Vistage International brings CEOs to table to share ideas

In today’s economic climate, a company like Vistage International that helps executives make better business decisions is even more relevant than when it was founded back in 1957, said Rafael Pastor, chairman and chief executive officer of the Carmel Valley-based company.

“Many of our members are being challenged by uncertainty and anxiety in ways they’ve never been before as leaders,” Pastor said recently. “CEOs aren’t looking for a quick fix. They need ongoing help from other executives and experts to figure out what to do and how to do it.”

Jim Heaton of La Jolla heads a small executive group with Vistage. He said that his group’s monthly meetings are invaluable in helping his executives keep up with the latest in technology and problem solve the issues they confront on a daily basis.

Small group experiences

“I kind of feel like I’m the poster child for the group,” said Cindy Larson-Daugherty, president of Spectrum Pacific Learning Company, an affiliate of the National University system. She has been part of Heaton’s Vistage group since its inception nearly nine months ago.

“I get exactly what I need out of it … if you’re having trouble with your hiring practices, they’ll make suggestions. If you’re not getting good use from your Web site, they’ll show you how. I think one of the really great things about his group is how they hold you responsible.”

Each month’s meeting begins with a guest speaker and from there moves into a confidential forum where executives share their unique challenges and solicit suggestions from the group. Heaton said the fact that the executives in his group come from all different kinds of businesses is an advantage.

“The main thing when you own your own business is that you get locked into doing things your way,” said Del Mar restauteur Dan Sbicca who is also part of Heaton’s group. “The (Vistage) group gives me access to a lot of really smart people that aren’t in the restaurant business, who can see things from a different angle … now it is easier to step away because we have systems in play.”

Roots in Milwaukee

Vistage International was founded by Wisconsin businessman Robert Nourse who, according to the company’s Web site, met with four chief executives in the office of the Milwaukee Valve Co. to see if they could get better results in their businesses by sharing their knowledge and experience.

The company now has 14,000 members in 16 counties. And, according to its Web site, it is the world’s leading chief executive organization based on revenue with its members’ companies generating $300 billion in annual revenue.

San Diego details

Here in San Diego, Vistage boasts nearly 450 members, with about half of those commanding companies with at least $5 million in annual revenue, said Heaton. The other half participate in either the small-business group program (below $5 million in annual revenue) or the trusted adviser program comprised mostly of attorneys, bankers, accountants or other professionals.

Enrollment in the chief executive program is $2,000 and $1,095 per month while the trusted adviser group costs $250 for enrollment and $235 per month. And while the rates might seem steep, members of Heaton’s Vistage group, say they believe their money has been well spent.

“For the amount of money you put in risk every day (with your own business), it’s worth it,” Sbicca said. “I really don’t have a day when I don’t learn something new. It’s incredible.”