’s the difference between driving by a restaurant and saying ‘that looks like a good place to eat’—and having actually eaten there several times. Opinions are easy to come by; everyone has an opinion. In contrast, experience is about having a reference point to speak from. PeerSpectives members can say, ‘I had a similar situation and here’s how I handled it.’ They can also tell me if, in retrospect, they would have handled it the same way or taken a different approach." —Ed Amaya, president of Kenowa Industries

"The roundtable structure — asking questions rather than giving advice — has helped me change my leadership style. Hearing others talk through their issues gives you insight into how people process problems. There have been many ‘aha’ moments when I can see why a problem exists for someone else, and how it might exist in some form in my business. And even if I don’t have that specific issue, I might have a process for solving it that I can share."

"Another huge thing was coming up with a vision — identifying what we do differently than anyone else. It’s been a great journey. You can’t communicate to employees the importance of what they do unless you know the big picture. Having a vision has made our staff feel part of something larger than making buttons. It’s also helped with financial goals and identifies what kind of customers we want and what markets we should be reaching." — Christen Carter, founder of Busy Beaver Button Co.

"It’s really helpful to listen to the problems of other business owners and hear what they’re going through even if you don’t have use for the information at the moment; you’ll have use for it at some point. It’s like a case study that I get to see in action each month — and how it plays out over the year." — Tim Walter, founder of T.F. Processors

Back in The Black

At this time of the year, when it is traditional to reflect on what we are most thankful for, one of the things that have truly made a positive difference in my life and my business is having the opportunity to be part of our Senior Mastermind Group.

I am extremely grateful that you took the initiative to reach out and inform others of this fantastic peer learning program. Your leadership experience, knowledge, and professionalism are such an asset to our meetings. Although our group is fairly new, I have already received valuable advice that is helping to turn my business around. Most importantly, it has helped me to develop a new mindset focused on challenges, possibilities and problem-solving rather than discouragement and doubt. Again, thanks for all you do to make a difference. Linda Armas - Partner, Residential Care Placement Specialists.

"My company is currently in the black because of PeerSpectives," says Bill Norris, founder of Insurance Data Services, a medical billing company. Norris joined a PeerSpectives roundtable in early 2006. Although IDS had been successful for nearly 30 years, the company had gotten off track and was bleeding red ink.

Many of the company’s problems were due to managers becoming "lackadaisical," Norris says. Yet sharing his issues at the roundtable and hearing how other CEOs handled similar situations had immediate impact. "IDS has been on an improving basis since I joined PeerSpectives," Norris says. "We’re doing a better, faster job for our clients, and in terms of profitability, both my company and our clients are in better shape than ever."

Trusted Environment

"From roundtable discussions, I’ve gotten new ideas about cash flow management, how to better communicate with bankers and leverage assets. Other big takeaways have been on personnel. In the past, I didn’t look ahead and anticipate staffing needs, which resulted in hiring too quickly — and bringing on the wrong candidates. Now I’ve learned to be proactive and be on the lookout for candidates before we become desperate. I’ve also learned how to handle the firing process better and do it with grace and respect. No leader likes firing anyone, but it’s important to prune your garden at times in order for it to grow." — Jerry Singh, president and general manager of RTI Laboratories

"Every conversation is confidential, so you can really let your hair down," says Ed Amaya, president of Kenowa Industries, a custom metal fabrication company. PeerSpectives helped Amaya work through an awkward personnel issue involving senior management. "In fact, it was the most difficult situation I’ve faced since becoming president," says Amaya. Although he had some initial ideas for handling the problem, Amaya hesitated. Getting feedback from the roundtable gave him the confidence to move forward. "They affirmed that my plan was the right thing to do—and gave me some ideas for how to present the solution," Amaya says. — Ed Amaya, president of Kenowa Industries

"I’m a computer person rather than a group person. Yet I say things about where I feel weak in running my business that I wouldn’t say to my best friends. Whether it’s a business problem or a personal problem, the roundtable is a trusted environment for me." — Bill Norris of Insurance Data Services

Sparking Creativity

Regarding the SMMG, Fabulous opportunity to get out of the vacuum that gets created in small business. In these harsh economic times, I need an opportunity to have honest dialogue about what is happening in the business. The fabulous part is the impact listening to the suggestions from everyone else. I must have taken home 6 that could be put into action immediately, and another 6 that need a little tweaking. I personally need other people around me that are working on the same project, but completely different, if that made sense. I get more from listening to them, than I ever got from traditional business classes!

I can't thank you enough for putting this group together, and showing us how to get down to the nitty gritty quickly! Chez Wise - Founder, Motivate 4 Success

Robert Fischer admits he initially hesitated to join PeerSpectives. "The time commitment was my biggest concern," explains president of the TD Fischer Group, a provider of promotional displays and retail fixtures. "Yet I’ve learned something at every meeting—and my involvement impacted us right away."

As a result of PeerSpectives, Fischer has instituted numerous changes, from improving the company’s quoting processes to disclosing more financial information to employees, so they feel a greater sense of ownership. "We’ve also started pre-employment testing, which has given us a richer pool of candidates and helped reduce turnover," he adds.

Sitting in the PeerSpectives sessions sparks a different kind of creativity, Fischer says: "I suddenly get ideas that may be unrelated to anything we’ve talked about, which has enabled me to eliminate a lot of my work. Our company has never run so well."

A Resource for Networking

John Kulp was thinking of joining an industry affinity group—primarily because of a sales-training program included in the membership. Yet the entrance fee was hefty, so Kulp shared the issue at a roundtable session. "Although no one had experience with the specific group I was considering, one roundtable member referred me to a sales-training group that he had used successfully. Not only was their price much lower, but the training was more intense," says Kulp, president of Kulp’s of Stratford LLC, a roofing and insulation company.

"The roundtable is a way to establish a network of people you can count on. Although we’re working toward the same goals, we’re not in the same area. It’s a very comfortable and confidential atmosphere, which is good for both personal and organizational growth." — Tino Mantello, president of The Technology Association


"One aspect I especially like about the PeerSpectives model is sharing personal issues as well as our professional challenges. Hearing my peers talk about things that are going on in their lives has prompted me to change my leadership style and get to know my staff better. The model has taught me that to be a really effective leader, you need to get to know your people — not just professionally but have an appreciation for their personal situations and learn what inspires them."

"Since I’ve made this change, I see a big difference. My employees are more confident and motivated, and we’re more effective as a team."— Leigh Sempeles, executive director of St. Vincent de Paul

The group discusses everything from time management to budgeting issues to board relationships, and Barhorst has found the latter being especially helpful. After working with an advisory board for years, Barhorst’s school changed its operating structure and appointed a governing board. "That was a difficult transition for me since I had made all the decisions for a long time," Barhorst admits. "Being in the roundtable has really helped me learn to how work with our board as a decision-making entity. It’s been a tremendous experience."

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