Leading a business during tough times can be lonely, especially when so many decisions become super-critical. Fortunately, Durl Jensen, President of CDI World USA, discovered an effective remedy.
However experienced you are as a senior company executive and regardless of the problems you have faced and overcome, there are times when the uncertainties are so numerous that it seems impossible to discern a clear way forward. Such a dilemma isn’t just restricted to the top man or woman, it can incapacitate whole management hierarchies.
While major external events (such as pandemics), can undermine confident decision making, a narrow perspective can be equally damaging. This is the classic ‘can’t see the wood for the trees’ syndrome where familiarity with a business – normally a positive asset – can actually prevent management teams from seeing solutions that a well-informed outsider might grasp immediately.
Many companies found themselves staring over a cliff edge. Others were in shock or denial. We went into survival mode.
‘Hiring a consultant’ used to be the stock approach that many businesses adopted when they wanted fresh strategic input. But while this could be useful, a single alternative viewpoint would not always generate sufficient senior management support for meaningful change.
With over 40 years in the events industry and having successfully steered businesses through successive external challenges, Durl Jensen, President of CDI World USA, was determined to ensure his developing senior management team was well-equipped to make key decisions. He knew that several of his industry counterparts were members of the Vistage network and, encouraged by their enthusiastic reports, applied to join.
“It has a simple concept,” explains Durl. “Becoming a member enables you to participate in a peers advisory group of other CEOs, who can contribute their knowledge and perspective to any issues that you bring to the group.”
Confidentiality is assured. The members all sign NDAs and are carefully selected so you don’t find yourself sitting next to a competitor or someone in the same business. Each group comprises around a dozen members and encompasses a broad range of specialisms.
Durl was immediately impressed by the diversity of skills on offer. “In my peer group, there are people with private equity and M&A expertise, accountants, lawyers, a demolition contractor and an IT consultant. You get access to a wealth of knowledge and experience.”
Peer group meetings are much more than high-level networking events, they are working sessions where real business issues are tackled by tapping into the ‘knowledge of the room’ to generate new perspectives, ideas and solutions.
“It’s like an incredibly well-focused sounding board,” says Durl. “Within the group, you know that somebody will have encountered a similar issue in their own business or observed how one of their clients dealt with a similar challenge. Then you add in their own perspective and specialist know-how and you have an invaluable foundation for making difficult decisions.”
When the pandemic hit, the benefits of the peer group approach became sharply apparent. “The events industry was one of the early casualties,” says Durl. “Many companies found themselves staring over a cliff edge. Others were in shock or denial. We went into survival mode. What helped us tremendously was the peer group’s combined understanding of the various government support and loan schemes we were eligible for. These were not well-publicized at the time and turned out to be absolutely vital.”
Improving a company’s ability to manage their way through major crises is not the only advantage that the Vistage model can bring. In less troubled times, the organization’s wider aim is to help its members to succeed in achieving healthy business growth and building long-term value.
Realistic goal-setting and hard-headed analysis are just two of the contributions made by the peer group that Durl welcomes. “I’ve been introduced to analytical tools that I wasn’t aware of. The information obtained from these has had a direct impact on the way we operate day-to-day and also on our long-term strategy.”
Each group member has to host a session and give a presentation. Durl has been asked to speak about how CDI World USA weathered the pandemic storm. “It will cover the steps we took to survive. But it will also underline the importance of having a Plan B. Many companies lacked the resilience to see themselves through a terrible time and we all learnt some hard lessons.”
Now, with recovery well underway, Durl can devote more time to shaping the business in preparation for the inevitable tests to come. The power of the peers group will remain an important part of this. “Our Operations Manager and Production Manager have both joined the program,” says Durl. “As future leaders, we want them to have access to the best training and resources.”
Durl Jensen, President of CDI World USA and Wade Bradley, Vistage Chair.
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