GA Taylor Fernley

In today’s rat race of a world we call business, CEOs often overvalue themselves, believing, for example, that they have all the right answers. Wrong.

For just that reason, CEOs need leadership coaches now more than ever before. Why? Perhaps because they are so involved in their organization, they are not able to rise above it in order to serve as an unbiased, neutral and effective leader.

At the expense of “opening up the kimono too far,” I am a living, breathing testament of this fact and struggle to overcome it. For that reason, I am on a continual search for sounding boards of respected and experienced individuals who might guide my hand and challenge me to “question my answers.”

Many CEOs with whom I speak talk often about how it is lonely at the top. They, in my opinion, are not asking for pity. What they are asking for is the comfort of others who have walked a mile in their shoes, those who make big decisions daily, decisions that have significant consequences for others.

This is where leadership coaches come into the picture. Over the years, I have worked with several coaches — some good and some not so good. But I learned from each of them. Good coaches, quite candidly, are the ones who do not pull any punches and are brutally frank with you. They seek to be honest brokers of ideas, opinions and suggestions they have gathered and feed them back to you in a constructive fashion.

Good coaches also listen and learn from what CEOs and executives have said, and seek to share expertise in helpful ways, especially when it comes to challenging and questioning the answers you give them. And, best of all, they hold you accountable.

With the skills of a good leadership coach, many positive outcomes will result and improve your positioning and impact as an industry leader. Here are my top five qualities for any worthwhile executive coach:

  • An acknowledgement and self-awareness that CEOs do not have all the answers for the problems their company faces.


  • An ability to learn from others who have, as they saying goes, “walked a mile in my shoes.”


  • A sense of comfort that the coach will hold all conversations in the strictest of confidence.


  • An ability to look at things from a more neutral and unbiased perspective and be accountable to your commitments.


  • A realization that a company will benefit from a CEO who is empowered to translate what they learn from the coach into an all-new leadership style and approach, which can then be used to grow the organization.


When CEOs learn these all-important fundamentals from a coach, they can model that behavior, first moving their management team to a higher level of performance, then creating a trickle-down effect to other members of your company. The net result should be a sense of increased engagement and creativity within your organization.

Don Phillips’ book, “Lincoln on Leadership: Executive Strategies for Tough Times,” perhaps said it best. Borrowing from Abraham Lincoln’s own words referring to his strategies during the Civil War, Phillips noted that, “Leaders should realize that successful alliances put the (CEO) in a position of strength and power.”

Put another way, alignment with a coach will rapidly pay for itself and help you differentiate yourself from the competition.

In my judgment, no company today should operate without access to a leadership coach. Call them a coach, a trusted advisor or a strategic partner. Don’t get hung up on the title. Just get one. You will find it one of the best investments of your life.

G.A. Taylor Fernley is president and CEO of Fernley & Fernley, an association management company founded in 1886. Reach him at, or for more information, visit

One of my life lessons learned early in my business career was to surround myself with smart people. At the expense of being a bit boastful, I have been “top of my class” in the achievement of this approach, and the results speak for themselves.

A byproduct of an innovative and creative management team is the exploration of how to improve an already well-oiled machine. Our machine is firing on all cylinders.

What has been my formula? Enter the concept of joint ventures as a fast-tracked strategy for growth.

Many businesses today have experienced organic growth, while others have done so through acquisition or aggressive new business development initiatives. 

For 115 years, Fernley & Fernley grew organically. Our clients typically came and stayed. At one point, the average account was with us for almost 24 years. However, about a decade ago, I came to an epiphany: for our company to continue to grow, we needed to take a hard look at our service delivery model, evaluate what we did well and what could be done better, and what could be done more efficiently through outsourced joint partnerships.

It was a philosophical shift for us, since we had rarely outsourced any of our management services, keeping them strictly in-house. Well, the concept of outsourcing was launched, and we never looked back. We subscribed to my self-imposed mantra of “do what you do best and farm out the rest.”

Growth through acquisition was also part of our growth structure. In 2006, we purchased an association management company that specialized in the medical and health care arena. It proved to be a low-risk venture, a great investment and it immediately positioned us as a player in this growth market.

Joint ventures have proven to be a valuable strategy and, in many cases, offer considerable advantages over acquisitions (even though acquisitions are still in our future). First and foremost, they cost less and offer minimal risk. Any privately-held company like ours is well-positioned to capitalize on this strength. Unlike public companies that have more rigid requirements, joint ventures for privately-held businesses are cleaner with obligations to a more limited group.

Was there a defining moment when Fernley & Fernley launched the joint venture concept? To be perfectly honest, no. My rationale was fairly simplistic:

1. We needed to develop a recognition and awareness that time and resources (within our firm and others) would continue to be stretched.

2. We also needed to develop a vision that our clients’ needs were going to change and we would have to be nimble enough to change with them.

3. We had to become aware that our clients’ needs would be growing exponentially as the composition within the membership would be more diversified, requiring a broad set of service delivery models.

4. We realized that a need to broaden our scope of management services was going to be required by the changing customer base.

5. We needed to position our company as being the total solution provider to our clients. We would be the central point for all their needs to be met — whether we provided the service in-house or outsourced it.

In the end, I came away with six lessons learned about joint ventures: Pick your partners carefully, educate them on your industry and clients — both internal and external, set clear expectations for everyone involved, allow them to fail (but only once), be sure that your partners are a cultural fit and ultimately, hold them accountable.

Joint venture relationships will continue to be part of any growth strategy going forward. Great opportunities exist by embracing this concept. Don’t sit on the sidelines. Embrace the concept, be aggressive and watch your company grow.

G.A. Taylor Fernley is president and CEO of Fernley & Fernley, an association management company founded in 1886. Reach him at, or for more information, visit

How do you spell relief?

The short answer is: C-U-S-T-O-M-E-R L-O-Y-A-L-T-Y and E-M-P-L-O-Y-E-E  P-E-R-F-O-R-M-A-N-C-E.

As leaders in business, we all struggle with how to find solutions to reduce the pain within our own competitive working environment. Building off of personal experiences, I have found that success comes from embracing a formula of unparalleled customer loyalty and exceptional employee performance.

The key to gaining customer loyalty and employee performance is to earn it. Talk is cheap. It is then up to us create a blueprint to excel in these critical areas. Ask your customers and yourself these 10 probing questions. If you then execute on them, you will be well on your way to success. Do it, and, yes, business will follow.

Know thy customer

Consider going out on a limb, sitting down with your customers and asking them these five questions (I refer to it as my annual “in-touch” initiative):

1. What is the most important thing you value of us as your professional service provider?

2. We pride ourselves on our extraordinary service. What’s the most extraordinary thing we have done for you over the past 12 months? Why did this impress you?

3. If we could improve just one thing to make our partnership even stronger and more meaningful over the past year, what would it be?

4. What is one thing we should stop doing and reallocate those resources to other areas?

5. We’re committed to creating a professional, yet family-like environment here. What would make you feel more part of our family?

The best time to ask customers questions of this nature is in a relaxed environment (e.g., not at a meeting or convention). Let the customer know in advance the purpose of your questions and how they will be used. Remember to thank them for their input. By reaching out to your customer and sharing the collective responses back to them, strong customer loyalty will follow.

Trust thy employees

Your employees/associates are the key to delivering extraordinary service, and those who are good at what they do, and love doing it, tend to drive customer loyalty. A successful customer-focused organization is one that is, first and foremost, client-centric. Here are five questions you might ask your employees/associates to get a sense of what might make them more satisfied, productive and enabled: 

1. What do you love about your job?

2. What two things do you need in the workplace that will enable you to perform your job better?

3. What two obstacles can we remove to allow you to perform at a higher level, thus making your job more rewarding to you?

4. What makes you feel valued and a part of our workplace family?

5. What other responsibilities or jobs in the organization would you like to be involved in?

The answers to these questions will serve as a barometer of workplace effort, attitude and engagement. The CEO should openly share this feedback with all associates, comment on how it impacts business and what, if any, changes might be in the works based on the responses. While not all responses demand changes, all comments should be heard, recognized and considered.

Your employees are your eyes, ears and voice to the customer world. They are your idea generators, your efficiency experts and your image makers. Connect to them, know them and respond to them. An employee who feels listened to, supported and personally cared for will provide the same responses for the customer.

Relief from the challenges we all face daily will come in many ways. Consider these 10 questions on customer loyalty and employee performance, execute on them, and you will find that you are well on your way to an even healthier environment geared towards continued success.

G.A. Taylor Fernley is president and CEO of Fernley & Fernley, an association management company founded in 1886. Reach him at tfernley(at), or for more information, visit

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