Building your very own personal board of directors

I'm a member of Nexstar, a business development and best practices organization, delivering comprehensive business training, systems and support to independent home service plumbing, heating and air conditioning professionals across the continent. We call it a PBOD — a Personal Board of Directors — and it's a powerful management tool.

Not long ago, a company's sales were falling. Team morale was waning, and the owner couldn’t put his finger on the cause, let alone fix it. So he picked up the phone and called an affinity group of other select owners and managers from similar companies to discuss these issues. The owner invited the group to his business for a two-day, in-depth look at his company. They accepted the invitation and came in at no charge to the troubled owner. It didn't take this experienced group long to pinpoint the cause. It was the owner's service manager. He was the bad apple. The group found the owner kept overlooking the manager as the problem. The group told the owner, point blank, to fire the service manager, and to do it by a certain date. The group then followed up with the owner to be sure he had fired the manager. The day after the service manager left, the company's troubles began to fade away.

You can have an affinity group of your own. I'm a member of Nexstar, a business development and best practices organization, delivering comprehensive business training, systems and support to independent home service plumbing, heating and air conditioning professionals across the continent. We call it a PBOD — a Personal Board of Directors — and it's a powerful management tool.

The concept of a Personal Board of Directors is not new. Andrew Carnegie, the world's first billionaire, emphatically stated he would not have achieved his financial success without, what he called, his Mastermind Alliance.

Nexstar is a Mastermind Alliance. However, it's difficult to be personal with 400 member companies. A PBOD is a management tool the Nexstar staff developed for success through sharing, and they created a guide to help organize it, containing forms for agreement and confidentiality.

In September of 2007, at our Pittsburg Super Meeting, I had the fortunate opportunity to become a member of The Rooster Group, a Nexstar PBOD. My fellow PBOD members are Jeff Leone, Air Temp, Hartford, Conn.; Tim Flynn, The Winters Group, Cambridge, Mass.; Rich Bogda, Service Professionals, Cranford, N.J.; Kelly Herrmann, Herrmann Services, Cincinnati; Bob Auchinachie, Auchinachie Plumbing, Heating & Air, Binghamton, N.Y.; Mike Cottle, Cole Services, Garden Grove, Calif.; and Joe Huck and Jeff Kirkhoff, Williams Comfort Air, Carmel, Ind.

When building a PBOD, you should look for member companies who are approximately the same size company as yours. It also helps if you are all within the same region of the country for traveling and convenient phone communications. You may have a member of your PBOD who is in a different time zone, and that's OK, as long as that member realizes he may have to adjustment his schedule to accommodate the group's needs. I recommend the members of your group be from different states, so there is no overlap of market areas.

Keep your PBOD group small to facilitate meeting organization, yet big enough to generate a broad perspective on issues. Our Rooster Group is a body of eight members, and we organize 10 to 12 meetings a year. Don't be surprised if your group changes in size and membership. Business, after all, is an evolution of change.

As with any group or organization, you need a leader. The leader is a group member who has the drive and time to organize the others. Our PBOD leader reminds everyone of upcoming phone calls and on-site meetings, sends e-mails and records notes from the monthly conference calls. Most importantly, our leader is the accountability officer. Have a timekeeper on the phone calls to keep everyone on task and to follow the agenda. Our group meets by phone and web monthly for approximately one hour. We spend time following up on discussion from the last phone meeting, and addressing accountability issues from the last member shop visit. Our phone and web meetings take place the last Wednesday afternoon of the month.

After the first 10 minutes of banter, we get down to business. Each phone call starts with the host for that meeting. The host is responsible for providing an agenda to the group at least one day before the call concerning identifying issues, concerns and problems. We share our financial statements as needed and then dig into the pertinent issues for that member. We schedule quarterly onsite shop visits where we dig deep into the host's company issues, from money management to personnel problems. To date, we have fired at least one manager, reduced at least $50,000 of wasteful expenses, reorganized a management team, defined and identified time-robbing and duplicated actions, established a cash/invoice tracking system, helped set-up a $99 drain cleaning program (including advertising), set-up an AC sales program, and sharpened all of our swords thereby making each of our companies run more efficiently.

After an on-site, we schedule at least three weeks of one-hour phone follow-ups, to keep our host accountable. We also schedule phone meetings, as requested, by our members. And we are constantly e-mailing each other. Our on-site visits are scheduled to start on Thursday afternoons and run through Friday night. We treat these on-site visits like in-depth, up-close and personal peer group events. Our PBOD on-sites are Nexstar peer groups under a microscope. Full financial disclosure is required along with interviews with key management personnel. The group then compiles its findings and gives feedback to the host on the Friday afternoon of the visit. The group also holds the host company owner accountable for completing the accepted changes from the findings. When we conclude on Friday night, we celebrate with dinner and drinks. Sometimes on Saturdays, we organize a day out for fun. But don't be fooled, the celebrating and goofing off are all teambuilding exercises, bringing the group closer together. Business talk continues in a more relaxed atmosphere. All members of the group are responsible for all their own expenses for travel and lodging. The host member picks up the dinner tab on Friday night.

The Rooster Group — my Nexstar PBOD — has been a great experience for me. I found I am not the only business owner with problems and issues, and I have a support and accountability group to help repair, fix and improve my company. I see the Rooster Group as a great tool in my Nexstar toolbox to success. I look forward to the personal communication and unrestricted sharing with my fellow PBODers. I know I can have an instant answer to any issue or problem I am facing from peers who understand my business and care about me and my business.

Gregg D'Attile is owner of Art Plumbing and Air Conditioning together with his parents, Art and Marie. The company serves the northern suburbs of the greater Miami area, operating out of Coral Springs, Fla. Gregg is a Nexstar board member and his company has been a member since October 2003. For more information on Nexstar, go to www.nexstarnetwork.com.