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Keeping control Support group gives wider aid to entrepreneurs

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It's exciting and invigorating to be an entrepreneur in control of one's own destiny. However, we all know it's lonely at the top. After all, there are so few people, including family, who really understand the broader aspects of running a business and who can provide helpful, confidential and insightful advice.

And there are plenty of business and organizational challenges to deal with, including the positives and negatives of a global market, growth, succession, financing as well as those ongoing operational, technology and human resource issues. So, where does an entrepreneur go for advice and/or mentorship to deal with these issues in an integrated yet confidential manner?

While there are many professionals providing specialized advice, this advice often fails to consider the integration with other business requirements. Thankfully, an international referral-based support group known as TEC is available in Manitoba. This member-based group provides an opportunity to be part of a confidential, collegial group of like-minded, non-competitive, senior level entrepreneurs and business professionals. Highly experienced business professionals acting as chairperson, facilitator and executive coach also help to assess member referrals and build cohesive groups.

Monthly meetings help to reduce the sense of isolation and enable members to build a personal and professional network of advisers and to benefit from colleagues who offer advice from the perspective of "been there, done that." Members also select specific learning interests from a full range of business and personal development topics and well-known experts are then invited to speak and share their expertise. Meetings thus focus on personal learning and sharing as well as giving and getting frank, unfiltered feedback on current business challenges.

One of the goals of the TEC (short for The Executive Committee) organization is to enhance the lives of its members and as such, TEC groups often offer an annual family oriented member retreat that helps to ingrain the importance of spousal support and life/work balance. In addition, members can attend national and international conferences where learning and networking are key activities. Finally, TEC members also benefit from a significant repertoire of online learning materials including such items as case studies on financing alternatives and/or a documents identifying the key steps in succession planning. Yet, the TEC group doesn't stop there. Dedicated to increasing the effectiveness of its members, TEC also provides personal, one-to-one coaching from the group chairperson. Finally, in times of crisis, TEC group members will quickly form a special "tiger team" to assist their colleague with their current challenge.

But just who are the entrepreneurs who would be attracted to a TEC group and would benefit from membership? In the view of the TEC chairpersons, potential members need to be ready to learn how to work "on" their business instead of "in" their business. Leaders who, while being successful, must have a continuing desire to learn and to be willing to share their own expertise and experience. Furthermore, since a monthly fee is required, potential members must also recognize the importance of investing in their own professional development as a significant key to continuing their business success.

If you speak with any TEC member, you'll find that membership is not the same as taking a three-day intensive course where you might indeed learn something new, but your training binder continues to sit on a shelf never to be read again. Instead, TEC members hold each other accountable and must be prepared to integrate their learning into everyday work and be fully engaged in practical hands-on learning. This includes preparing and presenting their issues and participating in frank discussions and being accepting of unfiltered feedback.

The Manitoba TEC groups consist of male and female entrepreneurial and business leaders ranging in age from 32-65 and who represent construction, insurance, manufacturing, automotive, mining, retail, wholesale, financial services and tourism businesses. To date, these local TEC groups have successfully helped their members deal with growth, succession, financial issues, life/work balance, marketing, mergers and divestitures. In addition, TEC members report an increase in self-confidence and an improved perspective on the importance of personal health and wellness.

Most TEC members commit to and receive the benefit of collegiality and support for an average of five to seven years. At this time, the member might disengage due to retirement or a merger. However, experience demonstrated that once the former member becomes involved in another business, he/she quickly rejoins as they value the benefit of having a network of entrepreneurial expertise and access to strong collegial relationships.

The three local Manitoba TEC groups are led by highly experienced chairpersons. For instance, Barry Bernhard comes from a background of strategic business planning and management in government, financial services, not-for-profits and associations. Lynn Bishop, an expert in airport and air carrier management, brings extensive chairmanship and board governance expertise with organizations such as the Health Sciences Centre Foundation and the Winnipeg Blue Bombers. Ken Sontag is an experienced engineering professional with expertise from both the corporate and small business engineering world. Furthermore, Ken was also a TEC member himself prior to becoming a chairperson and so brings a unique perspective to the role of chair.

As indicated, life at the top is not only lonely but there are very few people to whom you can turn. Thankfully, "expertise, experience and connected thinking" are three of the significant benefits that TEC groups across the world provide.

As a consultant, I know first-hand the value of the TEC group and have been referring my clients for many years. So, if your business is on the cusp of growth or change and you would benefit from the power and wisdom of like-minded business owners, then investigate the TEC group nearest you. Check out the TEC website at www.tec-canada.com and contact one of the local Manitoba chairpersons for a consultation.

Barbara J.Bowes, FCHRP, CMC, is president of Legacy Bowes Group. She can be reached at barb@legacybowes.com

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition May 5, 2012 H1

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