Wednesday, August 16, 2023

Our New Roundtable for non-CEOs. Here’s What They Said About It.

Earlier this year, VACEOs ran a successful pilot program, providing a peer roundtable experience for non-CEO key executives. The program plans to expand its reach to more COOs, GMs, VPs, number twos, etc. in its sophomore installment beginning in October 2023. In a roundtable comprised of 8 to 10 fellow executives, members will benefit from a confidential peer roundtable experience led by professional facilitators. Applications and more information can be found here.

When asked about their experience in Key Executive Round Table, members had plenty of insights and learning experiences to share:

“[Key Executive Round Table] is something to definitely give a try. It’s a great place where you’re able to share and talk about challenges in a safe and secure area… having that confidence in your peers to open up and be vulnerable to talk about things that really do impact your business and your personal life day in and day out.”

Todd Johnson, COO of Automatic Leasing Service

Kelly Spraker, VP of Experience & Finance at Midas of Richmond “didn’t expect the group to become as close as they did, and [she] found that to be a positive.” Chief Operating Officer at Commonwealth Catholic Charities Anita Wallen found “[t]he experience sharing was very useful for me because it helped me come to the conclusion that I’m not unique in these challenges that I’m experiencing in my role… It reduced some of that sense of isolation and helped develop a different perspective…”

“If you’re looking for a group to help you to grow outside of your organization, [Key Executive Round Table is] a great option for you.”

Kelly Spraker, Vice President of Experience & Finance, Midas of Richmond

“I have been able to get some takeaways and infuse that into my daily work.”

Anita Wallen, COO of Commonwealth Catholic Charities

“As much as you give to it is what you’ll get out of it.”

Todd Johnson, COO of Automatic Leasing Service
Posted by Aida Pehlic at 1:31 pm
Thursday, August 10, 2023

Building Your Sales Machine: Transforming Grit into Growth

Virtually every business owner wants to grow their business. It’s rare to find an entrepreneur who says, “No, we are good. We’d like to stay right where we are.” 

Growth allows for expansion, more profits, increased value, and a sense of well-being. It’s hard not to tie the slope of revenue growth to our self-image. For most businesses, there is no pressing problem that more sales won’t take cure. Sure, sometimes it strains other parts of the company but given a choice, most of us would choose to have more customers, bigger deals, and better retention. 

Often, a good business idea coupled with the grit and hustle of the founder(s), can result in a business that will grow, and grow rapidly. But then something happens – they get stuck. The growth that we could once count on begins to slow down. And then stop. 

It’s a common dilemma. 

“Let’s hire a salesperson. Or two! They’ll turn up leads, they can sell while we can focus on other things.”  Sadly, it rarely happens the way it’s planned. Salespeople are hired, we spend some time with them and send them out to the market. They can’t consistently sell. It’s perplexing. “I sold more than they do and I’m not even a salesperson. I hate sales!” 

It’s perplexing. It’s frustrating. And it happens over and over. 

The Founder’s Dilemma

When an entrepreneur starts a company, they have no choice but hustle, scratch, and claw to find customers. They have a passion for what they do. Through muscle and personality, they can grow the business to a certain level. Then it stops. They don’t have time to do what they used to do. They are overwhelmed in the day-to-day demands. They get comfortable. Their selling efforts are unsustainable. 

At some point, they realize that their success is not duplicatable. They can’t clone their passion. They can’t clone their grit and personality. They have no “way” of doing sales. They just sell. They don’t really know how they did it. They just did it. 

For the salesperson, it’s job. They want to do well but it’s not life-or-death. Another sales job is just a few interviews away. And that’s the dilemma. 

To scale a business, companies need to have a processes and methodologies that are learnable, teachable, and duplicatable. Leaders need to be able to onboard new salespeople to an established way of selling. 

The Path to Growth

I love what sales expert Jack Daly says in his book, Hyper Sales Growth. He says, “The best salespeople are canned. They never wing it.” He writes that every company should have a success guide that is based on what the best people do so that others can emulate it. (You can join us for a day with Jack Daly on September 21!)

In most selling scenarios, there are but a handful of objections and tough questions and they come up over-and-over again. When salespeople haven’t been trained on what to say, they wing it. Maybe it’s effective. More often, it’s not. 

David Sandler likened sales to a Broadway play. In sales, you must know your lines. When the prospect says, “Your price is too high,” what does your salesperson say? When asked for a proposal, how do they manage what happens after the proposal is received? This should be uniform. There is a best answer. But left to chance, it’s rarely the one given. There is no winging in acting, or in sales. 

Relationships are important. But when salespeople build their skills on relationships, they are ineffective and inefficient. Both are required. Good at understanding the dynamics of people, while their selling process is running quietly in the background. 

In sales, you don’t rise to the occasion. You fall to your level of training. The best leaders approach sales like any other part of their business. They don’t wing it with accounting department. They don’t “hope for the best” in the service department. They learn by reading, attending workshops with experts. They develop plans and ensure their teams are executing. They practice over and over until they get it right. 

Finally, understanding sales is a non-negotiable facet of running a business. Entrepreneurial passion and grit can drive early-stage growth, but the law of diminishing returns applies when scaling becomes the focus. In that critical phase, equipping your sales team with a well-documented, practiced, and proven sales process is vital. This transforms sales from an art of personality to a science of repeatable results. 

Ultimately, success in sales, like any other business aspect, lies in a disciplined approach, continual learning, and steadfast execution. Start investing in your sales processes today – it’s the lifeline of your enterprise. Your business’s growth, value, and overall well-being hinge on it.

Robin Green is President at Ascend Performance powered by Sandler Training, and a sponsor of the VA Council of CEOs.

Posted by Aida Pehlic at 4:27 pm
Thursday, August 10, 2023

Recession? Soft landing? Just a mirage? Here’s What You Need to Know

VACEOs recently convened a virtual Square Table with a panel of 3 recession veterans: Sam Dibert, Melissa Ball, and David Ingram. They shared their experiences with previous recessions and downturns, and what they are doing right now to prepare for the next one! Here are some key takeaways from our panel:

  • Be proactive in communicating with your banker and accountant. Talk to them regularly before you really need them.
  • Know your numbers. Benchmark with peers.
  • Invest in your culture. In hard times a strong culture will make you more nimble and resilient.
  • There’s opportunity in every situation . . . if you and your team have that mindset.
  • Ask for help early. Don’t wait.
  • Don’t wait. Move fast. Trust your gut.
  • Be bolder.
  • Several of the veteran CEOs said that downturns led them to be more open with their employees. Openness and clarity helps them deal with difficult times better.

Finally, Sam Dibert said, “It always makes me wonder how come we don’t think of all this stuff when things are going well!”

Thank you to Ilsa Loeser for proposing and moderating this Square Table session. A Square Table is an ad-hoc meeting around a topic a member is interested in. We turn to the expertise of the VACEOs community for clarity on the matter over an hour-long Zoom meeting. If you have an idea for a potential Square Table meeting, contact Scot McRoberts.

Posted by Aida Pehlic at 4:26 pm
Thursday, July 27, 2023

VACEOs Hires Charlottesville Regional Executive As Org Continues to Grow

The Virginia Council of CEOs announced today that Frank Squillace has joined the staff as Regional Executive. Squillace’s main responsibility will be to assist with the nonprofit’s Commonwealth-wide focus on membership representation and growth. 

“We are fortunate to add Frank to our team,” says Scot McRoberts, Executive Director, VA Council of CEOs. Adding, “He is a strong believer in the power of peer roundtables, and he understands the challenges that small business CEOs face. Highly respected and well connected in the Charlottesville area, Frank will help us serve more SMB CEOs.”

More About Frank Squillace

Frank has over 40 years of administrative experience in various positions. He specializes in uplifting customer service & work/life balance training, establishing innovative approaches to networking and providing workforce recruitment, development, and retention strategies. He has served in a number of executive management positions in the Charlottesville Virginia region including with Sentara Martha Jefferson Hospital, the Church of the Incarnation, the Charlottesville Regional Chamber of Commerce, and Piedmont Virginia Community College.  Frank is the Managing Partner of Civil Solutions, a Virginia-based consulting firm. Over the past 35 years, Frank has served on numerous local and national Boards. Frank is a native of Syracuse, New York and holds a BS degree from Saint Bonaventure University and a Master’s degree from Duke University.  He resides in Albemarle County, Virginia and enjoys spending time with his wife Jane DeSimone Dittmar, his two children, four step-children and one grandchild, reading, sports and playing cello in his rock band, 180

About the Virginia Council of CEOs

Virginia Council of CEOs is a nonprofit organization connecting CEOs for learning and growth. Formed more than 20 years ago, Member benefits include placement in a peer roundtable group and access to a thought leader network and a robust program of events for learning and growth. This is not a networking group, but rather a group of CEO peers who are invested in the success of one another. Learn more at

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Posted by Aida Pehlic at 4:47 pm
Thursday, July 27, 2023

Virginia Economic Outlook Index Continues to Rebound; 89% of Small Business CEOs Prefer the Fed to Hold or Reduce Interest Rates; 64% view AI as a Positive Capability

CEOs Again Expect Revenue and Employment to Increase Over Next 6 Months with Capital Spending Remaining Flat

UNIVERSITY OF RICHMOND ─ Eighty-nine percent of small business CEOs indicate that they prefer that the Fed either reduce interest rates or hold them at the current rate with 11% preferring that rates increase further.  Sixty-four percent of respondents view Generative AI as a positive capability to be embraced with only 6% seeing AI as a danger to be avoided.  That’s the latest from the quarterly CEO Economic Outlook Survey conducted by the University of Richmond’s Robins School of Business and the Virginia Council of CEOs.

Fifty-four percent of CEOs expect revenue to increase, with 18% expecting at least a 10% increase, while 55% expect employment to increase over the next six months. 

The survey found expectations over the next six months for revenue and employment were both positive with employment to grow faster than expectations a quarter ago.   Expectations with regard to capital spending remained primarily flat.

More than half (54%) of CEOs indicated that they expect revenue to increase over the next six months.

  • 2% expected revenue to be “significantly higher.”
  • 52% expected revenue to be “higher.”
  • 11% expected revenue to be “lower.”
  • 36% indicated they expected no change.

Thirty-two percent of CEOs expect capital spending to increase over the next six months (up slightly from last quarter), while 21% expect capital spending to decrease. More than 46% expect capital spending to remain flat. 

Fifty-five percent of respondent CEOs expect employment to increase over the next six months. Additionally, 41% expect employment to remain flat while only 4% expect employment to fall. 

Taken as a whole, the results pertaining to revenue, capital spending, and employment continue the positive trend of last quarter with the overall Economic Outlook Index increasing (85.1 versus 78.2) relative to the results from the end of Q1 2023. 

Additionally, CEOs were asked their preference with regard to further interest rate changes by the Fed.  They reported that they preferred the following:  

  • Further raise rates:  11%
  • Reduce rates: 40%
  • Leave rates as they are: 49%

They were also asked their opinion on the potential impact of Generative Artificial Intelligence (AI) tools (such as ChatGPT) on their businesses.  They reported that they viewed these tools as follows:

  • A positive capability to be embraced:  64%
  • A danger to be avoided: 6%
  • No opinion at this time: 31%

“The survey results suggest that CEOs continue to see a positive future. They also strongly prefer that the Fed avoid further interest rate hikes” said Rich Boulger, associate dean at the Robins School, who administers the survey and collects the responses. “The overall index continues to rise (85.1 versus 78.2 at the end of Q1 2023 and slightly up from 81.3 of a year ago).”  

“The CEOs I work with are finding opportunity in what is a very confusing economy. Many are telling me that workforce challenges are easing”, said Scot McRoberts, executive director of VACEOs.

The Robins School and VACEOs jointly conduct the quarterly survey, which regularly asks about expectations for revenue, capital spending, and employment, plus other relevant issues, helping Virginia companies anticipate business conditions and plan for growth. The Robins School adapted the survey from the Business Roundtable, an association of CEOs of American companies that conducts a similar survey nationally. Rich Boulger, associate dean at the Robins School, administers the survey and collects the responses. The quarterly survey has been administered since 2010.  

Fifty-five CEOs responded to the survey, which was administered Julyl 11 – 17. Multiple industries are represented in the sample although services and construction represented the majority of the respondents. The average company whose CEO responded to this survey had approximately $10 million in revenue for the most recent 12-month period. The average employment was 55. 

The Council continues to expand the survey beyond its members, offering any area business owners whose companies gross at least $1 million in annual revenue the opportunity to participate. If enough businesses participate, the Council will provide survey results by industry. Participation is free, and all participants will receive copies of the survey data.

Virginia Council of CEOs (VACEOs) is a nonprofit organization connecting CEOs for learning and growth. Formed more than 20 years ago, member benefits include placement in a peer roundtable group and access to a thought leader network, and a robust program of events for learning and growth. This is not a networking group, but rather a group of CEO peers who are invested in the success of each Member. To qualify for membership CEOs must run a business with $1M+ revenue and 5+FTEs. Learn more at

The Robins School of Business is the only fully-accredited, highly-ranked undergraduate business school that also is part of a highly-ranked liberal arts university. The Robins School is also home to the Richmond MBA.  The school’s executive education division offers customized training and consulting to a wide variety of businesses.

Posted by Aida Pehlic at 4:35 pm