The Power Of The Executive Forum Experience

Sept. 18, 2017

Being the leader of a business has always meant standing apart. Most owners and senior managers have years of experience and know-how. They are hyper-focused on their company and growing incremental sales. They are the go-to person for employee questions and corporate strategies. For some, this is an isolating experience that stalls personal and professional growth, ultimately hurting their companies. The question is, whom can these owners and entrepreneurs turn to for advice and help? The answer is other executives and subject matter experts during executive forums.  

Executive forums are designed for C-level business stake holders, such as chief executive officers (CEO), chief operating officers (COO), chief financial officers (CFO), etc. They are programs full of specific, high level training given by professionals and are a can’t miss opportunity to network with others in the same tier of responsibility.

“It’s a great sharing moment amongst executives and leaders that goes from a personal level to a family level to a professional level,” said Joe Hessling, CEO of 365 Retail Markets about his experience with executive forums. He was invited to attend his first executive forum in 2016. “I think the most important piece I got out of it was professional growth. It’s not very often, as the leader of an organization, that you get into a position where you are growing. Usually you are reacting or focusing on the strategy of your business. But in the forum, you are around people with the same struggles, or different viewpoints of the same struggles, and able to share.”  

Hessling has since attended subsequent forums and is committed to helping others experience the same benefits as he did. He was attending the KPMG QuantumShift executive forum for the second time when Josh Rosenberg, CEO of Accent Food Services in Pflugerville, TX first attended. Rosenberg couldn’t have found the experience more beneficial.  

“The beauty of it is you are able to go into this environment where there are really no boundaries, and you are learning collaboratively within this group from some of the top subject matter experts in the field around crisis management, positive leadership, change management — things that are really driving businesses today,” explained Rosenberg.

Learning collaboratively and feeling inspired to push beyond daily operations are concepts NAMA CEO Carla Balakgie believes are a must in an executive forum. “Working day-to-day in a business, there is rarely a chance to look beyond where you are. An executive forum is a place to step back and work on your business, instead of in it,” she said. “All the answers are not within yourself. Instead, you must expose yourself to concepts and precepts that stretch you,” added Balakgie, “ you can stay up, and get ahead, of what is coming at you.” These are the ideas driving the annual NAMA Executive Forum, the second of which is coming up in December. 

Inside an executive forum 

“It’s an opportunity to learn from peers, backed up with really strong faculty,” explained Stewart Thornhill, executive director of the Samuel Zell & Robert H. Lurie Institute for Entrepreneurial Studies, housed at the University of Michigan’s Stephen M. Ross School of Business. It sounds simple, but it’s a multi-faceted concept. Many entrepreneurs experience challenges, but lack a peer network with which to discuss these challenges or changes in their business. Thornhill’s goal was to rectify this. He became the driving force that brought the KPMG QuantumShift program to the Stephen M. Ross School of Business. He modeled it after the program where he had been teaching previously in London, Ontario, Canada. Using its many offices, KPMG meets with and identifies potential forum participants. The participants than come together for a one-week program meant to educate and broaden their view. “Forums like this are powerful,” said Thornhill. “These folks are at the top. Their problems can’t be shared with even the second in command. That’s the power in dealing with people in a similar situation.”

Defining exactly what the KPMG QuantumShift is can be difficult. Only progressive, well-vetted entrepreneurs are invited to attend the program with a maximum of 40 being selected each year. It is also a chance to learn from highly regarded and specialized instructors on business topics focused on company growth, preparing for the unexpected and the impact of current events. During the program, participants are encouraged to socialize, share challenges, recount successes and network. It is a combination recognition program, educational seminar, networking event and so much more. “The participants all face similar challenges and issues. What happens is they form a tribe, of sorts, and build relations quickly,” explained Thornhill. This is a sentiment echoed by Josh Rosenberg who was invited to attend the 2017 program.  

“Attending the KPMG QuantumShift means being selected to a group of elite entrepreneurs...a network of high achieving colleagues,” Rosenberg said. “What you come to realize as you go through the process leading up to and going through the event, is that regardless of the business that you’re in, we’re all facing the same problems. People, how to innovate, how to recruit and retain, how to become a relevant brand and stay relevant within the space we operate.” Rosenberg felt it was a truly worthwhile week.    

Once entrepreneurs have participated in the program, they can return the next year as a fellow. “As a KPMG fellow, there are perks and obligations,” explained Hessling. “One of the perks is that we get invited back to the event as the years go by.” In his second year attending, he enjoyed how the education sessions went deeper into topics, the content reached a more granular level. “The obligation is that we are there to help other first-time attendees through the process and make them feel comfortable with what is taking place,” Hessling added. 

NAMA’s Executive Forum 

NAMA launched its first executive forum in 2016, with a second planned for December 2017. 

Associations by their very nature are a community of peers who are doing many of the same things and can offer the potential to help each other excel,” explained Balakgie. “The NAMA Executive Forum was designed to coalesce that community of peers and create a dialogue among those people who in many ways are doing the same thing in different places and to help them unlock and uncover both their personal and business power by working together.”   

Balakgie also mentions that it was meant to help the industry address things that no program had previously addressed, such as paying attention to external forces, looking at best in class business practices of the for-profit world — innovation, research, laboratories, and the best global thinking.

While all the attendees operating in the same industry, in a sense competitors, may sound counter-productive in an executive forum, the high-level of thought changes the atmosphere. “If you’re thinking about a bigger picture, and if you’re thinking about personal excellence, and you’re thinking about how to move the industry, yourself, and your business ahead, it creates a whole new dynamic,” said Balakgie.

Camaraderie of a ready few 

NAMA’s Executive Forum is kept to a small group of foresighted leaders ready to share. “We encourage people that we believe have the right mind-set and interest to attend,” explained Balakgie. “You are invited, but it’s not exclusively restricted to invitation only. People elect to come to this. It is not a small financial investment nor a small-time investment and it’s a little risky.” By risky, Balakgie does not mean physically or professionally, precisely. She refers to the speakers and business owners that present and talk about cutting edge topics that challenge traditional assumptions and invite attendees to think about a future that is different. It can make some business leaders uncomfortable. Others might enjoy the topics, but hesitate to share with other executives about their businesses or the challenges they face. “It’s the ones who do understand and share, who experience the exponential growth,” she said.

“It’s something you can’t afford to miss,” added Hessling. “It is worth every penny not to miss out on what the rest of the industry is participating in, and that sense of forum and sharing, and understanding and being around like-minded people at a high level. This is actually what we see from the KPMG program and it is what we’ve created with NAMA and the executive forum...You walk away as a better leader.” 

Rosenberg couldn’t agree more. “It challenges you to want to grow and get better. With each of these executive forums, I’ve come away with something that I have been able to apply that has made me better as an individual, as a leader,and has helped navigate our company through an opportunity or transformation.”  

While there is a substantial investment in time and travel for attending an executive forum event, the benefits are clearly beyond a balance sheet total. Learn from the best while surrounded by people who share the same invested interest in their businesses and level of responsibility. Challenge your professional growth with innovative ideas from outside the industry and broaden your view to encompass what is happening in other business sectors from foodservice to security. Plus, gain a professional network of peers and subject matter experts that form an unwavering support group. It doesn’t have to be lonely at the top.   


NAMA logo new 571a488f9cc3e

National Automatic Merchandising Association (NAMA)

May 7, 2009
Executive Staff Carla Balakgie, FASAE, CAE, President & CEO Dan Mathews, NCE5, CCS, Executive Vice President & COO Eric Dell, Senior Vice President, Government Affairs Dean Gilland...