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Do You Have a Board of Directors Like This?

26 April 2011 No Comment

By Helen Kaiao Chang

The entrepreneur, who runs a bio-medical company, stands before a roomful of business elders. Their questions fly like locusts:

“How high is the barrier to entry in your sector?” “What percentage of your sales is from a single large vendor?” “Your competitors are huge industry
players; how do you prevent them from absorbing your market?” “How do you come to the ROI (return on investment) that you are promising?” “When do your
patents run out?”

The slightly balding, round-bellied man at the front of the room answers each question in eloquent, confident tones.

A last question flies: “You say you want to bring in new management to take the company to the next level, yet you want to retain control. Are you
willing to let go of control?”

The man nods his head, “Yes.”

Welcome to the Chairman’s Roundtable (CRT), a group of business leaders, who coach entrepreneurs facing business crossroads. One monthly event includes
an entrepreneur’s presentation, after which the group acts as a de facto Board of Directors, asking pointed questions about the business before
recommending an action plan.

Entrepreneurs clamor to share their business dilemmas with this “board.” CRT’s members comprise some of the city’s most respected leaders, such as Dr.
Stan Pappelbaum, former CEO of Scripps Hospitals; Ake Persson, former president of Ericsson Wireless; Bob McRann, former general manager at Cox Cable
and president of Gibson Guitar; and Marco Thompson, founder of more than 20 tech start-ups.

The board’s leader? Tom Dorosewicz, who also runs a large technology company. Since taking chairmanship two years ago, Dorosewicz has doubled the
number of companies, or “clients,” which are coached each year to 40. He has also deepened the involvement of sponsors, who actively recommend
entrepreneurs for coaching. And he has recruited members from more diverse backgrounds.

For many CRT members, the group is a way to give back to the community, said Dorosewicz. Members spend dozens of hours over three to six months
mentoring clients, while adhering to strict codes about not soliciting business.

The fee to the entrepreneur is nothing. Except perhaps his or her ego. “One of the things we screen for before taking on a client is, ‘Is this person
coachable?’” said Dorosewicz. It is difficult to make recommendations to someone who is not open to feedback, he explains.

Clients that CRT accepts have made it past start-up stage, but do not yet have a board of directors. These are entrepreneurs who have succeeded on
their own, but do not know how to take the business to the next level. “We work with companies that are at the crossroads,” said Dorosewicz.

At one company, Techflow, the founder increasingly traveled overseas for family reasons, making him question whether to hire a replacement CEO or sell
the company. After working with CRT mentors, he chose to hire a new CEO. Another company, Outsource Manufacturing, faced vulnerabilities with its
limited customer base. CRT helped it forge a strategy to increase sales.

When he first joined CRT in 2001, Dorosewicz was impressed by the talent of its members. Now, he also insight into how to manage this tribe of A-type
personalities. “It’s like herding cats,” he said.

SNAPSHOT

TRIBE NAME: Chairmen’s Roundtable

TRIBE LEADER: Tom Dorosewicz

YEAR FOUNDED: 1998

WHAT THEY DO: Mentor businesses that are at the “crossroads” of growth

NUMBER OF MEMBERS: 40

NUMBER OF COMPANIES MENTORED 2006: 40

TYPE OF COMPANIES MENTORED: In business at least three years; revenue of $3 million or more; face strategic dilemmas; lack a Board of Directors; willing to be coached

FEE TO COMPANIES: $0

WHY THEY DO IT: Give back to the community

WEB: chairmensroundtable.com

 

Follow Helen on Twitter @helenchang.

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