Ian Lloyd is Recruitment Director for Vistage UK. He started out in recruitment, then moved into a role with a financial consultancy. “All quite important stuff,” Ian says, “We saved a lot of money for companies, but I missed the people focus I’d had in recruitment” - so he joined HR consultancy firm Penna.
His role there was to help senior executives in redundancy situations and retraining, which involved offering a suite of developmental tools, including coaching. After six and a half years, a colleague mentioned Vistage – and having had three or four encounters in the space of two weeks, Ian decided it must be fate and joined Vistage. Now he supports Vistage chairs in the crucial stages of their journey, which makes him the perfect person to talk through the role and process.
Vistage: Who are Vistage chairs, what are their backgrounds?
Ian Lloyd: Our chairs are senior execs who are often a bit tired of corporate life with all of the associated travel and board meetings that entails. They’re often quite frustrated and feel they have more to offer: the full time job has stopped being fun for them, they’re financially comfortable, but they want to connect to a higher purpose than simply working. At risk of sounded clichéd, they want to give something back.
Vistage: What’s involved in the role?
IL: The best chairs pick up on the needs of their members and deliver value through helping the member get clarity of thinking and turn ideas into action. Often, the members know the solutions that are open to them, and they have an idea of where they want to go, but they want it stress tested by someone who can ask the right questions and challenge their thinking. The members want someone smart and proven with real world experience to help them become more effective as leaders and run better businesses
If you go into a lot of coaching businesses, you’ll find a lot of people who are qualified coaches or ex-Army, with thousands of hours behind them. They’re good, technical coaches, but they can’t draw on their own life experiences. The members want to hear “When I led a division of a multinational” or “When my business turned over £15 million”. That combination of coaching skills and hard won experience is the difference that a Vistage Chair can bring.
Vistage: What makes a good Vistage chair?
IL: The role is quite a hybrid one. They’ve got to be able to attract members to their group, and then deliver great value - it’s almost hunter-gatherer in one person. Our best chairs are very inquisitive people, whatever they’ve done before they never assume they have all the answers, and they love learning new ways to do things.
Many have run FTSE 500 businesses or built and sold their own businesses. Regardless of what they’ve achieved there’s a humility there too and they always have a deep interest in people and a love of helping people improve. Our best Chairs strike a genuine balance between caring and confronting. They’re able to challenge people, have difficult conversations with them, and make them a bit uncomfortable. But they have to do that in a professional and supportive way; a way that’s enjoyable and fun for the individual member rather than judgmental.
Finally, they have a certain gravitas, energy and a leadership presence. People gravitate towards them- so it’s not much to ask for in one person!
Vistage: What’s the chair training process like?
IL: At the moment, there are 70 chairs actively running groups, and another 16 who have finished their training and are currently building groups. We launch between fifteen and twenty new groups every year.
We run a training cycle at head office in San Diego every six to eight weeks, where our new chairs start their journey. They train with a mixed cohort - Americans, Canadians, and Brits. We have a UK facilitator over there to deliver some of the content, so there’s a British voice among the North Americans as well. When they come back, there is a dedicated team to support them through to launch.
Vistage: We often hear about differences between management styles and in cultures of business. Do you see that? How does the US training go down for the UK cohort?
IL: We’ve sent 4 cohorts of British chairs over there - previously, we trained them here - so we’re learning as we go but so far so good. The Americans deliver great content, and do everything with real gusto - high-energy, high-impact and people enjoy it.
Before they go to the States our Chairs are allocated to a UK Chair as a mentor and they will work closely with their mentor as well as receive additional training when back in the UK. The balance between developing the practical skills needed to build a group as well as the chairing skills to deliver great value to our members is one we’re always looking to improve. We often hear from our Chairs that the training is genuinely world class so whilst we’re always looking to get better it definitely feels like we’re on the right track.
Vistage: What are the main questions chairs ask before they begin with Vistage?
IL: The question of earnings sometimes crops up, and new Chairs do need a financial platform to sustain them through the build phase whilst they get their group together. Chairs do have the opportunity to build a very good, consistent revenue from the Chair role but as with any business it will take time and focus to get there.
They always want to know about support - “how does this partnership work, what practical training and marketing support will I get along the way?” They like to understand what’s in it for them, not just financially, but developmentally. Thankfully what we offer in these areas is amazing
The other common thing they want to know is around time commitments. Our ideal profile is someone who can put a lot of their time into this process - someone who’s just out of corporate life, or has just sold a business, and isn’t overloaded with non-exec roles or consultancies, and can put three to four days a week into their chair work. What I’ve seen in my time with Vistage is that the Chairs who have a deep passion for this work and the time and focus to dedicate will be successful. For those that see Vistage as a plan B it’s far less likely to work well for them or us.
Vistage: So what do they get from this? What are the reasons people come to Vistage and stay?
IL: We talk about this in terms of five streams.
Number one is community - making a difference to businesses, and being part of the Vistage community. There are 60-odd chairs in the UK, and 1000 around the world. A lot of them could choose what they do and they choose Vistage because of the power of this incredible community of chairs and members.
Challenge is another. The chairs tend to be alpha types - they’ve led businesses, they’re driven people, and they’re not comfortable or content just drifting into retirement. They still have energy and a drive to make a difference.
Then there’s contribution. They genuinely care about the world around them, they want to help other people improve, and improve themselves along the way.
Financial rewards are there, but they’re down on the list - as I said, to do this you have to accept that it takes a while to build up and start earning.
The last one is flexibility. They’re generally at a point where the thought of another nine-to-five and being away all the time is just not attractive.
Vistage: What would you say to anyone thinking of becoming a chair?
IL: You’ve read Simon Sinek’s book? Start With Why? “What’s your purpose? Why are you here? What are you going to do four months in if it’s tougher than you thought?”
If your desire to do this is powerful and you have the time to put in, you’ll succeed. There have been some fantastic candidates with great backgrounds who just haven’t wanted it enough, or given enough time to make a success of it.
It’s lovely when you see someone like Paul Johnson - arrive at Vistage with a degree of uncertainty having exited corporate life after 30 years. Three years later he has got his spark and drive back and now runs 2 full groups for CEO’s. He always talks about having the best job on the planet and wishes he’d done it years sooner. That’s a great outcome for everyone and really lovely to see.
Huge thanks to Ian for answering our questions. If you’re interested in applying to become a Vistage chair or finding out more, head here.