Groups forming for CEOs, other execs

Groups forming for CEOs, other execs

URBANA — Betty Brennan says monthly meetings with a group of CEOs helped her find solutions for her business.

Brennan, president and owner of Rantoul-based Taylor Studios, said she received coaching from Mike Donahue of Newgrange Consulting for about a decade.

As part of that coaching, Brennan met monthly with eight to 12 other business leaders to discuss issues in their companies and share possible solutions.

Brennan said she has an excellent executive team at her company, which designs and fabricates exhibits for museums and other clients.

But she said she found it helpful to talk with other business owners about how to handle things.

The group gave her "an ad hoc board of directors," and she's eager for other local entrepreneurs to have that resource without traveling to Chicago or Indianapolis for it.

As a result, two new groups — one for company CEOs and one for other executives — are forming in the Champaign-Urbana area this summer.

The first group, CEO Peer Group, is for entrepreneurs, business owners, company presidents and CEOs, as well as executive directors of nonprofits. Its initial meeting will be from 8:30 to 11:30 a.m. Sept. 13 at Lori Gold Patterson's office at Pixo, 121 W. Goose Alley, U, with follow-up meetings on the second Friday of each month.

The second group, Executive Peer Group, is for entrepreneurs and people in senior leadership positions. Its initial meeting will be from 8:30 to 11:30 a.m. Sept. 12 at Brandon Bowersox-Johnson's office at Pixo, with follow-up meetings on the second Thursday of each month.

The follow-up meetings will be held at other members' businesses.

"Pixo is simply the location of the first meeting," said Patterson, the CEO of Pixo, an information technology company that employs about 30 in downtown Urbana.

Already, six CEOs have expressed interest in the CEO Peer Group, and four executives have registered for the other group, Patterson said. Membership in each group is limited to 14, with no two members from the same field.

Each meeting starts with a "check-in" at which all members speak. The rest of the meeting focuses on resolving member issues and opportunities and discussing topics that support members in achieving their goals.

Members are expected to keep everything discussed in meetings confidential. They're also expected to participate in discussions, host a meeting and help recruit members.

There's no charge for the first meeting, But after the first meeting, member dues are $395 per month, payable quarterly, for Executive Peer Group and $545 per month, payable quarterly, for the CEO Peer Group.

The groups will be led by executive coach Mike Donahue, who chairs two similar leadership groups in Indianapolis. He has more than a decade of experience working with peer groups.

Patterson said she became interested in the peer group idea after meeting with Brennan and sharing stories about their businesses.

"Even though we're in different businesses, we had a lot of the same challenges and solutions," she said.

Patterson said she benefited from talking with Brennan, and each woman set up tours of their business for the other company's executive team.

As a result of the sharing, Pixo has adopted new processes and developed new metrics to measure its performance, Patterson said.

Pixo is also customizing some project management software for itself, and that software may work for Taylor Studios as well, she added.

Patterson said she was intrigued when Brennan told her of the coaching she had received.

"Brandon (Bowersox-Johnson) and I got behind the idea and wanted to see if we could make that happen here," she said.

Brennan said she gained a lot from peer group meetings. She said she learned about emotional intelligence and group dynamics from the sessions and got answers to questions on hiring and sales.

When she aimed for higher sales and failed to achieve it, fellow members of the group prodded her to cut expenses and raise the bottom line.

In her case, all the peer group members were from businesses with less than $10 million in revenue, and they came from a variety of fields different from her own.

Donahue said a big benefit of participating is getting different points of view on whether an issue is being addressed correctly.

"This is where they can go to get their answers questioned," he quipped.

"You're going to see it from one direction," he added. "They're going to shine a different light on it for you."

Members can accept — or reject — the group's recommendations. If a member accepts them, the group will follow up and hold the member accountable for carrying them out.

"People who do the best (in these groups) are not the people who hold their cards close to their chest. They're the people who are open," he said.

Donahue said his primary role as facilitator "is to create a high level of trust in the room."

He also works to make sure that issues are covered in 20 to 25 minutes and that an agenda is set for the next meeting.

Topics run the gamut.

"We'll have people who want help with deal strategy. They may have a big opportunity to close a deal, and we'll talk about strategy and about pricing," he said.

"We've had serious discussions about members buying out partners, dealing with difficult employees, dealing with difficult personalities and rivals in the organization, dealing with a difficult boss," he said.

At Newgrange, Donahue coaches leaders of small and midsized businesses. He calls his group coaching sessions "learning labs for executives."

Before founding Newgrange, Donahue worked for McDonald's and Citicorp. At McDonald's, he was a market manager, director of new products marketing and director of sports marketing. At Citicorp, he was responsible for brand building in the Midwest.

Donahue later served as the first president of the National Institute for Fitness and Sport. He also served on the board of the U.S. Olympic Committee and was board chair of USA Gymnastics.

Those interested in taking part in CEO Peer Group or Executive Peer Group can contact Donahue at 317-931-3288 or

Sections (2):News, Business
Topics (1):Entrepreneurs

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