Dennis Ellmaurer, now a Chair Emeritus with Vistage Worldwide, Inc., was a management consultant working primarily as a TEC chairman, leading three CEO mastermind groups in southeastern Wisconsin. In addition to his work with TEC – The Executive Committee – Dennis does executive coaching and is president of Globe National Corporation, an advisory and consulting firm assisting owners of family businesses with succession/continuity planning, family governance, conflict management and ownership transition.
Dennis has over 30 years of management experience. He started his career in business-to-business marketing and sales with a division of the $1.5 billion Reliance Electric Company. He moved to Valuation Research Corporation – an appraisal firm specializing in Mergers and Acquisitions, becoming Vice President of Business Development. In 1982, Dennis became president of a small manufacturing firm with a proprietary product line and strong distribution channel. The company evolved into a marketing and new product development concern. The firm grew aggressively, eventually selling the assets of the business to a division of Mattel Inc.
Dennis majored in Marketing and Finance, earning a Bachelor of Business Administration from the University of Wisconsin – Milwaukee. He is a past Chairman of the Legislative Committee of the Metropolitan Milwaukee Association of Commerce.
On sunny weekends, Dennis enjoys driving a ‘69 Corvette. In December of 2018, Ellmaurer spoke with Tera Nester-Jenkins about his long experience as a CEO and a Vistage Chair.
So Dennis, please share a little insight on how you went from a TEC Chair to becoming a Vistage Chair?
I went from TEC Chair to Vistage Chair when TEC was acquired by Vistage Worldwide, Inc. Bob Nourse created TEC – also known as The Executive Committee – in Milwaukee, Wisconsin in 1957. He started with one group, then added another and eventually had to hire other chairs to lead other groups.
Two of the other new chairs suggested that Bob roll out the concept nationally.
Bob was in his fifties when he founded TEC. He felt he was too old to take on a national roll out. He told his ambitious, younger chairs: “I’ll sell you the rights to TEC to the rest of the world. I’ll keep Wisconsin and a piece of Michigan.” That’s what happened. These chairs moved to California and started TEC International. Eventually TEC International changed the name to Vistage and about three years ago Vistage acquired TEC Wisconsin and western Michigan. So there’s just a little history, a little perspective on how TEC and Vistage came to be one and the same.
Tell me a little more about Vistage and how it has evolved.
A lot of what I’m going to share with you is probably going back to the original concept of TEC that was based on the founding of TEC/Vistage in Milwaukee in 1957. Bob Nourse used to like to say: “We put small groups of CEOs and presidents of companies together and help them solve each other’s problems.” When Nourse started this in 1957 it was one small group. I believe there were eight members in that group. Interestingly, these CEOs were not used to talking about their real problems. But Bob persisted, and it worked.
That was 1957. Vistage is now a worldwide organization with over 22,000 members.
That’s a wonderful growth and it’s definitely a statement. Share with me one problem that Vistage Chair helps address universally.
Vistage groups are a place where leaders can go to work on their business rather than in their business.
So for at least a couple of hours a month, both with the member/chair one to one that we do with individual members and our group meetings, we move our members to a place where they can think strategically, rather than tactically. From my perspective that is the role of the CEO – to be the lead strategic thinker. So, that is one of the primary issues we address. “Encouraging people to work on their business rather than in their business.”
You know, a lot of people have a misconception about CEO’s and business leaders. They think there’s just a high-up person who sits in an office, has a glass of brandy from time to time, travels around the world and then has no stress or worries.
Yes, it’s a unique position. There are, however, no CEO schools. CEOs learn like most of us learn…on the job. And it is lonely at the top. That is another way peer groups like Vistage can help. Isolation of a company’s top leadership is a dangerous proposition.
Thank you for that description. Can you share some ways that Vistage groups can help CEOs and business leaders?
One thing on which we focus is blind spots. Everybody has a blind spot. If you think you don’t have a blind spot, well that would be a blind spot. So a question that Vistage groups ask themselves is: “What am I missing? What’s my blind spot?” What that conversation leads to is better decisions and eventually better performance and results for the organization.
Not every CEO is going to experience the same benefits. What are some of the advantages of being a part of the Vistage Organization?
For many years our mission statement was: “We exist to improve the effectiveness and enhance the lives of CEOs.” The issues we work on at a Vistage meeting or a Vistage one-to-one are strictly confidential. While ninety percent of the issues with which a CEO is dealing are related specifically to business, 10 percent are something else. It might be personal stuff. It might be a failing marriage, a crazy uncle or a problem with drugs in the family or some other difficult family dynamic that we all experience. Very few people have the opportunity to talk about it confidentially in a safe environment. Again, what goes on in a Vistage meeting stays in the room. We have the ability to talk, quite literally about: everything. And when a Vistage group is performing at a very high level, that’s what’s going on. We are talking about the most important things. We’re not talking about surface stuff. We’re talking about serious things that impact the CEO’s business and his or her life.