Every third Friday I drive up to Fort Lauderdale at seven a.m. to attend the monthly meeting of The Strategic Forum (TSF). The Forum is an organization of about 35 business owners and CEOs that get together to share ideas, help each other network, and listen to an ever-changing roster of business leaders who are invited to present to our group.
We meet in a beautiful conference room at the graduate business school at Nova Southeastern University and the structure of our meetings is simple. First we go around the room and each member takes a minute or two for introductions and a very brief overview of their business. Then our guests each take between 12 and 20 minutes to present themselves and their businesses.
We ask our guests to talk about three specific things. Tell us about your journey. That is, how did you get to where you are today? Then tell us about your business and what you see happening in your industry and the world. Finally, tell us how our group can help you with whatever it is you're trying to achieve.
Throughout the year we sponsor informal “mini-meetings” where seven or ten members get together for lunch and conversation. Often a member will use these little get-togethers to ask for specific advice or maybe vet a new business plan. The beauty of the group is both the brainpower in the room and the brutal honesty that only friendship, and the desire to see everyone succeed, can generate.
Twice a year we sponsor a networking cocktail party. And once a year we plan an offsite retreat where our group spends a weekend together, listening to great speakers and getting to know each other better (this weekend we'll be together in the Florida Keys, by the way).
We also share our meeting with the best students of Nova's Huizenga School of Business MBA program. These outstanding students sit around the room, audit the meeting, and even present themselves and their resumes to the group. We work with the students by providing mentors, a scholarship program, and a post-meeting debriefing class where we discuss how the students can benefit from the group itself and the lessons learned. Most impressively, we even have one MBA student who presented his company to our association a few years ago as a guest and now participates in the student group because after building a very successful business he decided to go back to school and get his Masters degree.
The Strategic Forum was not my idea. Jeff Meshel, author of The Opportunity Magnet, started the original group in New York City. Jeff's mantra is to positively exploit “The Power of The Platform” and build an organization where the members are intensely focused on helping each other. After attending a New York meeting, Seth Werner had the brainstorm of expanding the group to South Florida. But TSF certainly wasn't the first business organization where members get together with the express purpose of helping each other – groups like ours have been around for a long time. As far as I can determine, the concept can be traced all the way back to Napoleon Hill's concept of the MasterMind Principle, introduced in his 1937 best seller, Think And Grow Rich. Hill doesn't claim he came up with the idea either, he was writing about a best practice he had witnessed or participated in.
But even though I didn't think of it first, The Strategic Forum has been a very important part of my professional success and personal happiness. When Seth invited me to cofound the Florida Forum seven years ago, I did it for purely mercenary reasons – I thought it would help me meet potential clients and find new business.
And it has. The ROI of TSF has been very very good to me – our advertising agency has gotten hundreds of thousands of dollars of business from member companies and the introductions members have provided. But what I didn't expect when we started the forum was the benefit of the intellectual stimulation and camaraderie TSF has given me. The compelling presentations I've heard from our members and guests can keep me fired up for weeks. Even better, I've made some of my closest friends from the great people I've met. And TSF doesn't just benefit me, besides the business and friendships that many of our members have enjoyed, we can even count one very happy marriage that grew out of our organization's networking opportunities.
The most meaningful part of our meetings is the final activity of each encounter. When our guests are done we go around the room again and trade in the real currency of our little group — thank you's. Each member thanks the other participants for the help they've provided over the last month. Joe thanks Kim for making a business connection. Bill thanks Pablo for helping review an IP contract. Becky thanks Yvonne for recommending an oncologist and using her contacts to help her daughter get a quicker appointment (BTW, we are a confidential organization, none of these names or situations are real). This is where The Strategic Forum demonstrates the true “Power of The Platform.”
Are you getting the feeling that I'm recommending that you join our group? So sorry, I'm not. In order to maintain our intimacy, we've capped our membership at 35 participants.
Am I suggesting you create a group like TSF? I am. With some hard work and good intentions, a group like ours can pay off handsomely for you in both business and friendship.
But that's not the point of this post. Like our meetings, my goal is to end our time together today by saying thank you to my Strategic Forum brethren and thanks to all of you for your friendship and support.