Jim Hoffman loves to talk about the CEO Club of Pittsburgh. Only three years ago or so, that's about all Hoffman could do when it came to the club. With only four members, the club wasn't doing a whole lot for its members or anyone else.
Today the CEO Club's membership stands at 80, and the organization this year has launched its new entrepreneurial level of membership, targeted at those executives at the head of companies with less that the $2 million in annual revenue, a requirement for traditional CEO Club membership. It's taking steps to expand programming for its members and to become an organization that has an impact on the business community by helping to develop the next generation of regional business leaders.
"Now that we've grown to the point where we have 80 members, it's going to give us the ability to do so much more," says Hoffman.
To pursue those opportunities, the club has put together some key committees comprised of its members to look at ways to improve programming, service to members and marketing the organization to the business community.
Hoffman sat with SBN to do what he likes best and to share where the CEO Club has been and where it wants to go.
SBN: What makes the CEO Club stand out from other similar organizations?
Hoffman: It's an organization for leaders, call them what you will -- managing partners, CEOs, executive directors -- where they get together and share with one another information, experience, wisdom, knowledge, things you cannot get out of a book or a course at Duquesne or CMU. Our local chapter gets those leaders together, sharing with one another. Even you and I sitting around this table, I'd have to live another lifetime to possess your experience, your knowledge, your wisdom. We create a forum for sharing that. No other organization brings the true leaders together, not salespeople, not business development people, not predators, but leaders working with leaders with the sole intent of being a resource, a help to one another, not selling to one another. That's the true value of the CEO Club.
SBN: How does the CEO Club differ from, say, a networking group?
Hoffman: First of all, we're not a networking organization. It is not our mission, it is not why we exist. It's something that comes out of doing something much more noble. You can't help but when you sit across the table from another leader 12 times a year, where you get to know, like and respect one another to possibly do business together. That's a great thing, but it's not our purpose. Our purpose is getting leaders together to help one another with leadership issues.
SBN: How does the CEO Club help leaders?
Hoffman: All of us have grown up through the leadership ranks via one function or another; marketing, sales, production, operations, management, finance, and we have a tendency to look at the world from that perspective, those eyes. It's another thing to construct relationships that can broaden that perspective, to help you create a much more aligned reality than we possess as an isolated island.
SBN: What's changed about the CEO Club since those days when you had four members?
Hoffman: Now, we're going at it as a true business. We're building an infrastructure for it. We have a full-time administrator, we have a Web site. We take it upon ourselves to build awareness, to educate folks that we're here and what we're about. Three years ago when I came here, the club had come upon hard times. There were four members and about $300 in the checking account. Currently, we have about 80 members, corporate sponsors and financially we're getting to the point where we can really sustain ourselves and put on the quality programs that the members really need.
SBN: Why did you start the entrepreneurial level of membership?
Hoffman: I would meet so many wonderful, passionate individuals who had not grown their businesses to (the $2 million annual sales level) and it didn't seem right to say go away and come back when you get there, especially when they need what the CEO Club is all about to get to that level.
SBN: And you're not concerned that this might water down the membership, diminish the perceived value of traditional membership?
Hoffman: This is something I'm struggling with. We try to determine the proper logistics without muddying the waters. Here's where we are right now: The traditional level of membership has its roundtable discussions, which are exclusive to CEO Club traditional members. What we've done is put together quarterly roundtable discussions for the entrepreneurial level members, and regular CEO Club members are invited and encouraged to attend as facilitators and mentors, to share their wisdom and knowledge with the region's next wave of successful business and regional leaders.
SBN: What kinds of programs do you have scheduled in the coming months?
Hoffman: We're really excited about Nov. 7. If you would call Disneyworld ... and say you've heard about storyboarding and what an incredible tool it was in Disney's success, believe it or not they would recommend that you call a firm in New Brighton, Pa., called McNellis & Co. We're delighted that Jerry McNellis, owner and founder of McNellis & Co., has agreed to come and meet with the CEO Club members and share the storyboarding compression planning process. In December, we have the Risk Mitigation Group's founder Ron Relf, a former U.S. Navy Seal, to speak about corporate security and the risks and threats to business posed by crime, terrorism and natural disasters.
SBN: You mentioned the notion of building regional leaders. What would you like to accomplish in that regard? If you look at our region as a business, what do we have in terms of succession planning?
Hoffman: Duquesne offers programs for entrepreneurial leaders, CMU, likewise. There are books; information, at best. What we'd like to put together is an opportunity for sharing with this entrepreneurial group, which is really the foundation of our business community, with a mid-sized firms in a mentoring relationship. That's what we'd like to consider part of our mission, regional succession planning to be grooming tomorrow's leaders.