Maura Corbett founded Glen Echo Group to translate important technology issues into stories people can understand — with humor and integrity. “Live your values,” she says, driven to show how innovation can move the world forward as a force for good.
A self-professed “accidental CEO,” Maura has built the Glen Echo Group into the go-to for clients looking for creative, smart and cutting-edge communications, and one of D.C.’s “Great Places to Work.” Describing her journey with Vistage as “CEO School,” Maura was selected as WWPR’s “PR Woman of the Year” in 2019.
Maura’s CEO tips:
- It’s not about you. Period.
- Never lose your integrity. Ever.
- Empower people to do what they do best.
- Trust yourself.
From near total destruction in the path of an F3 tornado, Vernon Kasten rebuilt Ceramo to new heights for the 75-year-old family business, including a projected 2x revenue uptick in 2020. Thrust into the role of CEO upon suddenly losing his father, Vernon made bold decisions and took calculated risks to power the company into the 21st century, ensuring its longevity through the pandemic and beyond.
With new technology, a diversified supply chain, and a vision and culture his people believe in, Vernon completely transformed Ceramo, driven by his motto, “Be the best, be the first, and have fun along the way.”
Vernon’s 7 keys of profitability:
“Use your unique ability to succeed,” says Gabe Cooley. As president of Rayco Exteriors, Gabe recruits top talent to create a strong leadership team that shares his values: consider the greater good, have pride in workmanship, and be honest. Operating for 10+ years, Rayco has renovated 3,500+ commercial buildings, HOA communities and complexes.
Gabe’s tips for success:
- Focus on one priority at a time, don’t multitask on projects that don’t fit with the big picture.
- Build the discipline and find the value of saying no.
- Empower your leadership team to communicate values and strategy. You can’t be everywhere.
- Face the ups and downs to develop a thicker skin.
Paul Schwer believes in a triple bottom line: people, planet, profits. A leader in sustainable engineering, his company designs some of the highest performing buildings in the world. In an industry with 100% employment, culture is Paul’s differentiator in attracting and retaining top talent. “Culture is fragile,” he says. “It’s hard to create and sustain, but easy to damage.”
Paul’s keys to conquering tough team decisions:
- Act quickly.
- Get comfortable being uncomfortable — you can’t fix everything.
- Talk about the elephant in the room.
- Have clarity, have transparency, collaborate to resolution.
Paul has led PAE to massive growth in revenue (384%) and workforce (from 96 to 380 team members).
“There’s always challenging situations,” says Mike Huseman. “To be able to navigate, you have to have a starting point.” A third-generation leader, Mike empowers his team to make a difference — every day. When Mike joined Vistage, HGC’s revenue was less than $9M. It’s now crossed the $150M mark. He’s achieved this with an intrinsic dedication to doing something with any hand he is dealt, an ethos especially apropos in the COVID-19 world.
Mike’s tips for an “adapt and change” mindset:
- Your choice impacts the future outcome of a situation. Own it.
- Don’t sit in negativity. Determine potential paths, pick the most effective.
- Be a facilitator. Don’t be surprised if the right decision wasn’t your idea!
“We initially built our company on working with individuals asked to leave other programs,” Carmen Sample says, when asked the origins of her human service agency. “By doing so successfully, we established a new norm.”
Carmen’s tips for sustained success:
- Build a company you want to run for the long haul. Ask yourself: What am I willing to tolerate? Be firm. These thresholds define your culture.
- You’ll make a million decisions when you’re scaling. Quickly build on what you did right, quickly move past the mistakes.
- Competition raises the bar of service delivery. Embrace competitors that make your company work smarter.
- Build a company that can move fast, so you can stay one step ahead.
Within a year of Julie Towner acquiring her business, it became the fastest growing woman-owned telecom company in the Midwest. Julie attributes her success to a servant leader’s approach. “Nothing works better than finding out what you can do for other people, finding out what they need, and providing it,” she shares.
Julie quickly expanded internationally, all while maintaining a close-knit team. “Stay determined,” she says, “…but it’s okay to be vulnerable. Let your heart show just a little bit.”
Along the way, Julie gained insights on the imperative of parting ways with staff:
- Do not make a reactive decision.
- Give the team member every tool possible to improve.
- Try until you know, you’ve done everything you could.
“Although highly successful, he is not content to accept the status quo,” a fellow Vistage member says of Joel DiMarco. Joel has grown the family’s fourth-generation business exponentially since joining Vistage, making it the largest independently-owned provider of construction equipment and supplies in NY, OH and PA.
“In business,” Joel shares, “a critical task of a leader is to make decisions. While it is important to make the best decision possible, any decision is better than failing to make one at all.”
Joel’s other tenets:
- Surround yourself with the best team. Lean on them. Trust their advice.
- Make the best decision you can with the information you have right now.
- Relax. Things work themselves out.
- Keep moving forward!
Cindy Richter values the impact her decisions have not only on her employees, but on their families and the greater community. Under Cindy’s leadership, Vanguard Fire & Security was named one of Austin Business Journal’s 2019 “Best Places to Work,” a distinction that speaks to her dedication to serving the good of many over the good of the individual.
Cindy’s leadership tips:
- Choose one word each year as a rallying cry for performance, goal setting and employee engagement.
- Find a peer group with shared values with whom you can speak openly.
- Don’t wait to make tough decisions.
- In every decision, plan for the future.
- Prioritize sustainability and the good of many, even when it’s not easy.
Justin Anderson is known for his people-first approach, and for being a leader that builds leaders. “Doing everything yourself might be interesting to some people,” he says, “but I want to spend my time coaching, counseling and developing our people for their success and the success of the team.”
According to Justin, every challenge can be framed as a:
- People problem.
- Process problem.
- Market problem.
To overcome, a leader must:
- Solve the immediate failure.
- Understand what caused the failure.
- Implement process to avoid repeating the failure.
Manning five start-ups over the past 15 years, Justin is regarded by peers as a “diamond in the rough,” for not only business acumen, but his dedication to his employees, his Vistage group and his community.
For Scott McKenna, culture is integral to the success of every endeavor his company undertakes. From expanding to new cities, to facing crisis, to aligning around values — the power of team has seen Gardner through.
To Scott, the keys to company culture are honesty, transparency, accountability and work ethic — and he leads adoption by his own example. Getting his start in the industry digging ditches for a pool builder, Scott brings experience and integrity to his leadership of Gardner for the past 26 years, and to his Vistage group for the past 15.
- Trust your instincts.
- Come to a solution by asking questions.
- Whatever your business is facing, culture will drive and sustain you.
“It’s my honor and privilege to do this work. Above and beyond everything else, I’m just thankful we’re here,” says Kelly Matter of Avivo, helping 15,000 people per year living at or below the poverty line achieve recovery and advancement.
Driven by the belief that everyone deserves the chance to live well and work well, Kelly shares that the team remains “utterly committed to rising to the occasion,” working harder than ever before on the frontline of COVID-19 and community justice issues.
Kelly’s nonprofit leadership tips:
- Use a “mission filter” in all decision-making.
- Operate as a business. No money, no mission.
- Be mindful. Encourage time off to avoid burnout. Have fun.
Your prized hire is stealing from you. How do you overcome ego and admit to making what Joe Calloway calls, “a 100% wrong decision?” Joe joined Vistage and transformed from manager to leader, guiding RE360 to one of Inc. Magazine’s 2020 “Best Places to Work,” and earning such recognition as EY Entrepreneur of the Year.
Along the way, Joe learned some valuable lessons:
- If in your gut something doesn’t feel right, don’t hold back for fear of ruffling feathers.
- Have zero tolerance for people who suck the energy out of the room.
- Communicate. Be a person who likes people.
- Your time is one of the most valuable things you can share.
- Success takes longer than you might think. Keep going.
20-year Vistage member Bruce Benator never shies away from a challenge. “You have to make those tough decisions as a leader,” he says. “You have to do what you know is right for the company, no matter how difficult.”
From strategic business decisions to COVID-19, Bruce has found strength in his CEO peers, and is committed to balance. His leadership has seen his firm named an Accounting Today “Best Place to Work” — eight years running.
Bruce’s leadership longevity secrets:
- Commit to making tough personnel decisions. Don’t hesitate to do what is right.
- Don’t be too hard on yourself. At the end of the day, you can only do what you can do.
- Make time for family. There are no second chances if you miss those moments.
David Bashford is described by peers as “a true trailblazer who exceeds expectations, challenges conventional wisdom and is pushing the boundaries of what’s possible in a law firm.” Lending to this is David’s unique approach to leadership.
“Business is personal,” he says, believing that a myriad of problems, legal and otherwise, may be avoided if individual impacts are considered as an integral part of making business decisions.
David recommends this decision-making exercise:
- Make two columns.
- Column 1: List the ways the decision impacts the business.
- Column 2: List the ways the decision impacts others.
- Give both columns equal weight in analyzing and finalizing the best course of action.
Do the right thing. Show people you care. Do your personal best. Under Dan Diepenhorst’s leadership, Legacy Mutual Mortgage has reached record revenue and been named an SABJ “Best Place to Work” for four consecutive years — never losing sight of its core values.
“I started out as a wide-eyed entrepreneur,” Dan says. “The biggest thing I’ve had to adjust, is to be more disciplined in our hiring practices.” Dan’s advice for building a strong team (gleaned from experience and 10 years as a
- Trust but verify. Watch people’s actions, instead of just listening to their words.
- Slow down. Don’t just hire friends, or the first person that walks through the door.
- Put practices around hiring that are best for the organization.
- Take a chance on those with a good attitude and a hunger to learn.
Shannon Coomes joined Hill Fire Protection in 2010, and has grown revenues from $3M to $30M+. “I’ve never been afraid of the challenges associated with working in the construction industry,” she says. A problem-solver who runs on grit and determination, Shannon’s leadership is credited with rebuilding a once struggling business.
Her tips for success:
- Put people in the right places to build a good team.
- Write it down. Put a target in place. And hit it.
- Hire those with a can-do attitude who’ll hold one another accountable.
- Let people make mistakes and work through them.
- If you aren’t growing, you aren’t providing opportunities for your employees.
- Strive for transparency in management.
When Bill Pretsch first joined Vistage, his revenues were about $12M. He set a goal to be at $50M by 2020 — and hit the goal a year early. Asked his advice from 20 years as a Vistage member, Bill says, “When facing a decision, the worst thing you can do is nothing. That’s a sure way to fail.”
Bill’s seven themes of leadership, applicable for any SMB leader:
- Define your culture. Everyone wants to be part of a winning team.
- Share your vision. What’s the higher purpose?
- Identify your external competition, to reduce internal.
- Establish smart goals for right now.
- Celebrate wins.
- Set big hairy audacious goals (BHAG) for the future.
- Set the stage to exit on top.
“Seek out mentors early, rather than having to learn things the hard way.”
“Making lemonade is a really important skill.”
“It’s okay to make mistakes. That’s how we learn, and we don’t have to be perfect.”
“Don’t be afraid to take big leaps.”
“Listen more, talk less — the same advice I give my older self.”