Monday, May 29, 2000

Buddy group just for CEOs of tech firms

Hiring is one favorite topic

By Anita Bruzzese
Gannett News Service

        As more dot-com companies fall by the wayside, it's clear that those surviving such turbulent times have something going beyond high-technology wizardry or an innovative product. They have CEOs who are using emerging management and business strategies to grow their companies.

        One of the ways they do this is through peer groups, which usually meet for a couple days every quarter to discuss business and personnel issues, and learn from one another.

        But these sessions are unlike CEO get-togethers of the past.

        Faced with an upheaval in the world markets unlike anything ever before, and fast-paced business dealings that require uncanny timing and a daredevil attitude, these CEOs — many at the helm for the first time — don't want to follow traditional management models. They are looking for innovative leadership ideas that will help them recruit and retain top talent.

  For more information, contact Katherine Catlin at 1-781-749-3292 or Her Web site for helping CEOs find a place to exchange information and ideas with peers is at
        Katherine Catlin, a founding partner of The Catlin Group in Hingham, Mass., leads one of these first-time CEO peer groups for high-tech executives who are heading “successful, high growth companies.” That means that only those who are ready to go public, or will be acquired soon, are allowed to be part of this elite group of about 10 people.

        “The issues for these kinds of companies are different. These people are trying to grow their business very quickly, either with new acquisitions, new partners, new hires or new products,” she said.

        The executives are often risk takers, ready to grab any opportunity, and constantly seeking change, she said. How does that affect the way they manage people?

        “They know they have to have a great top team. They know they can't do it all by themselves, and they want input from different places. They're always learning.”

        Ms. Catlin said that what these top executives share in the peer sessions is completely confidential, and no competitors are placed in one group.

        “There's a lot of discussion in terms of trends in the market,” she said. “It's always been a wild and crazy business, but now it's even wilder and crazier.

        “There is so much for them to keep up with, and they feel they have no time to step back. So when they come to these sessions, it has extreme value for them, because they're given a chance to talk out issues with others.”

        Phillip Green, CEO of Inmagic, Inc. in Woburn, Mass., said the CEO Forum gives him new ideas about how to move his business forward.

        “To think about your business in a big picture way is unbelievably valuable,” he said. “You get far more out of the time you spend there than you could from doing anything else ... much more, for instance, than if you spent the time fighting all the usual fires.”

        Ms. Catlin said these new CEOs often discuss how to get the best people in a tight labor market.

        She said these leaders know the value of a workplace that is motivated, interesting and exciting, and rely on input from other executives to make that happen.

        Noted Joe Chappell, CEO of Oberon Software Inc. in Cambridge, Mass.: “As a first-time CEO, you have questions about what exactly do you do on a day-to-day basis, how you balance what you do with the roles of other people, and what to do about communication and other organizational issues. Getting ideas from other people ... has helped my management team deal with things that have come up in a more productive way than if I had been left on my own. The value of the group is having a forum that is unedited, self-directed and extremely open and helpful.”

        Ms. Catlin said that while members may share insight on strategic market positioning, they may also be open with each other about such issues as balancing work and family.

        “We get into touchy issues that you can't talk about with many other people,” said Hal Charnley, CEO of Artel Video Systems in Marlborough, Mass.

        Ms. Catlin has been leading the CEO Forum for two years, although she has more than a decade's worth of experience in working with high-tech CEOs.

        She said she got the idea for the group because these business leaders often face unique, high pressure challenges.

        “These people have been living in lightning speed the last couple of years. Everything everywhere affects them all the time. These groups can go a long way toward creating more winners in today's revolutionary business environment.”


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