Follow the Leaders
May 6, 2019, Richmond, Virginia: The Virginia Council of CEOs (VACEOs), a non-profit association serving more than 240 small and mid-sized business owners, announced today that Arlene Lee, President of R.E. Lee Companies has been awarded the Charles E. McCabe Leadership Award. Lee was honored on Thursday, May 2, 2019, for her leadership and dedicated effort to grow the Charlottesville membership base at the 15th Annual VACEOs Retreat held at the Kingsmill Resort in Williamsburg, Virginia.
The Charles E. McCabe Leadership Award, presented by the Virginia Council of CEOs Board of Directors, recognizes VACEOs members who make significant leadership contributions to the Council. Chuck McCabe, CEO of Peoples Tax and The Income Tax School, was appropriately named as the first recipient of the award during the 2017 VACEOs Retreat. David R. Barrett, President and CEO of Barrett Capital Management, LLC, became the second recipient.
Arlene Lee has been an active member of the Council since 2016. She currently serves as a Forum Leader and is an active Advisory Board member. Frequently making trips to VACEOs events in Richmond from her home base in Charlottesville, she is a valued ambassador and connector between the Council and the Charlottesville market membership base. Lee tirelessly connected the Council leadership with influencers and attended nearly every one of 25 events held in Charlottesville over the last two years.
“When we began our expansion in Charlottesville, this member led the way,” said JJ White — current VACEOs Chair and Dale Carnegie Training Franchise Owner — during the award presentation.
“She made such a difference because she simply shares her experience of being a newer CEO, and the many ways that the Council and her Forum have helped her learn and grow as a leader,” said Scot McRoberts, Executive Director, Virginia Council of CEOs. Adding, “The impact of Arlene’s leadership on our growth in Charlottesville has been critical. We simply would not have succeeded without her.”
As of April of this year, the Council has three roundtable groups in Charlottesville.
“My experience here with the Council has been pretty incredible,” said Arlene Lee about the award. “I just really, really want to thank you for what you’ve done for me. What I have done for you is peanuts. You inspire me to do more, learn more, and plant seeds everywhere. Thank you so much, all of you.”
Charles E. McCabe Leadership Award Recipients
2019: Arlene Lee, President, R.E. Lee Companies
2018: David R. Barrett, President and CEO of Barrett Capital Management
2017: Chuck McCabe, CEO of Peoples Tax and The Income Tax School
The VA Council of CEOs and Startup Virginia are pleased to announce a new community partnership, as Startup Virginia officially launches its peer-to-peer Founders Roundtable program. The program provides founders an intentional opportunity to connect with other founders in order to share, support, and learn from each other as they grow their businesses.
“We were happy to help SVA with the tools and training they needed to build their roundtable program,” said Scot McRoberts, Executive Director, VA Council of CEOs. “We believe peer roundtables make better CEOs and more successful companies, which makes our community stronger. It’s natural for us to want to equip these startup CEOs with such a powerful tool to help them grow and succeed.”
The VA Council of CEOs worked with Startup Virginia staff to create the Founders Roundtable program and provided training for the leaders of the five groups. The program will facilitate structured monthly meetings for small groups of 7-10 diverse entrepreneurs to participate in confidential discussions about the professional and personal challenges of operating a high-growth startup.
“We are incredibly grateful for the support and expertise of the VA Council of CEOs in the development of our Founder Roundtable program,” said Richard Wintsch, Executive Director, Startup Virginia. “As a business incubator, the biggest value we offer our founders is the opportunity to support and learn from each other, and this new initiative does it in an intentional way. We’re really excited to provide this opportunity to our member startups.”
About the Virginia Council of CEOs
The Virginia Council of CEOs is a nonprofit association that serves the CEOs of small and mid-sized businesses in Virginia. The Council was founded in 2000 to connect CEOs so that they can learn and grow together. Made up of more than 240 members from the Richmond and Charlottesville regions, the Council is poised for continued growth. Learn more at https://www.vaceos.org/.
About Startup Virginia
Startup Virginia (SVA) is a nonprofit, high-growth business incubator dedicated to advancing businesses that build a long-term, sustainable economy for Virginia. We currently serve 70 startup companies, more than 180 mentors and subject matter experts, and a regional investors network. SVA also provides entrepreneurial guidance and education that is open to all. With support from our partners, mentors, investors, and donors, we help entrepreneurs reach their full potential. For more information, visit www.startupvirginia.org.
For Eddie O’Leary, president of web development firm COLAB, one of the best business decisions he ever made was to step away from it – to release himself from operational concerns, that is, and focus on the reason he got into business ownership in the first place.
It was two years ago when he had a serious discussion with himself. “So for me, I had to kind of put my ego in check, and I had to say, ‘You know what? There’s really somebody else who can run this business better than me, and I’ll focus on strategy and sales and the things that I really like,’” explains O’Leary.
In this case, that meant a sustained focus on growing the business and building up his leadership team – and investing in a quality chief operating officer.
Turns out O’Leary’s ego check has paid off royally. In 2018, COLAB made Richmond BizSense’s RVA 25 list of fastest-growing companies (again) and attained Inc. 5000 Fastest-Growing Companies status for the first time. Today, COLAB is in innovation mode, reaching into untapped opportunities that may not have come about otherwise.
O’Leary says the leadership work and investment in the team has “allowed me to go back and do some of the things that are really the reason that I started this company in the first place – which is to create new opportunities, explore new technologies and really grow our offerings.”
He’s particularly excited about the opportunities Alexa may bring.
O’Leary describes COLAB as a company that solves business challenges. “Our niche is solving business problems with technology,” he explains. “We typically build websites and web applications that are designed specifically to solve problems, create opportunities or create operational efficiencies. What makes us special is the fact that we have a full team of strategists, designers, developers, engineers and product managers all located here in Richmond full time.”
The reinvigorated COLAB of today augments large-company marketing teams and designs apps for voice recognition platforms like Alexa.
“COLAB has been creating a great product for a long time, but the work we’ve done in the last year or two to build up a great leadership team has allowed me to go back to focusing my time on increasing the innovative product offerings we have, such as Amazon Alexa smart speaker apps, as well as putting together our digital partnership program.”
O’Leary is particularly excited about the opportunities associated with smart speakers, smart TVs, and the Alexa and Google Home product lines, as consumers are moving away from web searches and using voice-activated tools for information instead. According to O’Leary, it’s a trend business owners need to keep an eye on.
“The growth in that area has been tremendous,” he says. “It’s [Alexa] a device no one had heard of three years ago, and now something like 42 percent of people have them in their homes.” It’s an untapped area well-suited to COLAB. In fact, the team just released the first smart speaker app for the Virginia Lottery.
O’Leary describes himself as a “CEO by default,” explaining that even though he grew up watching his father run several small companies, he didn’t feel like business ownership was for him. (His background is in political science.)
After a stint building websites and web applications, O’Leary saw an opportunity, and COLAB was born – and, though it wasn’t his initial intention, he became a CEO.
Whatever the name or role assigned to him, O’Leary is clearly a LEADER. He has the courage to act on opportunities, even if that means a bruised ego.
“I think there comes a time for some people like me when you have to recognize that doing everything yourself or solving all business challenges or being in charge isn’t what necessarily defines success for you,” he says.
Empowering others. Acting on opportunities. O’Leary a leader by default? We think not.
O’Leary has been a member of the Council since 2014 and he’s found that the relationships he has formed there have helped him make smart decisions.
“As I think back about the time when I joined the Council, I would say that our business was doing a great product, and it was a valid, legit business. But we were probably around eight or nine people and around a million dollars in revenue,” he says. Adding, “I recognized, by being part of the Council, that it was important for me to take some serious steps in order to take advantage of the tremendous opportunity COLAB had. Through my Roundtables, and through the people I’ve met, I’ve really been able to take advantage of other people’s experiences to make really smart decisions about how to grow the company.”
Virginia Council of CEOs is full of innovative leaders like Eddie O’Leary. Sign up for a Get to Know VACEOs event to learn more!
Our members enjoy a unique safe haven culture, where learning and growth are valued. They connect, learn, and grow with the leaders of some of Virginia’s fastest growing companies. But don’t take our word for it. Here are seven reasons why Members value the VA Council of CEOs, as written in their own words.
#1) Realization “I’m not alone”
“The peer network is second to none. For me, the opportunity to connect and share similar experiences with other CEOs has been invaluable. It removes the ‘it’s lonely at the top’ feeling and gives you an abundance of friendships, support and objectivity.” – R. Zacharias, CEO, Barber Martin Agency
#2) The confidential Roundtable experience
“The peer sharing experience gives you information that will help you avoid some pitfalls and really gain from their experience, which is what the Council is all about.” – J. Fitzgerald, CEO, Taradel, Inc.
#3) Like-minded peers
“The Council provides access to leaders who are like minded and share the same passion as I do as a leader. We learn from each other and share experiences about our businesses and our personal lives. This gives me an outlet to learn, grow, and build new relationships.” – B. Leach, President, Unboxed Technology
#4) Continuous improvement/time to work on the business
“It is easy for me to get pulled into the weeds as I work with issues that occur in the business. The Council serves as a continuous reminder to me of the importance of stepping back to work on the business.” – J. Boyden, CEO, Heart Havens
#5) Business growth
“When I look at our organization today and think about all of the great things we’ve done over the last 10 years, the Council has had a hand in all of it.” – H. Clifford, President, Livewire
#6) Safe, no-sell environment
“I think the Council is a valuable organization because it provides a place to meet and learn from so many other business owners in safe space where you are not constantly sold to.” – T. Hamilton, Owner, U-Fab Interiors
#7) Personal growth
“I am a better boss and business partner and more well rounded. It pushes you to be better. It offers a path out of your comfort zone to a success zone.” – C. Brodersen, CEO, Infotel Systems
Joining the Council is easy! Simply fill out our online Membership Application and we will be in touch ASAP.
We live in an age where it’s possible for companies to thrive or die based on customer reviews. “Reviews are important for almost any small to mid-sized business,” says Chris Leone, president of WebStrategies, Inc. “These days, it’s hard to be a new customer and not see an online review at some point in your buying journey.”
And like it or not, your buyers’ journeys often begin on Google. According to Leone, prospects who search for a type of service in the search engine (e.g., “staffing company VA”) are more likely to choose companies that have strong reviews associated with them.
If a customer doesn’t know your web address and chooses to search using your business name (e.g., “ACME Supply”), they’ll quickly discover reviews of your business along with your website. A search result page littered with low-star reviews doesn’t make a great first impression. Another not-so-great look? Poor ratings on Glassdoor – a well-known site where employees can rate their employers.
To sum: Less-than-stellar reviews can impact your brand image, your bottom line and the likelihood that a star employee will come calling.
Think only B2C business owners should be concerned with customer reviews? Think again. There are myriad review websites that closely examine the services and products B2B companies provide, too – from Amazon Customer Reviews to Which? to TrustPilot. If you own a business, it’s also important to monitor your online presence on sites like FinancesOnline, G2Crowd and bbb.org (Better Business Bureau).
If you’re a small to mid-size business owner with limited resources and time, where do you begin? Leone stresses that any website visible to your prospects should be on your radar. “You can find these by doing a Google search and scanning the search results page,” he explains. “Google will show different review sites for different industries, depending on what’s out there and the intent or mindset of the person doing the search. In short, act like a prospect would and take note of what you see. Then work to improve it.”
Scot Halloran, president of Trolley House Refreshments and managing partner of Groovin’ Gourmets, has an on-staff marketing employee who monitors Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, and catering and wedding-specific sites each day. “There’s quite a few areas that we have to monitor and keep an eye on,” says Halloran. “If anything positive or negative pops up, she’ll relay that back to the team. Obviously, if it’s a negative review, we attack that pretty quickly. Thankfully, that’s only happened a handful of times.”
Halloran is diligent about asking for customer feedback; in fact, he uses a local service to contact customers who’ve used his service in the last 30 days. It’s a great source for garnering positive reviews. His (thankfully) limited experience with negative reviews has taught him that folks are often quick to pull the social media trigger rather than contact a business owner directly with a concern or complaint.
Essential Steps for Handling Negative Reviews*
- Be professional and avoid getting personal
- Thank your reviewers and customize your responses
- Take the time to upload an image with your response
- Indicate you’ve taken the necessary action
*Source: Small Business Association: https://www.sba.gov/blogs/how-handle-negative-reviews
“Typically, what we find is that [a negative review] stems from not necessarily the contact you’ve been doing business with directly, but someone else in the organization that just has a beef, and rather than reaching out to us as an entity, they just go straight to social media,” says Halloran.
Halloran’s approach to reacting to less-positive reviews is based on a key core value of his business: transparency. A typical response includes an immediate acknowledgment of the concern and a thank-you for the feedback; for example, “We’ve researched the situation and found the following… Thank you for bringing this to our attention.”
Most importantly: Be diligent and vigilant, and respond quickly should an issue arise.
Leone agrees that it’s important to respond. “Do so empathetically. Your response is a great opportunity to show your human side and that you’re trying to get better. No business is perfect, and people get that. That being said, if there are recurring trends in the negative reviews people leave, you should worry less about the reviews and more about fixing the systemic problem within your business that’s causing the bad reviews.”