Mike Hodgens, President, QualiTech, Minneapolis

mike-hodgens-300x300Mike considers himself to be a life-long learner; just one reason he wanted to earn his MBA. After completing the rigorous graduate program, he looked for a way to keep learning in an environment akin to the cohort structure of his executive MBA. A business peer group was the answer.

Vistage was his top choice for a business peer group organization because several people from his company could belong while participating in separate groups. He joined in 2011. The Vistage structure allowed members to experience the same content, just with different peer group members. Mike’s boss belongs to a separate Vistage group. “A real attraction for me was the idea that it [Vistage] was an organization of sufficient scale to allow multiple people from the same company to receiving the same content, and then come back as a group and look at how we could apply it. I liked that a lot,” Mike shares.

The chair of Mike’s Vistage group is Brian Davis. “Brian was someone who came out of an organization that I had a lot of respect for. This gave me confidence that the leadership from the chair would be strong,” Mike shares. When asked how Vistage has impacted his leadership skills, Mike says “It’s elevated my thinking beyond the tactical challenges we’re encountering. It challenged me to consider the types of roles and individuals we need to have in our organization to be successful.” “What I saw working with folks in Vistage was a wide range approaches organizations and leaders can use to be successful – there isn’t a cookie cutter model,” he continues. Mike says anytime he processed an issue with the group he left with a lot more confidence on how to solve the challenges. Read the complete story here: Mike Hodgens

Jenn Schoemer, Director of Operations, Rockton Software

jenn-s1Phrases like “seats on the bus” are unique to Traction’s Entrepreneurial Operating System® (EOS), a platform that some Vistage companies have adopted to help guide their businesses. Rockton is using parts of the EOS methodology to run its business. “From a business standpoint, one of the greatest benefits we’ve taken from Vistage is the EOS framework, which has forced us to focus on a few goals instead of focusing on everything,” says Jenn.

But EOS is just one of numerous ideas Jenn’s Vistage chair, Brian Davis, brings to every meeting. “Brian’s an amazing facilitator with a wealth of knowledge. He has a very diplomatic way of getting to the heart of a problem, but making sure that we all stay on task,” she shares.

Jenn adds, “He has this way of building a sense of community within his groups where we’re not just learning from him, but we learn a lot about each other. She says Brian’s connections with Vistage speakers have brought top thought leaders to her monthly Vistage meetings. Jenn cites “Antarctic Mike” and Gustavo Grodnitzky as two recent notable speakers.

Jamie Lowe, EVP, Atmosphere Commercial Interiors, Minneapolis


“Vistage has taught me to be open to seeking help from others outside of our organization. I’m building a network of trusted advisors I can continuously reach out to.” Because most Vistage members work at entrepreneurial businesses, Jamie says that Vistage is having a much higher impact on him since Atmosphere became an independent company.

To gather input from a group of experts helped me leap ahead as a leader.” He listens to the opinions of all and chooses the right mix of ideas for Atmosphere.

Insight from Vistage members helped Jamie design an accountability system that incentivized his sales team for the right behaviors and activities.

Read the complete story here: Jamie Lowe

Jean Beuning, CEO, Top Dog Country Club, New Germany


“Vistage has given me a reason to step outside of my business and learn from other business owners and hear their perspectives,” she says. Jean has realized in many cases that her issues are not unique to her business. “I like to hear other people’s experiences, and how they’ve handled things, or how they’ve approached situations.”

“Another benefit has been from the speakers,” Jean observes. She’s taken a lot of value from every presentation. “I can’t think of a single one where I didn’t take away a nugget or two that I’ve implemented in my business, and have seen some results.

Read the complete story here: Jean Beuning

Steve Vreeman, VP of Operations, Rhino Marking, Bloomington


Not that long after starting at Rhino, Steve’s boss, Scott, asked him if he would like to join Vistage. Scott, who has been with Vistage for many years, wanted Steve to experience the same benefits that kept Scott involved in the executive coaching and learning organization. “I’ve always been one who wants to learn and grow through professional development, so I jumped into Vistage. I ended up choosing chair Brian Davis’s group. I like how Brian structured and ran his meetings,” shares Steve.

Steve’s Vistage group has members from multiple industries, a reality he considers a benefit. “Each group member looks at issues and processes problems a little differently. That’s given me a broad perspective and keeps me thinking outside the box,” he explains.

His group has VPs of IT, HR, sales, marketing, operations, finance and more. Each brings their perspective and ideas for solving age-old business problems. Steve recalls when he was looking at a significant expansion of manufacturing capacity to handle new product lines. His group members helped him sift through the web of details necessary to plan any business expansion. Vistage members helped him think through issues like bank financing, capital equipment, personnel and manufacturing space.

Steve says he also gains a better perspective through Vistage guest speakers. “They’re [speakers] talking about best practices and new ways of looking at things. They’re also talking about different ways of looking at key performance indicators (KPIs). That broad perspective helps me make better decisions,” he says.

Read the complete story here: Steve Vreeman

JoAnna Hicks, Sr. Managing Director, Ackerberg, Minneapolis

JoAnna-HicksWhen asked what she finds most compelling about her Vistage membership, JoAnna cites the guest speakers, issue processing and her chair, Brian Davis. “Brian has built a dynamic group that has a very natural vulnerability to it,” shared JoAnna. “People feel very safe to share their challenges. Everyone here is naturally curious and wants to get better,” she said.

“It also helps that Brian is a good listener and meeting manager. Once, when we were discussing how to manage employees and get people to change, Brian presented a model that we can use with our employees,” she shared. The model Brian presented was a framework that took the employee through several evolutionary steps: insight to motivation to skill building to real time practice and to accountability. “That was tremendously valuable to me.” JoAnna shared that at Brian’s group meetings, “I always leave with one to four things that I can readily implement.”

Read the complete story here: JoAnna Hicks

Luke Carlson, CEO, Discover Strength, Minneapolis


The self-drive of continuous improvement is what eventually led him to Vistage, and Minnesota chair Brian Davis. He said he joined Vistage “to be around business people in other industries that were smart. I wanted to see how they approached problems, how they solved problems, and how they dealt with the classic business struggles and issues growing firms have.”

What he didn’t expect was the transparency within the 18-member group. “Everyone was so incredibly open and honest with numbers and issues. What I realized is that everyone’s dealing with many of the same issues!”

After all, Luke stressed, “The fundamentals of leadership are universal. So many management tenets are universal, and therefore, cross-industry. I think you can learn from anybody, and I’ve really enjoyed that.”

Read the complete story here: Luke Carlson

Micah Thor, COO, Tech Guru, Minneapolis, Minnesota

micahthor-300x171In a company that promises to free its clients to do their best work by taking care of all aspects of a business’s technology, being a part of Vistage has created great value. “It’s undeniable that Vistage has had an impact,” says Micah. “It’s given us ideas and different, better ways of doing things. It’s helped us mature faster.”

Micah learned about Vistage from one of Tech Guru’s clients. Micah had been looking for a peer group that would allow him to learn and meet with people of different backgrounds, such as HR and marketing. Along with founder and CEO Dan Moshe, Micah is part owner of Tech Guru and he was interested in connecting with entrepreneurs who had profit and loss responsibility.

Read the complete story here: Micah Thor

Lucinda DuToit, VP of HR, Digineer, Plymouth, Minnesota

Lucinda-DigineerAfter two years working with her Vistage group members Lucinda has found that most companies “have the same problems.” Each month, members can take turns vetting issues they share in confidence with the group. Members chime in with advice and suggestions, and many times, add a whole new twist on an issue. “It’s nice to get an opinion from someone who is not mired in the details of your business so they can look at an issue objectively,” shared Lucinda. “When I’m wrestling with a decision at work I can air it with my peer group, but not with people I work with,” she observed.

Moreover, accountability to other members is the thread that holds Vistage groups together. “You make commitments to the group and you better follow up,” Lucinda said. Emails are often exchanged between members, too, in a constant flow of communication outside of the regular meetings. But it’s the monthly meetings, and the chance to process issues, that keeps members coming back. “If I miss a time, I’m disappointed,” said Lucinda.

Read the complete story here: Lucinda DuToit

Deb Erickson, CEO, The Line UP, Eden Prairie, Minnesota

deb e“Deb cites the speakers and Brian as the top two things she likes most about her Vistage experience. The speaker quality is phenomenal,” she exclaimed. “I look forward every month to the presentations.” Returning to the office following her Vistage group meeting and presentation—she’s always eager to share the meeting content with her team. On numerous occasions, Deb’s brought a staff member with her to hear relevant presentations. “Vistage has helped us grow more strategically. If I had been sitting by myself, like before Vistage, our growth would have been much slower.”

Read the complete story here: Deb Erickson

Wendy Benning Swanson, CEO, VERUM Staffing, St. Paul, Minnesota

Wendy“Shortly after joining Vistage, Wendy realized she was discovering answers to questions she didn’t even know she had. And these were vital questions for any entrepreneur growing a business. I had questions like ‘when do I hire’ and ‘when do I invest,’” sharing a few examples.

Most monthly meetings feature guest speakers, who for Wendy have answered multiple questions and led to new business initiatives and practices within VERUM. She said ‘Brian is very conscious of the needs of all group members when choosing topics and speakers to plan for our meetings.’ Wendy noted that all of the speakers she’s heard have been relevant for her business and have helped her achieve her strategic objectives.”

Read the complete story here: Wendy Benning Swanson

Gene Earhart, Principal and President; Wellington Security Systems, Minneapolis, Minnesota

GE“Advice on growing Gene’s company also comes from his chair, Brian. ‘Brian’s gift is he brings out the best in people. He’s great at asking questions and finding your growth opportunities.’ Through one-on-one meetings Gene finds it’s helpful to have Brian as a sounding board. ‘Because of Brian’s clarifying questions and coaching he helped me deal with one of our employees who had violated one of our company’s core values,’ he said.”

Read the complete story here: Gene Earhart


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