Even Successful CEOs Need Peer-to-Peer Feedback

by Bennett Curry

Patrick Stafford’s Phoenix-based business has a front-row seat to the global economy.

His tower cranes are shipped all over the world — anywhere there’s a building boom and a need for a 300-foot crane to help change the skyline. His equipment has been on construction sites in Dubai, Ireland, Guam, Brazil, Uganda and Peru —to name just a few countries.

Locally, Stafford Tower Crane has helped build the sprawling State Farm regional headquarters along Tempe Town Lake, Arizona State University’s new Sandra Day O’Connor School of Law and downtown Phoenix’s CityScape.

But even successful businessmen and businesswomen like Stafford need a network of peers to help them better meet the challenges of leading a growing company, building a management team, making strategic decisions and taking their business to the next level in a highly competitive environment.

That’s where the Arizona Commerce Authority’s CEO Corner Office comes into play. Stafford, and 10 others, were members of the inaugural cohort last year. This four-month program was created to develop and engage CEOs of Arizona’s rapidly growing companies.

The CEO Corner Office is a learning and training experience. Each session begins with a facilitated business case discussion on topics such as scaling, financial literacy, culture, decision making, leadership and evolving as a CEO. The topic of the day then becomes the focal point in training the CEOs on how to ask and receive peer-to-peer feedback. In the round-robin, a CEO states an issue within the company related to the topic. Peers ask clarifying questions to which the CEO may respond only with answers. Peers then provide advice. All cohort members must hold and maintain as confidential all information shared by the others.

Stafford joined the program in part to discuss his exciting expansion plans, which include the recent creation of a manufacturing arm, Phoenix Tower Cranes, one of the only U.S.-based tower-crane manufacturers in the industry.

At the time, he was also evaluating a business growth opportunity, and asked his cohort peers for their take. The group provided valuable insights which he incorporated into his decision.

Describing the program as a “real live-world experience” that is difficult to replicate elsewhere, Stafford cited the value in learning from other successful CEOs about how they have overcome challenges, or, in many cases, learned from their mistakes. One such area for him was financial literacy, from learning about others’ experiences in securing or attracting financing to gaining insight about how some entrepreneurs have executed buyouts or even experienced being acquired by investors.

But perhaps the best tools he walked away with, Stafford shared, involved the non-financial strategies: leadership and ideas for creating a defined company culture. “It was a valuable experience to borrow strategies from other CEOs who have more experience in creating a culture that fits their mission” — such as, as companies grow it’s important that they hire for fit within the culture. There was value in learning from other people’s mistakes, as well — such as, hiring the wrong person can be costly. “The fact that we were meeting and talking and sharing our experiences — I thought it was tremendous. It’s a more interactive, live experience than other business programs.”

Stafford and others liked the sessions so much that they asked the ACA to create a post-graduate CEO Corner Office, enabling the group to stay together for learning and networking.  The post-graduate program will kick off this year.

Stafford, who is from Wexford, Ireland, came to the United States in 1988, working for the former aerospace firm McDonnell Douglas. He got into the crane business in 2004.

He believes that, with programs like the CEO Corner Office and others, Arizona has a lot of ingredients to help him grow his operations, especially on the manufacturing side of the business. (In fact, Stafford’s company has also been assisted by the ACA’s RevAZ manufacturing extension partnership program.)

Besides manufacturing cranes, Stafford’s business includes a fleet of 50 rental cranes, seven mobile cranes, a consulting division and a nationally certified crane-operator school. All this is done from a three-acre industrial site near Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport.


CEO Corner Office: A Three-Part Series

Over three months, we share the stories of three small businesses and their participation in a CEO development program created by the Arizona Commerce Authority.

The Arizona Commerce Authority’s CEO Corner Office, a four-month program to develop and engage CEOs of rapidly growing companies, features facilitated topical case studies derived from top business schools, technical assistance and peer-to-peer advice and feedback training.

Bennett Curry, vice president of business development at the Arizona Commerce Authority, has built businesses, including many familiar consumer brands. His passion to lead and motivate led him into the college classroom, where he taught marketing. His goal is to nurture entrepreneurs.

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