Photos by Hillary Ehlen
A business owner was potently clear when he confessed, “I’ve overdosed on organizations.” He explained that he wasn’t necessarily complaining; the business renews memberships and his staff attends events, but his own participation rendered little value. He struggled to find value in the business cards, signup sheets and bulk-order trinkets his attendance rendered. He runs the business and has bigger issues to consider.
If you lead a business or organization and empathize with our overdosed neighbor, set your expertise, acumen, brand and ego aside for a few paragraphs.
It’s only been going three years, but already fulfills a categorical yet previously unmet need for a venue where executive leaders’ ideas are free flowing, conceived and engaged; where skepticism is replaced with candor, confidence, and credible suggestions and connections.
Kurt McSparron left a national small business organization in 2015 to create a nonprofit business organization. He named it the100,inc. and commits it exclusively to local executive-level networking and a mission of “connecting people to people, connecting people to projects and helping leaders lead.” Very sweet and heroic, Kurt, a new organization, no job and a mission statement. Now what?
When asked for the rationale, McSparron set the stage for a slam dunk discussion with a testimonial he received from member, Goldmark Commercial Real Estate president Jim Buus, who said, “Building professional relationships and networks is the fundamental basis of my business practice.”
That’s very profound: “fundamental basis of my business practice.” If someone considers the building of networks fundamental—primary or supporting the very existence—to his business rather than part of his business, his networking activities and investments ought not be tainted by hollow connections or contaminated by frivolous discussions. Otherwise, isn’t that business fundamentally destined to fail?
But how can McSparron, president of the100,inc., possibly keep this process fundamentally clean for members? He’s the executive and don’t executives want and need to increase purchases in as many markets as possible and do so at the highest achievable price? Not McSparron. He’s endeavored to take this organization in exactly the opposite direction.
the100,inc. limits membership to only 200 executive-level individuals from exclusively local private businesses or nonprofits, which cannot be a startup. Further, members must agree pay no more $1/day in dues. Huh? If the100,inc. commits to “helping leaders lead,” why are its standards fundamentally antithetical to growth? The selectivity liberates members, McSparron says, and for those of you still thinking like executives, he’s right on track.
Executives deserve trustworthy ideas provided by fellow executive leaders who can help fortify their organization rather than be subjected to the trial-and-error sagas of a new structure or someone selling a product in which they have no vested interest. Relationships among the100,inc. members do not end at “here’s my card.”
Doug Johnson, president at Tri-County Insurance says sending upper management to the100,inc. events “has attached a name and face to real business issues and made those folks a ready resource for all that belong to the group.”
Digging a little deeper, Ryan Keel founded CollegeSmart to help clients prepare for the crippling costs of college tuition. Keel identified a need, created a service and has been attracting clients left and right for three years, but wants to do what every executive must: avoid learning the hard way.
“I’ve found (the100,inc.) extremely valuable. Being a new small business comes with challenges. Most, if not all, of which others in the100,inc. have already faced. It’s been incredibly helpful being able to hear advice on how to handle my current problems…and on what I will be facing as my business grows,” Keel says.
FF Fisher Sales & Leasing has been in business over 30 years and president Todd Fisher echoes Keel because “No matter the diversity of what you do, there are common concerns and issues we can all share and learn from each other.”
The challenges are perpetual, but the100,inc. removes the hot-potato schedules all executives dread. Fisher also says, “It has been fun to learn about what other companies do as a business that may have never happened without the100,inc.” Executives enjoy a business meeting? That alone is noteworthy.
Our overdosed friend didn’t like sales pitches at meetings and if you’re an executive, do you? Todd Fuchs, vice president of Payroll Express, appreciates the authenticity. “I leave every (the100,inc.) meeting with at least two or three nuggets of knowledge without ever feeling like someone is trying to sell me something,” he says.
Keel, Fisher, Fuchs and their fellow members have discovered, thrive upon and enjoy their takeaways from organization participation, but it took McSparron leaving his job and starting the100,inc. to provide them.
So far so good, but how does the100,inc. differ from some executives crossing paths at another event? Plus, how can the100,inc. actually influence the business community?
McSparron says that all executives must develop their own networks and relationships, but the100,inc. members are leaps and bounds ahead because they know exactly whom to call and the person answering their call will be the executive they want to reach rather than the “can I take a message?” who would otherwise answer. That’s how, as the mission states, the100,inc. helps “connect people to people.” We now see McSparron sailing over my head for that previously mentioned slam dunk, but he makes a pass.
Sagency president Mike Meagher shatters the backboard when he says, “It was with the connections we made with the100,inc. and Kurt McSparron that we met Brian Rinke, who ultimately became an executive coach and director on our team at Sagency. Kurt is doing some great things in the business community by connecting leaders in a different way.”
Meagher also says, “(t)he people in (the100,inc.) ask for guidance, offer candid feedback and enjoy seeing others succeed.” If you think like an executive, Meagher’s comment dropped your jaw to the floor and sent your appreciation for the100,inc.’s framework gleefully through the roof.
Why? Because, if you’re the executive, you cut the checks. If you’re the executive networking with nonexecutives, your contacts measure success by how deep they get into your pockets. However, Meagher lauds the100,inc. as a platform for meeting people who facilitate executives’ prosperity. That’s unique to the point of abnormal and a clue for every executive to consider.
To commemorate its second year of existence, the100,inc. hosted the Executive Expo in January and McSparron reports a lofty 200 executives having attended. During his keynote address, PRACS founder Dr. Jim Carlson explained, with forthright flare, the importance of leading one’s business according to one’s own standards and the need for candid communication among executives. He credits the100,inc. for enabling executives to operate with “unfiltered leadership”—words adopted as the theme for Executive Expo 2019 to be held in January. Registration is open to the public, but if your business wants a booth, sorry. Your neighbors bought them out in February.
the100,inc. also hosts the very easy to remember Third Wednesday Executive Lunches each month. Coiya Tompkins of the nonprofit Jeremiah Program says these open socials “afford more ability to dialogue and really dive into issues. The environment…provides a ‘safe place’ to dialogue with small business owners who understand and identify with real-world situations.” That’s the environment the overdosed business owner, with whom so many executives empathize, wanted but could not find.
In the midst of all this, let’s not forget that every single executive has a natural instinct for identifying and capitalizing on opportunities whereas the100,inc. is a nonprofit networking tool, so it cannot nor does it take credit for ultimate results or relations between or among members.
the100,inc. does limit the members, but it’s opened the gates to the trustworthy relationships and candid communication executives yearn. McSparron and the100,inc. members opened up and shared some invaluable ideas here that every executive can use and did not charge the $1/day dues. McSparron says few seats remain. Good luck.
Meet Mark Puppe
Mark Puppe develops communication strategies and written content as owner of Master Manuscripts. He has advocated for small business professionally at the National Federation of Independent Business and Professional Insurance Agents of North Dakota, and does what he can to ensure entrepreneurs get the credit, protection and veneration they deserve.
His contributed pieces introduce, showcase and personify the real, imminent, yet often overlooked and unknown responsibilities that small business owners experience, endure and strive to overcome.