CEO Leadership Forums: Moving the Needle Forward

Gary Cohen, Chris Cucci, Tim Bach

There is a Justice League of sorts at work in the classrooms of a Valencia College campus. Here, a few times a year, a group of “superheroes” comes together to participate in Orlando’s CEO Leadership Forums: professionals, business leaders and students. At first glance, this league seems like a motley crew. Once you get them talking, however, it’s clear that their diverse skill sets are necessary to create the synergy that has propelled success stories in just three short years.

Orlando’s CEO Leadership Forums consist of two groups, with Orlando Group One including 17 local business leaders:

Gary Cohen, CFO and consultant at Nperspective CFO & Strategic Services.

Chris Cucci, senior VP and commercial banker at CenterState Bank.

Tim Bach, owner of Patterson Bach Communications.

Paul Dietrich, managing partner at law firm Swann Hadley Stump Dietrich & Spears.

David Poparad, tax partner at Grennan Fender CPA firm.

Phil Zeman, senior VP and commercial relationship manager at CenterState Bank.

Doug Foreman, CEO of Fringe Benefit Plans.

Glyn Griffis, financial advisor for Raymond James.

Brian Fatigati, president of ARX Payments.

Daryl Dixon, CEO and co-founder of VALiNTRY Services LLC.

Timmy Rupeiks, senior vice president of sales for VALiNTRY Services LLC.

Bernie Piekarski, managing partner of Piekarski Consulting LLC.Ray Watson of CEO Nexus.

Paul Castenada, vice president of sales and operations at Sandler Training Institute.

Aimee Collins Hitchner, senior Associate at law firm Swann Hadley.

Cherise Czaban, publisher of i4 Business magazine.

Geoffrey Gallo, senior vice president of marketing and strategic consulting at Grennan Fender, who has led the charge in creating the program since its inception.

Continuing Education for All

Learning has always been the organization’s driving force. Starting as an informal group with just a few of its current members meeting in their offices to discuss challenges, make connections, and learn from each other, it has amplified that force to reach uncharted territory. The group organized formally to bring a cross-section of industry knowledge together in a classroom setting.

That classroom may look a bit different from others, they explained. Conversation is the key to the curriculum when three types of participants come together: professionals from diverse industries, C-level executives looking for advice for their businesses, and students excited to learn how to become the next generation of business leaders.

The emphasis on this form of education is particularly helpful to the next generation of leaders in Central Florida. In addition to providing eager students with guidance from and connection to area innovators, the partnership between the CEO Leadership Forums and Valencia College now includes student financial support and internships. The organization has already committed more than $150,000 between now and the end of 2020.

Defining and Refining Value

From one of the very first seminars in 2016, the group has been passionate about bringing real value to those in attendance. In doing so, it has empowered present and future business leaders with the knowledge they need to understand how to identify and protect the value of their own assets.

That first presentation, “Boost Your Business Value,” put the group’s synergy into practice. Each of the members advised those in attendance on different aspects, weaving their unique knowledge together to create a strong foundation on the meaning of value for their attendees.

“Often, these CEOs know the goal and what type of growth they may need, but they may have plateaued with their initial model,” Cohen said. “When we put together the presentation, we kept in mind: ‘How can each of us help build value?’”

For his part, this meant walking through a SWOT analysis, an evaluation of strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats. Cucci, who has 15 years of banking experience, used the opportunity to engage his peers on analyzing financial risks, including supplier diversity. Poparad served as a fountain of knowledge about tax mitigation, while Dietrich easily explained the value of non-compete agreements. The other members covered everything from relationship management to brand recognition.

Bach, the owner of a communications firm, added: “Often, these businesses tend to overlook the importance of their brand. They might not realize the value in that and understand that if you don’t manage your brand, someone else will.”

Like the CEOs themselves, the different segments are strong on their own, but exponentially stronger together. “I think it’s unique in that regard,” Dietrich said. “We try to bring together people who can really learn from each other. In the future, they may take the advice, seek follow-up and use those connections.

That conversation with peers who can either be empathetic or help solve issues can sometimes even be business-saving, Zeman said. “Giving adequate attention to all of the aspects of a successful business means being able to know your blind spots. You have to know when to bring in others who can fill those, so you don’t make a decision that might lead to you wasting an opportunity in your future.”

In each forum, the members are able to illuminate those blind spots, sometimes even finding some of their own, and then offer tangible solutions to create a community full of leaders for today and for the future.

The synergy among the business professionals, entrepreneurs and students has led all of them to grow, Poparad said. “We are all moving the needle forward together.”

About the author

Meaghan Branham

Meaghan Branham

Meaghan Branham is a writer and communications manager for i4 Business magazine. A Florida native who graduated from UCF with her BA in English literature in 2017, she looks forward to more opportunities to share the stories of those shaping Central Florida.

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