John Cosgrove and Rick Johnson: Executive Advisory Support

by Sue Kern-Fleischer


Rick Johnson


John Cosgrove

John Cosgrove and Rick Johnson will be the first to admit that starting and running a business is chaotic. The principals and owners of Phoenix-based Executive Forums have a combined 80 years of business management experience. Executive Forums is Cosgrove’s fourth start-up and Johnson’s third. The majority of Cosgrove’s experience is in small business, sprinkled with some large, while Johnson has a blend of large- and small-business experience.

Both know the pressures of running a successful company — Cosgrove worked for 26 years as partner in a $20+ million business and Johnson worked as vice president of sales for Avaya, where he was responsible for more than $1 billion in annual sales.

Both also know that running a company presents a unique set of challenges for C-suite executives. “It’s very lonely at the top,” Cosgrove says. “If you’re the owner, who can you talk to? Sometimes friends and associates can help, but who can you ask those really hard questions or share those deep dark secrets with? How do you identify and manage the risks?”

Managing risks can be tricky and the odds for success are not favorable. Eighty percent of businesses fail within the first five years, and 80 percent after that fail by the 10th year. Recognizing that senior-level executives face these universal challenges, Cosgrove approached Johnson in 2004 with the idea of purchasing an Executive Forums franchise, a membership organization that focuses on the “Top Executive.” The two friends had worked well together previously, and, after examining the business model, they decided to move their families from Colorado to Phoenix to launch their new venture. Though Cosgrove had considered launching Executive Forums in Texas and Florida, Arizona was an untapped market and Johnson had family in Phoenix.

“We both moved to Phoenix not knowing anyone. We started out with a five-year business plan and a commitment to each other to give it the ‘old college try’ to build four Forums and take two months off each year,” says Cosgrove. “We accomplished our plan in two and a half years.” Not bad for an “old college try.”

Just how did the two partners build their business so quickly? “We created an entire strategy to penetrate and leverage key business groups and build networks throughout the Valley to ultimately create an entirely referral-based business model,” Johnson says. They succeeded in doing that within 18 months.

Seven years later, they have earned a solid reputation for helping top executives advance to where they want to be both personally and professionally by leveraging best practices and tools from business and thought leaders. CEOs and senior-level executives join the international Executive Forums organization comprised of other members like them, and Cosgrove and Johnson help bring together these successful executives in groups of 10 to 12 to process issues together. Each group, or “forum,” meets regularly, and members continue to participate as long as they are receiving value. All members complete a two-page strategic plan that is shared with the other members in their group. The objective is to help each other execute their plans. “They value unbiased and informed peer perspective to help them execute more effectively with appropriate accountability,” Cosgrove says.

Cosgrove and Johnson co-facilitate four forums. As demand increased, they brought on Paul Wright, Ed.D., to manage two forums, and Sandy Kolberg, Ph.D., to manage one. “We provide a safe environment to share ideas and seek advice. Everyone signs a non-compete and non-disclosure form and there are no agendas except to learn and help each other,” Johnson says.

Since 2004, Executive Forums has worked with nearly 100 companies that annually generate nearly $2 billion in revenues and employ more than 13,000 people in the Phoenix metropolitan area. Passionate about their work, Cosgrove and Johnson have earned a reputation for delivering results. “Our clients view us as their trusted advisors,” Cosgrove says. “They don’t just want new ideas, they want a track to run on — a way to execute and achieve their vision and dreams while reducing risks.”

In 2010, Cosgrove and Johnson’s firm became Executive Forums’ largest Business Partner internationally. Their firm has received more than 20 awards recognizing numerous performance goals. In addition, their firm has twice been selected as Executive Forum’s ‘Business Partner of the Year’ (in 2007 and 2010) — a rarity in their business.

Trusted Advisors Help Top Execs

  • Executive Forums is an international member organization that helps top executives advance from where they are to where they want to be by leveraging best practices and tools from business thought leaders coupled with informed peer perspective.
  • Led by principals and owners John Cosgrove and Rick Johnson, the firm works exclusively with top executives from local companies primarily with $5 to $50 million in revenues and 20 to 200 employees (though some members have been as small as $1 million and others more than $1 billion).
  • The firm expanded its approach to include “Navigating to the Next Level,” a unique peer support program that ties together its members’ strategic plan, best practices, forum meetings and coaching to help members achieve and exceed their goals.
  • Since 2004, Executive Forums has worked with nearly 100 companies that generate annually nearly $2 billion in revenues and employ more than 13,000 people in the Phoenix metropolitan area.

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