CEOs Join Forces and Create Power Panel

Guest post by Julie Pepper Lim, Marketing & Communications Coordinator at Meritage Medical Network.

CEO—Collaboration, Excellence, Operations.

There are many things that “CEO” suggests, but on November 29th, when six CEOs and one President/Owner sat down at the table, together, we got a glimpse of what makes so many of them worthy of recognition.

The North Bay Business Journal, situated in Santa Rosa, but covering news all over the North Bay, held their second CEO Roundtable event at the Hyatt Regency Sonoma Wine Country, sponsored by Union Bank and Vistage, as well as a handful of other major sponsors like Canopy Health, Healthcare Foundation, tri counties bank and Western Health Advantage. I had the privilege of sitting beside Teresa Lopez, Marketing Specialist of Western Health Advantage as a guest at their table. One thing is clear, we had lunch with a power panel.

The legend around the origins of King Arthur’s Round Table is that it was formed to prevent quarrels among his barons, and of course as its name suggests, the round table has no head, implying that everyone who sits there has equal status. Though I can’t vouch for the equal status of this group of North Bay Leaders, one theme that kept emerging was expressed well by Blair Kellison, of Traditional Medicinals, “collaboration trumps competition and, together, we rise.”

The discussion, moderated by NBBJ’s Brad Bollinger, centered around the challenges they as business owners and CEOs face, as well as the collective challenges North Bay businesses are tasked with and some of the solutions they are putting in place.

Though they had different challenges, finding and retaining talent was one they all shared.

While Joe Madigan of Nelson and Associates indicated that of course unemployment was at an all-time low at 4% and even lower in the North Bay at 3%, there were still some considerable problems with employment, the greatest being no new faces. So though North Bay employers are increasing wages and creating new jobs and building rich culture, employees are needing to do more to get to work since the wildfires, and the housing crisis impacts all new growth. He emphasized the two things that employees care about: 1. Wage. 2. Does my company care about me? Madigan says that retention is not a given because they may come for the place, but understanding where they fit in the organization, and if there is growth for the role are critical to them staying. Without these two things, he stressed that people would be taking his calls.

Rick Tigner, of Jackson Family Wines echoed that and believes onboarding at 30, 60 and 90 days with a solid trajectory of where a person fits into the company, is one of the steps that is making a huge difference for them. At Jackson, they have a program called, “Pathways,” where 15,000 hours a year are devoted to developing management skills.

As Marcus Benedetti, of Clover Sonoma, a B Corp Certified company, indicated, they’re on a mission to figure out what Millennials want and what their consumer habits are. What they’re discovering is that

consumers want to feel empowered in purchasing power and to do that, companies need to be transparent, which will in turn be rewarded.

The panel spoke on their differences, as well. Where 75% of companies are for profit, Kitty Whitaker talked about what it was like for non-profit, Hospice of the Bay, to put money back into the community—into housing and medical services making communities healthier, while paying attention to the business of organization as much as the mission of taking care of terminal patients. A striking metric was that in the 45 years that Hospice has been in business there have only been a total of 4 CEOs during that tenure.

Deanna Kay, of Torn Ranch talked about how fortunate they are to be able to use local ingredients like butter, cream, apricots and almonds and what a different company theirs would be almost anywhere else in the world and how Torn Ranch culls their inspiration from both culinary and sustainability. Though different types of businesses, with Ghilotti’s Construction about building, or Jackson Family Wines looking to reduce erosion, each of these companies seemed to share in the love of the land. Be it for housing more people, building more homes, or connecting people to the power of plants, these business leaders were looking to give people a place to live either on their work premises, or close enough to mitigate the long hours they already put in as growers and builders. Each seemed interested in not only the sustainability of the land, but of the people working it.

When asked about the North Bay brand, the consensus was, an intimate human connection with the heart and soul of our geography. Through their research they’ve discovered that millennials are seeking an authenticity in doing the right things which include sustainability and environmental action. Considering the recent tragedies, there was a clear motivation to create disaster plans as part of the solution, keeping in mind that vineyards are a fire break, and that we need to increase airplanes and air support, as we’ve learned how critical they can be in preserving the land.

There was also a request to look at things differently in this new landscape. As Mike Ghilotti said, most everybody wants their kid to go to college, but with the high cost of education and the thousands of young people in debt for years to come, there is something to be said for the trades. One of Ghilotti’s solutions to engaging people in building is doing trade boot camps, where young people are trained and hired right out of high school, in some cases, buying first and second homes within the first few years of their professional lives.

No matter the solution or innovation these CEOs were coming up with to overcome obstacles, it was surprising to be in the company of so much power and feel the genuine shift of the power paradigm. This power panel was looking at people as the greatest single source of energy, at staff as the best fundraisers of all, as people being the best and hardest parts of their businesses, but ultimately, seeing business with a, people first, mind set. Surprising to me, but more of an expectation of a CEO’s responsibility as a key investor to Joseph Destein, (who I had the opportunity to meet at the event) master chair at Vistage International – the World’s Oldest and Largest CEO Organization, where people, planet and profit are considered a contemporary part of our business culture.

I sat at a table with our partners in health care, Canopy Health and Western Health, thinking about the ways our collaboration might contribute to the people we served– the patients, the doctors, our vendors and employees. I also thought about our place in this North Bay brand, covering the landscapes of Marin, Napa and Sonoma, as an independent physician led medical network in the North Bay. I hoped to see our CEO at the table next year, sharing some of our professional challenges and solutions in healthcare.

As for this year, I was grateful to hear the stories of the business communities around us and to think of ways to better collaborate with them. I was honored to have a place at this roundtable of CEOs—a powerful panel in the best possible sense of what power can achieve when it focuses on “people, planet and profit.”

Julie Pepper Lim works in the Network Relations department of Meritage Medical Network in Marketing and Communications. She is a published fiction author, essayist, short story writer, playwright and a strong believer in story’s power to transcend.