The boss club
International organization provides Montreal CEOs peer support and training

Corporate CEOs are typically thought of as cool customers, who are among the sharpest, and most knowledgeable individuals in the companies they lead. Few would think it possible that they need support from time to time.

But Ray Levesque knows better. Levesque, who was a CEO himself, is the founder of the Montreal branch of TEC Canada, an international organization that caters to corporate CEOs.

"Our goal is to help CEOs increase their overall effectiveness and quality of life," said Levesque, reading off the organization's mission statement. "We provide CEOs a safe harbor where they can freely discuss their problems and challenges, with the only people that will really understand them: other CEOs."

Each TEC group, (TEC stand for The Executive Committee) is comprised of 12 to 16 CEOs, and a chairman facilitator, who meet once day a month, to engage in corporate training, and to discuss marketing, financial, human resources and other issues of concern to corporate top dogs. Although the organization has been around since the 1950s, it only got around to setting up in Montreal this year.

The meetings are all highly confidential. To assure candidness and minimize needless schmoozing among members, no competitor companies or supplier/client combinations can be part of the same group.

"This is not a social club," said Levesque. "Our members make a significant commitment of time and money to be part of this organization, and they want results."

TEC is a for-profit business, with each chapter headed by a chairman who recruits the group members, organizes the monthly conferences, and meets with each CEO for two hours each month to monitor his progress.

Each group chairman is a seasoned executive himself. Levesque for example has master's degrees in public policy and economics, and has senior experience in several industries including real estate and high technology.

"TEC group members operate at a very high level," said Levesque. "And group leaders have to have a special skill set. You can't just put some 30-year old kid in there with these guys. They'd eat him up."

Levesque likens each TEC group to a premium consulting service. "We tell each member that when they join, that they immediately have access to a twelve person board of advisors," said Levesque. "Unlike consultants who file their reports and then disappear, we have regular follow ups to see whether the advice was taken and the problem solved."

The members at the meeting we attended last month all seemed enthusiastic, and clearly hard good rapport with each other, however since it was only their third meeting together it was hard to evaluate the chapter.

But according to Levesque, TEC Canada gets remarkable loyalty from participants. The average member stays in the organization an impressive five years, and more than half of, found out about the organization through world of mouth.

With that kind of loyalty, it's no surprise that CEO membership in TEC Canada shot up 20 per cent last year o reach 400 members in 2001. This doesn't sound like much, but there aren't that many CEOs in Canada, who head companies with more than $3 million a year in sales - the minimum required to join.

Levesque plans to head two TEC groups in Montreal. His first group, which is full, had its third meeting this month, and his second group will begin meeting this fall.

According to one participant in the Montreal chapter, TEC is filling unique market niche.

"You work all your life to become top dog in your organization, and then when you get there you have to make decisions in isolation, said Dwight Gorham, president of Draxis Pharma. "People don't understand how hard it can be. When you are number two or number three in a company, you can always come up with an excuse, (when something goes wrong). But when you arer the president, nobody cares about your excuses." Nobody that is except other TEC group members.

A typical TEC session is broken into two parts. The morning meeting is an educational portion, where an internationally recognized expert in a particular business discipline is brought in to delivery some professional development training.

At the last TEC meeting, Duane Lakin, a psychology Ph.D. was flown in from Chicago, to teach members how to use Neuro-Linguistic Programming techniques to identify communications patterns, to boost the effectiveness of sales calls. According to Levesque, group members were so impressed with the presentation that three of them are pitching in to fly Lakin back for an encore performance.

The second half of the day is generally when CEOs have a chance to discuss business problems they are having with their peers. According to Levesque these discussions run the gamut and can range from what to do about a company's low stock price to how to best structure incentive programs for salesmen.

In fact as group members get closer, the focus also shifts to CEOs' personal challenges such as finding time for health and family life, or dealing with a child that is having trouble with drugs.

"The U.S. groups I'm told spend about 1/3 of the time, discussing non-business personal growth issues," said Levesque. "But it takes awhile for groups to build up the level of trust and confidence needed to talk openly. So the initial period most TEC groups focus exclusively on business."

TEC International, which boasts close to 8,000 members, is owned by Knowledge Universe, which in turn is part-owned by Oracle CEO Larry Ellison and former junk bond king Michael Milken.

 

Photo caption: According to Ray Levesque, chairman of TEC Canada, (shown here with Dwight Gorham, president of Draxis Pharma Inc.), the international organization's first Montreal CEO group is full, and members are currently being recruited for a second group.

Peter@peterdiekmeyer.com

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