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2018 CEO Leadership Retreat

This is a guest blog article by Nancy A. Shenker, CEO, theONswitch marketing and contributor.

Arizona’s Technology Leaders Convene in Prescott to Prepare for a Profitable Future

Prosperity, globality, diversity, humanity, and creativity were just a few of the themes of the 11th annual Arizona Technology Council (AZTC) CEO Leadership Retreat Summit, presented by Slavic401K. It is one of the 160 events hosted annually by the Arizona Technology Council and unique in that it brings together technology leaders from throughout the region and the world to talk about the rapidly-changing innovation landscape in Arizona.

More than 85 CEOs, founders, and industry influencers gathered at the Prescott Conference Center, where the possibilities for a strong technology future in Arizona soared higher than the surrounding mountains.

Prescott’s Mayor Greg Mengarelli greeted the attendees on Wednesday evening and announced the influx of technology companies to his city, including Israeli-based Eviation, the first company worldwide to develop all-electric aircraft.

Insights Into the Future of Technology in Arizona – and Your Business

Early the next morning, Steve Zylstra, president & CEO of the Arizona Technology Council thanked the sponsors, who each spoke for a few minutes about how their companies were spearheading technology growth in the state and, in some cases, globally. We were all urged to consult the Vote TechSmart guide prior to election day. The Council created this comprehensive overview (based on direct survey data) of 65 candidates’ views on the technology landscape in our state. Not only is technology growth great for our state, “It’s about helping people,” reinforced Sandra Watson, president & CEO of the Arizona Commerce Authority.

Reporting on the first year of their five-year plan, Watson noted 87 projects completed, creating close to 26K new jobs with an average wage of $58K and Capex of $3.8B. A state of firsts, Arizona is the home to the first autonomous vehicle testing, home sharing platforms, streamlined 5G deployment and FinTech sandbox legislation. The state is also committed to identifying, motivating, and retaining the technology innovators of the future, with emphasis on STEM education and programming.

The Ultimate Roadmap for Mergers and Acquisitions — from a Seasoned Pro

Trends and statistics truly came alive in a brilliant case study by Nancy Ham, CEO of Arizona-based WebPT. She gave an overview of her vast experience growing, selling, and merging companies and gave attendees the ultimate strategic and tactical playbook for preparing for acquisition and selling a company. “Persistence and patience pay off,” she asserted and stressed the importance of great planning, transparency, alignment, communication, and “ruthless risk management.”

She also advised attendees to beware of deal fever. “Half your deals need to die in due diligence,” she said. Ham continually stressed the importance of communications, leadership, and people during growth phases. “Most mergers – 83 % — fail on culture,” reports Ham.

Don’t forget your clients. As WebPT acquired other companies, every customer got a “touch” the morning after the merger.

What if your company is being acquired?” asked one attendee. “You have to be 100 % in!” advised Ham. “It’s really hard and although you have to protect and defend the team that came with you, network within the new organization and make friends. Above all, you need to learn to give up your ‘founder’s voice.’”

Diversity Leads to Prosperity

CoCo Brown, Founder & CEO of The Athena Alliance addressed head-on the issues around diversity in the tech community. Leading with some powerful statistics about women in the industry (6% of CEOs and 11% of CFOs), she addressed the need for companies to build more diverse boards. Diversity extends far beyond creating opportunities for women in technology and encouraging girls to pursue STEM education. Brown talked about under-representation of men and women of color and even differences in learning and information processing styles.

She urged companies to create groups with more diverse compositions and cited studies (done by general consultancies and not special interest groups) that confirm that those groups are more innovative and make better decisions.

Treating functions like talent management (HR) and marketing communications as key C-level roles is also critical to company success, according to Brown. More investors are rewarding cultural diversity too, as Larry Fink of Blackrock (which has $6.3 trillion under management) made a commitment to reviewing companies’ long-term sustainability and social consciousness along with financials. “Population shifts will continue to impact organizations and our society,” asserts Brown. “The ‘new normal’ is a state of fluidity.”

All Work and No Play…

Just as games and collaboration are being used today to build kids’ interest in STEM, the Council introduced an element of fun into the Retreat.

Eric Miller, co-founder and principal of PADT and Alec Robertson of TechTHiNQ facilitated a thought-provoking leadership exercise, during which we split into teams and attempted to survive in a danger-packed and bureaucracy-rich jungle environment. Most of us got a chance to role-play the group leader and we explored the four distinct leadership styles: Directive, Participative, Laissez Faire, and Adaptive.

Although many leaders faced death and rebellion throughout the exercise, we learned how good leaders adapt to the current needs of the business and that we all need to adapt to others’ styles and be conscious of our own styles in different situations and with different types of teams.

We were then asked to rate our own natural leadership styles, with most people identifying themselves as participative (serving as part of the team) or adaptive (morphing one’s own style to fit the needs of the challenge and the group). Directive leaders – who provide specific and sometimes autocratic control – can be useful for certain types of projects and teams, however. Again, no one person is just one type. The lesson learned is that we must remain flexible and open to new styles.

The building blocks of transformation and collaboration came from LEGO® Serious Play®. Led by Tamara Christensen, founder & fearless facilitator of Idea Farm and Kim Larkin, chief strategist of Idea Farm, we used the colorful blocks to channel our inner artist and create interpretations of the term “tower.” We then had a chance to refine our designs, learning that any idea can be improved with more time and motivation.

The most powerful part of the exercise was, however, one in which we used our blocks to build our desired goal and an interpretation of our current state. Other attendees then offered suggestions for getting to our LEGO nirvana state. In effect, the exercise served as a mini-Mastermind group and we all walked away with new ideas and, in some cases, new contacts to help us achieve our goals.

Counting the Lessons Learned

After a snack break (speaking of making learning fun), Scott Flansburg, the Human Calculator took the stage and wowed us all with his record-setting ability to solve math problems without a calculator. He not only taught us all how to accomplish similar feats, he introduced a meaningful new program to encourage kids to embrace math.

His “Mental Math Matrix” coloring book uses symmetry to teach kids addition. His “Counting Bee” is an Arizona-wide program that will identify, reward, and celebrate mathletes in both schools and in the business world. Programs like his are geared toward creating the Arizona Technology Council members of tomorrow.

The day in Prescott resulted in many invaluable business connections, insights into trends, new leadership skills, and game-changing perspectives for the technology leaders of Arizona. We hope you’ll attend other events throughout the years – designed to inspire and engage.

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