CEO Leadership Forums (CLF) brings leading advisory firms into the service of local middle-market business CEOs who are looking for guidance on growth and improvement. The group utilizes interactive workshops on college campuses every quarter in select cities while also financially supporting students, helping them to connect them to businesses seeking up-and-coming talent.
Geoffrey Gallo, Co-Founder
Begun as an informal series of get-togethers to discuss best business practices, CEO Leadership Forums has earned many monikers over the last three years. Orlando publications have labelled them a Dream Team, a Justice League, and a collection of superheroes. But the combined power of the group’s members—and their working relationships—renders CEO Leadership Forums worthy of those epithets.
“The advisor members have been together for so long, this is just a natural way for us to share our expertise and create an environment that fosters education and collaboration,” says Geoffrey Gallo, Senior Vice President of Marketing and Strategic Consulting at Orlando-based firm Grennan Fender CPA, and a founding member of CEO Leadership Forums.
Russell Slappey, CEO of the CFO Services firm Nperspective, founded CEO Leadership Forums together with Gallo and in collaboration with other advisory companies in early 2016. Today, there are four groups of around thirteen sponsor-members each, with two of these groups in Orlando and the others in Miami and Fort Lauderdale. “The concept can be duplicated anywhere,” says Nperspective CEO Russell Slappey. “We are expanding to West Coast of Florida as we speak. But the key is strong relationships amongst the team members that keep us all focused and accountable to each other.”
CLF’s mission is to bring business and education together in order to help communities prosper. Specifically, CLF focuses on connecting small- to mid-size businesses with students of state colleges like Valencia because of the unique symbiotic relationship that is possible between them.
Russell Slappey, Co-Founder
Unlike large or multinational businesses in the state, Orlando’s small businesses have neither the time nor money to invest in establishing deep-seated recruitment programs at large universities—which is where CEO Leadership Forums comes in. By setting up student support programs as a feeder to get talented students into internships with area small businesses, CEO Leadership Forums brokers a relationship that benefits both parties in a variety of ways: first, students of state colleges don’t often move away after finishing their degree because they are already rooted in the local community, and so companies’ investment in them can be long-term. Secondly, students receive college credit for their full-time internships, which gives them both valuable experience and also a smooth transition to a permanent position.
Nasser Hedayat, Ed.D Assistant Vice President, Valencia College
Nasser Hedayat, Ed.D, Assistant Vice President of Career & Workforce Education at Valencia College, has facilitated the partnership at Valencia since the beginning. Hedayat states, “The work that CEO Leadership Forums has done for Florida businesses extends beyond these company-and-student relationships. Recently, Valencia College announced the addition of several baccalaureate degrees. Two of these—Bachelor’s of Applied Science degrees in Business & Organizational Leadership and Computing Technology & Software Development—CEO Leadership Forums was instrumental in helping the College gain approval by the state’s Board of Education. Valencia College could not be more proud to be engaged in such a partnership where business and education truly collaborate.”
Through the Forums themselves, the group is also gaining an understanding of the specific and unique challenges that area small businesses are facing. The content of every event is based on findings from a pre-workshop assessment, which means any discussion will revolve around what is most important to the small businesses present. Afterward, a three-person team spends an hour with each business to review their issues—and if necessary, do a deep dive to more fully explore them. In either case, CEO Leadership Forums presents a proposal, free of charge, that highlights solutions that any one or several of the sponsor-members’ firms can provide to the business owners.
But the value of this experience lies not only in the diagnostics; it also lies in the modeling that leads to them. “While we’re doing the diagnostic work, we’re getting a really good understanding of the business,” Geoffrey Gallo says. “And that actually creates a business development environment in a very consultative and educational way. Also, we can ascertain the potential for student internships, and make recommendations to place some into these same companies.”
In Orlando, CEO Leadership Forums projects to deliver over $150,000 in financial support to eligible students at Valencia College. Our group is excited to be part of such a noble cause says Gallo. When Education and Business come together, Communities indeed prosper! Central Florida is indeed prospering.
For upcoming events, see the group’s website: https://ceoleadershipforums.com/
Geoffrey S. Gallo, ChFC, CExP
Sr. Vice President, Marketing and Strategic Consulting