By request, Chamber forms roundtable program

TRAVERSE CITY – The Traverse City Area Chamber of Commerce has put together a CEO Roundtable Program that offers CEOs and small business owners an opportunity to discuss business and develop relationships with other company leaders within the community.

The program uses structured monthly discussion groups, comprised of a professional facilitator and non-competing business owners, to provide Chamber members access to a pool of business experts.

Those who take part will discuss business opportunities, challenges, ideas and issues unique to each person's business. Twice each year, all of the roundtable groups will get together for a shared event.

There are 10-12 business people per group and they are formed by the Chamber and meet once per month. Meetings are conversational in nature and last around 90 minutes. Each roundtable is assigned a professional facilitator. And because of the sensitive nature of the discussions, all participants must sign a confidentiality agreement.

Here is what Chamber President Doug Luciani had to say about the program.

Q: How did the Chamber become interested in this program?

A: More and more we are finding that entrepreneurs and business leaders learn best from their peers. During the past 18 months, we have received substantial interest from members asking for a program like the CEO Roundtable in order to facilitate that "advisory board" atmosphere.

Many other chambers offer similar programs, so there was plenty of evidence that these programs work. The kicker was the strong advocacy for the program, and ultimately financial support, from Bruce Reavely and Huntington Bank. Their support validated the Chamber's sense about the program.

Q: How did you go about picking which CEOs or small business owners would be part of this?

A: We're still evaluating applications for the program. The business leaders are self-selecting, though. We laid out the criteria for the program. If a person meets the criteria, they may participate. It's really that simple. We will try to match non-competing firms that are of similar size and geography to the best of our ability.

Q: Talk about the confidentiality agreements that participants in this program must sign.

A: Each participant will be required to sign a confidentiality agreement that is still being prepared by our legal counsel. This extends to the facilitators for each group, as well. A cornerstone of a successful roundtable is confidentiality, both while a person is in the roundtable and afterwards.

Q: What is your goal for this program?

A: Our goal is to see measurable results in individual business success and growth that can be linked directly to the business leader's participation in a roundtable. We will measure this based on surveys, evaluations and anecdotal information. Our expectation is that the program will grow over time. However, it would also be a success if individual groups were to continue on their own without needing the support of the Chamber's program. Those would be healthy advisory boards or roundtables. To succeed, however, participants will have to make a commitment to their roundtable and fully participate. The facilitators are critical in that regard.

Q: What benefits do you see the Roundtable Program bringing to the business community and Chamber?

A: There are a lot of networking groups in our region that share leads or that get diverse groups of people together. There are not many opportunities, however, for the top individuals of companies to meet in a confidential, non-competitive, non-sales and intimate setting.

We see the benefits of such interaction being a more healthy discussion of business issues, a network of peer-to-peer business assistance and a generally healthier climate in the region. The benefits to the Chamber include fulfilling our role as a convener, business-to-business resource, and a relevant part of each business' tool box. BN

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