Va. Council of CEOs to expand statewide
Pandemic-necessitated virtual meetings spurred council expansion
It’s about to get a little less lonely at the top.
After 20 years of bringing together CEOs and other executive leaders from the Central Virginia region (particularly in the Richmond and Charlottesville areas), the Virginia Council of CEOs (VACEOs), a membership organization for CEOs in Virginia, recently announced plans to expand to all geographic regions around the state — an opportunity that became more evident during the pandemic.
Historically, groups of approximately eight to 10 members would meet in-person for roundtable discussions on topics including marketing, finance, workforce and sales challenges, but the pandemic took these meetings to a virtual setting.
“The biggest challenge for those CEOs is the lonely-at-the-top phenomenon, where these folks really find themselves alone with these struggles a lot of the time,” VACEOs Executive Director Scot McRoberts says. “In smaller businesses you don’t have a lot of executive teams around you. There’s just a lot of pressure on a small business CEO.”
Pre-pandemic, members in a close geographic area would meet on a monthly basis to hold these discussions, but now CEOs from any region across the state are eligible to apply for membership in the organization. Prospective members are invited to attend a virtual roundtable meeting to see whether the organization is a fit for them.
“We sort of looked around … and said, ‘Why aren’t we offering these type of virtual roundtables to anywhere in the state?’ There’s no barrier to that now,” McRoberts says.
Although meeting virtually during the pandemic went against the grain for the socially minded organization, Charlottesville-based R.E. Lee Cos. CEO and Principal Arlene Lee, who has been a VACEOs member for more than four years, says the virtual meetings helped her weather pandemic-related challenges.
“For many CEOs I know, the relationships with other CEOs is what has carried us through the COVID-19 pandemic and the difficult decisions and pivots we have had to make,” Lee says. “The relationships grown through the council are deep, connected and meaningful in a way that is often missing in our greater world.”
Sam Stone, president of Richmond-based Stone’s Office Equipment, who has been a member for more than a decade, says that conversations during the pandemic have been helpful — and also a space to share challenges without fear of competition. VACEO groups are structured to avoid bringing together leaders competing businesses and are confidential.
“There are a lot of businesses that are hurting,” Stone says. “But opening this up statewide is going to be an increase to our membership base.”
Ron Carey, CEO of Richmond-based creative production company Tilt, joined the group about two years ago seeking a space to work through common challenges that top leadership faces. Adding additional members from across the state will be a benefit both to current and new members, he says.
“Any time you get a broader swath of people to participate and a perspective that they’re going to bring to things, I think that’s always a positive thing.” Carey says.
For a longtime member like Robert Clark, president of Richmond-based architecture firm Baskervill, who has been a VACEOs member for a decade, the council has not only been a space for discussing and combating business challenges, but also sharing personal challenges associated with being a business leader.
“Having that peer group to share with your own personal experiences … or how to handle the personal aspects of it all has been just as valuable,” he says.
Prospective members are invited to visit the VACEOs website for a confidential roundtable discussion before making a decision about membership. Eligible members are those who currently hold a CEO or equivalent position, lead a company with gross revenues exceeding $1 million and five employees and demonstrate a commitment to growth.