Virginia Council of CEOs sees its membership trending younger

Congratulations to our very own Henry Clifford for being featured in the Richmond Times-Dispatch!

Virginia Council of CEOs sees its membership trending younger

Posted: Monday, December 2, 2013 12:00 am

Richmond Times-Dispatch

The membership of the Virginia Council of CEOs has a bit of a different look these days compared with when the group was organized more than a decade ago.

“I recall back in 2000 having meetings at The Bull and Bear Club with guys in suits,” said Scot McRoberts, the council’s executive director. “That was what we looked like back then.”

Now, McRoberts said, “when I think back to our CEO retreat at Kingsmill in April, there were lots of younger people, with no ties. Part of that reflects the culture of Richmond’s business community changing over that time.”

The Council of CEOs, a business association that connects top executives at Virginia companies so they can learn from one another, has seen a trend toward younger membership in recent years, McRoberts said.

Of the 14 CEOs who have joined the organization this year, the majority are younger than 45, McRoberts said.

The Council of CEOs has about 170 members, a 42 percent increase in the past two years, and 35 percent of the members are younger than 45. Of those who joined in the past three years, 47 percent are younger than 45 years.

“Members are more likely now to carry a backpack than a briefcase,” McRoberts said.

“Part of it is we (the council) attract entrepreneurs and entrepreneurial people, and there seems to be a youth movement in that area these days,” McRoberts said.

“My sense is Richmond has become a more entrepreneur-friendly place over the last decade,” he said.

The Greater Richmond Chamber, the Venture Forum and other groups are paying more attention to innovation and entrepreneurship, he said.

“And frankly, I think recessions create a lot of entrepreneurs, out of either necessity or disruption,” McRoberts said. “And I think the digital age is creating a lot of opportunity for all kinds of people to start new businesses in a lot of different ways.”

Whether the trend toward younger leaders that the Council of CEOs sees is reflected in the wider business world is hard to determine, in part because not much data are available on smaller to medium-sized companies, said Richard Coughlan, senior associate dean at the University of Richmond’s Robins School of Business who also heads the school’s MBA program.

Anecdotally, however, Coughlan said the trend is not surprising.

“I think we are going through a period where retirement is being delayed for lots and lots of employees,” Coughlan said. That could suggest that fewer openings are available for younger managers to move up the chain in larger companies.

“A 30- or 40-something who is making their way through a larger firm’s hierarchy may look ahead and think, ‘My opportunities to advance here are somewhat limited. Can I either take the helm of an existing smaller firm, or start something on my own, or pair up with other talented colleagues and create something.’ ”

One of the services the council provides to its members is the opportunity to become part of a “roundtable,” or a small group of CEOs in different industries who share experiences with one another regularly.

The Richmond Times-Dispatch asked some of the more youthful members of the council to share how they got into business, their perceptions of the environment for young entrepreneurs right now, and what they see as their biggest challenge in the next few years.

Virginia Council of CEOs: Henry Clifford

Henry Clifford

Age: 36

Title: Founder and CEO of Livewire

About the business: The Henrico County-based company is a provider of home technology installation services, including entertainment, lighting control, security and assistive technologies. It has 27 employees.

How he got into the business: “I have had businesses in one form or another, probably since the third grade when I was selling stuff door to door in the Cub Scouts. I have always been in an entrepreneurial mode.

When I was at the University of Maryland, I had work-study jobs, and then I saw there was a need for folks who knew how to build Web pages. I started building Web pages and built a fairly substantial Web development consultancy over a five-year period.

Then the Web world became commoditized, so I left that business. When I got a home, I decided I wanted to wire the home myself, and I identified a (market) gap. So at age 24, I decided to start Livewire. I did not hire any employees for a couple of years. I hired my first employee in 2004 and grew the company steadily.”

Biggest challenge in the next few years: “Finding, recruiting and hiring good people and good talent. If we can recruit, hire and train ‘A’ players, a lot of the rest of it just takes care of itself. Our biggest challenge has always been finding and retaining good people, but we have been fortunate that we do have plenty of those types of folks.”

On the environment for young entrepreneurs: “The market for us has recovered and is absolutely on fire. It is busier than it was during the boom times. We are almost six times the size we were when I joined the Council of CEOs, and I can attribute almost 100 percent of that growth to the lessons I learned from the roundtable process and shared experiences of the council.”


To view the original article and read more about the Virginia Council of CEO’s, click here.

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