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The Rough Notes Company Inc.



July 31
09:28 2017

Vistage provides executive coaching from accomplished business leaders

“Don’t forget to sign in for CE credit,” the people at the door always say when you walk into an educational session at a conference. I bypass this step—I’m a journalist, not an “insurance guy”—but I still learn something when attending a class. Continuing education remains an important aspect of business and personal development. Everyone could use it—even CEOs, business owners and other executives. And through a company called Vistage, this is possible.

Founded in 1957, with over 21,000 members spread out across 20 countries, Vistage brings together CEOs, executive leaders, and business owners into small private peer advisory boards to encourage and support personal and professional growth.

“Vistage provides peer advisory boards—facilitated by highly trained Vistage Chairs—for CEOs, presidents, business owners, entrepreneurs, and business executives in small and mid-sized businesses; we help them make better decisions by helping them refine their instincts, improve their judgment, and expand their perspectives to optimize their decision making,” says Vistage Chief Research Officer Joe Galvin. “We help them make better decisions by exposing them to similar people dealing with similar issues in similar environments. Vistage members in their first five years outperform their peer market by 2.2 times, according to Dun & Bradstreet data.”

“I speak very highly of Vistage; it’s very practical and hands on,” says Lew Kachulis, president of Sharon, Pennsylvania’s Gilbert’s Risk Solutions, the December 2002 Rough Notes Agency of the Month. “It’s rare if I come back from a monthly meeting and don’t implement something. The Vistage meetings have made me a better manager. Management is a skillset, and I didn’t necessarily have vast knowledge when I came into the agency business. Vistage has helped me learn it.”

“We help our members make better decisions, become better leaders and get better results. By engaging with a professionally facilitated peer advisory board, Vistage members are able to engage with like-minded small and mid-sized business leaders who are focused on business optimization and leadership enhancement.”

—Joe Galvin
Chief Research Officer

“We help our members make better decisions, become better leaders and get better results,” says Galvin. “By engaging with a professionally facilitated peer advisory board, Vistage members are able to engage with like-minded small and mid-sized business leaders who are focused on business optimization and leadership enhancement.”

So how does the Vistage program work?

“There are essentially two groups: a CEO group and a key executive group,” Kachulis explains. “I joined the CEO group in 2004. We meet once a month for an entire work day. A typical meeting involves an outside speaker, who is excellent. They like to talk to Vistage groups because they like to consult and give back with their experience and their knowledge.”

“We have close to 1,000 speakers in our Vistage community,” adds Galvin. “Our speakers represent expertise across areas of finance, customers, operations, managing talent, and a variety of other topics.”

The speakers help inspire new ideas, strategies and perspectives, and focus on relevant business solutions that leaders can immediately implement. Interaction is highly encouraged and presentations are customized to  the needs of each group.

“Topics can range from marketing, websites, sales, operations, culture, values, or HR issues,” adds Kachulis. “The way I look at it is it’s a continuation of my MBA. The information is pertinent and very practical for running a business, whether you’re in the agency business or another. We evaluate the speakers, so there’s accountability. Vistage brings in speakers from all over the country and some internationally. They are very engaging and give valuable information.”

The speaker’s presentation will typically take up the first half of the meeting and serves as a sounding board for the afternoon session, where the group discusses “significant events” and has the opportunity to “bounce around ideas and ask for advice,” according to Kachulis.

“A typical group will not have any competing entities,” he adds. “For example, there’s not another insurance agency in my group. There’s a manufacturing company, a nonprofit, an oil refinery, a law firm, a limestone quarry, laboratory services; there’s one individual who makes popsicles in various factories across the country. It’s very diversified.”

“With no competitors on the advisory board, the variety of industries and businesses on the board provides an amazing think-tank in multiple perspectives,” adds Galvin.

“In the afternoon session, whoever wants to can process an issue from their business; it could be a personnel issue, problems with a supplier, a customer or owner,” says Kachulis. “It’s strictly confidential. The individual talks about their issue for about five or ten minutes. Then the remaining members in the group will ask questions. This is strictly to learn more about the issue. It’s rapid fire.

“The Chair, or facilitator, documents all of the key points. After the questions, the Chair asks the individual if their issue is actually still the issue, or did they learn something else from the questions. The issue is revisited and after it’s restated, the other members give advice on what to do, which is also documented. At the end of that process, the Chair gives the individual who brought up the issue all the notes,” Kachulis concludes.

“Vistage Chairs are typically former small or mid-sized business owners, who have sold their business and now look to engage with other business leaders,” adds Galvin. “Our Chairs come from former members and from recommendations and nominations from other Chairs. Not everyone is capable of being a Vistage Chair. It requires not just business experience, but true leadership skills and a desire to be a life-long learner and help others learn and develop. The Chair is the guide to the member’s experience—helping the individual understand what they want to develop, how they want to improve and what their issues are.”

For members of Vistage, group meetings occur once a month, and “eleven months out of the year we are with the same group, so we get to know each other and each other’s businesses really well,” explains Kachulis. “My group has 12 members, so each one will host one of the meetings throughout the year. A lot of them host at their business and it includes a tour of their facility so you get a feel for their operations. The host also gives a 30-45 minute presentation of their business, background about where their business has been, where they are going, their operations, maybe even their metrics and revenues.

“It’s rare if I come back from a monthly meeting and don’t implement something.”

—Lew Kachulis
Gilbert’s Risk Solutions

“One month during the year there is an all-city event. There are eight Vistage Chairs in Pittsburgh who bring their groups together and we have outside speakers of high caliber in the morning. Some of these speakers were in Vistage for a number of years, built their business, sold it, and moved to consulting—very few are theoretical. I have hired a few to come onto our site and help us with various issues. Among them was John Asher, who helped specifically with sales and marketing.”

Consulting and conducting

Aside from the monthly meetings, Vistage also provides one-on-one coaching sessions for its members.

“The one-on-one coaching sessions are an evolution of the member and Chair relationship,” says Galvin. “They have regularly scheduled one-on-one coaching sessions, and this is where the expert Vistage Chair works with the member in their space on the issues that are important to them. Working with their Vistage chair, members bring their issues to their board to access the collective experience and wisdom of their board. Sometimes it’s personal coaching about individual issues; other times it’s leadership or business issues.”

“We have a one-on-one meeting where the Chair comes on-site here once a month; there’s typically no agenda,” adds Kachulis. “I’ve had two Chairs; the first one was a past CEO in a manufacturing company, very seasoned and highly educated with undergraduate and graduate degrees. He started the first Pittsburgh chapter over 20 years ago. He eventually slowed down into retirement. My one-on-ones with him were extremely helpful.

“The second Chair who took over the group came from Disney and other Fortune 500 companies, mainly in HR and upper management positions. The Chairs tend to have a good perspective on what business management leaders are dealing with. The one-on-one meetings are very helpful, in addition to the monthly meeting.”

The Vistage Chairs also hold their members accountable for establishing goals.


“We will give our goals at the beginning of the year, and each month our Chair will ask us ‘green light or red light? Are you on track or are you not on track?’” Kachulis says. “If someone is not on track for a few months, it could lead to an issue processing for the afternoon session. After we create our goals, we review them, if not quarterly, then definitely annually.”

Another perk of being a member of Vistage is an opportunity to do business with the other members of your group.

“You’re not supposed to solicit during the meetings, but when you get to know other CEOs really well and you develop a trust relationship with them, oftentimes members will conduct business with other members,” Kachulis says. “Even though I pay annual dues, it’s more than made up for it with the business I do with other members.”

“There’s a variety of ways to join Vistage; our Chairs all function independently and are always working in their networks and communities to identify people and engage them to see if Vistage is right for them,” says Galvin. “Vistage is not right for everyone. It’s an exclusive group; we go through an extensive identification/selection process. You have to be able to bring value and be willing to share your expertise with members in your group, so you can access their expertise. It’s a place where people roll up their sleeves and get work done.

“You can become a member by engaging directly with one of our Chairs. We have a large referral business, where one of our members might suggest that someone talk with a Chair. Our members also nominate members. Our website,, also provides an opportunity for people to explore and learn more about what we do. If interested, you can reach out and connect with us, and one of our member consultants will connect back and initiate a dialogue about what’s important to you, what are you looking for, how Vistage works, and whether or not it may be valuable to you. At that point, if there is interest, we connect you with a local Chair, who can match you to a group and see if there’s a fit.”

“I was invited to a meeting as a guest for the morning session,” Kachulis explains. “The afternoon session was for members only, due to confidentiality. The speaker in the morning impressed me so much that, when the Chair pulled me over during lunchtime and said, ‘You match up well with this group; I asked some of the members and if you do want to stay, you can attend the afternoon session,’ I joined right there on the spot.

“In the past 13 years, Vistage has helped Gilbert’s Risk Solutions diversify into other entities and grow revenues by 11 times over the period. Vistage has been a major contributor to our growth,” Kachulis concludes.

By Christopher W. Cook

For more information:


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