The CEO’s Sanctum Sanctorum

The CEO’s Sanctum Sanctorum

What happens at the CEO Roundtable stays at the CEO Roundtable.

There’s that old cliché that it’s lonely at the top. Talk to a few CEOs and you know that can be true. But in Minnesota there’s a support group. The CEO Roundtable helps top dogs make tough decisions, and does so in a Frasier Crane kind of way.

“You have to be vulnerable in the sessions,” says Todd Polifka, CEO of Brush Masters, a 140-employee construction company, who’s in his fifth month as a member. “That way you can relate to people on a deeper level and get the most out of it.”

Akin to a therapeutic environment, the meetings are vigilantly private. The 90 members pay $2,000 a year to attend monthly half-day sessions in small groups and be assured nothing leaves the room. Personnel issues come up a lot.

“Someone might come in and say, ‘I’m not sure my financial leader is right for the job,’ ” says Michael Miller, president of the organization and former head of Hound Dog, a $10 million lawn and garden tool manufacturing company. “We go around the room and talk about it. In this instance we discussed how there’s a big difference between a comptroller and a CFO. The comptroller typically does things right; the CFO does the right things.“

Miller has learned the value of CEO peer sharing in his own career. He had built Hound Dog to revenue of $5 million with one crew of people, but wasn’t sure he had what he needed to take the next step.

“I was at a roundtable talking about it and suddenly thought, ‘Two words: Operation Moses!’ ” he says. “I knew I had to ‘let my people go.’ I needed people who were better at their jobs than I would be at their jobs.”

With his instincts confirmed, that’s what he did. Revenue doubled in the years that followed.

And sometimes the role of the roundtable is to help CEOs remove themselves. “Sure, I can’t use names, but that’s happened,” says Miller. “If someone is miserable, we help them explore alternatives.”

They just won’t talk about it publicly.

—Adam Wahlberg