The World's Largest CEO Membership Organization

The World’s Largest CEO Membership Organization

Milwaukee manufacturing company owner started it all…

Bob Nourse’s business wasn’t going all that well when he started going to workshops and industry conferences hoping to find “the silver bullet” to help his company operate more effectively, profitably… after one such session, Nourse realized he was getting as much, if not more, from the others attending the events as from the speakers themselves. Thus, in 1957, in the office of the Milwaukee Valve Company, The Executive Committee, to be known as TEC, was born. Keep the audience the same and change the speakers. Soon this group of businessmen was probing, asking questions and making suggestions. They challenged each other, and worked together to solve questions, confront issues and make suggestions.

TEC got its start in Milwaukee and then expanded to Chicago, but it wasn’t until Bob Nourse sold his company and the new owners took it to San Diego in the 80s that the idea and the company started to enjoy two decades of explosive growth.

Bud Carter, a former media executive, was President of an Atlanta based Outplacement firm when one of his successful clients because CEO of a company in Marin County, joined TEC and gave them Carter’s name when he heard they were expanding into Atlanta..

Bud was interviewed and in May 1987 hired to be TEC’s first Chairman for the metro Atlanta area. Carter, still heading the Outplacement firm with his partner, agreed to chair one group as an independent contractor but when he told attendees at a marketing event he would only be able to work with 12 CEOs, those at the breakfast and lunch sessions demanded to be interviewed immediately, and Carter started not one, but two full groups – a record. Faced with Carter’s waiting list, TEC went back through their list of candidates and hired a second Chairman who started a month later.

Carter, who professes he has never had a job he didn’t enjoy, acknowledges he has never done anything in life that he enjoys as much as TEC – now known as Vistage International. When he started in 1987, he was one of as many as 35 chairmen in the entire country; today there are more than 400 chairmen in the United States alone. The 24 members of his first two groups would get lost in a citywide meeting of the more than 400 metro Atlanta Vistage members. “Worldwide,” Carter says, “we’re approaching 16,000 members.”

“I’m probably the only person I know,” says Carter, “who personally decides who he is going to work with. I’ve always been fascinated by bright people and by colorful people, and if that’s not the definition of most of the entrepreneurs who comprise the majority in both my groups,” says the senior chairman, “I don’t know what is.”

In a service business with no contracts, Bud Carter must be good at what he does. Two of his original members from that first meeting are still in group #150 more than 22 years later, and the average tenure in his groups is approaching 10 years. “People vote with their feet,” says Carter, “if they’re not getting value, if they and their company are not profiting, they leave. There’s no reason to stay. We’re not a social organization.”

Vistage groups are formed with a goal towards creating a diverse group: some big companies, some smaller. Ideally a group has a member or two in manufacturing, several in professional services, others in distribution and retail sales. One of Carter’s first members in 1987 was a pencil lead manufacturer, Asbury-Ferst CEO Sydney Anderson. One of his current members, Michael Price, the CEO of CEOVentures.com has a virtual dot com company with a senior management team literally scattered about the world.

Over the years, Carter has had as members CEOs of some high profile companies: The Athlete’s Foot, Honey Baked Ham, Lockwood Greene and Law Engineering Companies, Larson-Juhl (nation’s largest manufacturer of picture frames), Tune-Up Clinics, Party City and Arby’s.

“The big names have marquee value,” says the senior chairman, “but it’s really the small to mid-size companies that fuel the economy.” A common question, he says, is how a CEO in a different industry, perhaps even a smaller company, can bring value. “New members are always surprised,” contends Carter, “how the problems they face in their business tend to be the same issues others have to deal with regardless company size or industry.”

A guest at one of Vistage #150’s meeting years ago had a question for those who were already paying dues and taking a day a month to work on their business instead of just in it. “Why,” the skeptical prospect asked, “do you do this? What makes it worthwhile?” David Hanson, the CEO of SyncroFlo, a charter member since deceased, answered, “Some of the people in this room have been where I want to go, others here have been where I don’t want to go and both can be of help to me. This,” said Hanson, “is where I come to have my answers questioned.”

For more information about Vistage, or to have a Vistage Representative contact you,  just send an email to: vistage-info@b5d.f72.myftpupload.com