So how does one become the successful CEO or business manager that I imagine we all would like to be? How would we know if we achieved nirvana? And, once accomplished, is this distinction ever-lasting or do we have to continually learn how to do more, faster, better with less in order to remain a success? How do we learn that?

These questions have come before me of late as I begin an educational program myself and sample other CEO learning opportunities. They arise also as I survey the local business landscape and identify company leaders who appear at first glance to have it all figured out, only to show up in the small print section at the back of the Business Examiner that documents failure in legal terms.

Is success measured purely by profits? And if so, what should the margin be in your line of work?

Bankers and academics consult reference tables that purport to show the answer, but your opportunities may fall between categories. How should you calculate the intangibles that go along with various stages of development in a company’s life cycle.

Perhaps success is measured by the impact a firm makes on the community or society as a whole. Or is it more important to make a difference to the next generation. If the important thing is to make a difference to just to one person, who should that person be?

One of the great attractions of business ownership is the opportunity to make decisions both strategic and tactical that have major significance to a company’s future. These choices have an impact on the personal lives of employees who commit their working hours to your endeavors—in some sense, they have also entrusted their futures and their children’s to your success.

Many of us in this position realize the flip side of empowerment can be a sense of isolation. Sometimes it seems nobody else can understand what we must deal with since they don’t have our understanding (hopefully, it’s a clear understanding) of the situation, history, personalities and other forces at work.

Sure, your closest competitor may be in similar circumstances, but it is unlikely that he or you want to share many specifics with one another. Even if you did, regulators have some pretty narrow views about collaboration with others in your line of business in your marketplace.

Perhaps you are fortunate enough to have access to senior family members who played a role in developing the business for which you are now responsible. I spoke with one CEO last week who cherishes the relationship with a father who was ready some years back to hand over the reigns yet continues to offer advice and counsel (when asked) and is just as content to have that guidance ignored after it is considered.

Or maybe you have found a mentor—someone who has perhaps retired from his or her own business, even one that was in a field entirely different from yours. They can have insights that apply across the lines separating one industry from another.

It could be someone you met on the golf course or a referral from your CPA or attorney. This outside resource can often listen as you attempt to explain your challenge or a situation that has you stumped. Sometimes, you can discover the solution yourself in the process of explaining the problem.

A respected local business owner (who has since passed away) was known to regale friends at Rotary meetings with tales of his quarterly sojourns to meet with counterparts from other regions of the country. Over a weekend, these CEOs of the same types of firms would compare ideas and brainstorm over problems that tested any or all of their companies.

He came back energized with good ideas from friends who did understand what he was facing. And he truly appreciated what they had shared over years of these events.

In my case, there isn’t a comparable business publisher in the neighborhood with whom I can share thoughts. But I’ve found great value in a national trade association of other local business journals.

Your industry likely has similar opportunities that could be worth the time and money investment required to participate.

There are also some opportunities offered by commercial enterprises locally that bring together company principals from non-competing lines on a monthly basis. An open and mutual sharing of often confidential information generates a platform of understanding from which can come real useful ideas.

An educational component is included—but academic credits are not—through jointly studying relevant books and other material. The facilitator prepares the reading list, study guide and questions, but it is the CEO participants who offer up the answers, both to the learning topics and to real world problems articulated by each attendee.

In the session I visited last week, one member suggested a particular legal approach that will resolve a shareholder question in front of our company. She had used the same approach very successfully herself in the very same situation some years back. Obviously, all of the issues an owner faces are not unique.

I would be pleased to refer you to this CEO roundtable if you are interested. I’d be even happier to hear your thoughts on this subject. Call me, write or e-mail to

By Jeff Rounce, Business Examiner publisher