By Lee Schoenbart
By any other name short of The Great Depression II, the year in conclusion was often wincingly referred to by many as The Great Recession.
Given the uncertain economic future heading into 2010, Jeff Campbell, chairman of The Chairmen's RoundTable, is expanding the nonprofit organization's outreach across San Diego County, touting its free mentoring and business advice to CEOs and presidents of local, private businesses.
CRT, as The Chairmen's RoundTable is known, is made up of 45 current and former chief executive officers with extensive board of directors experience and diverse industry backgrounds. Its mentors provide advice and guidance for small to mid-sized companies at a strategic crossroads that are looking to gain an outside perspective on key business issues. They do so without compensation as a way of giving back to the community.
Since its inception in 1997, more than 200 local companies have benefited from CRT's mentorship.
"In a lot of cases, CEOs, particularly of smaller companies, really don't have anybody to talk to, so this is a case of 'Gosh, I wish I had somebody to talk to,'" said Campbell, 65, who has an extensive history of business success as the former CEO of Burger King, Johnny Rockets and Catalina Restaurant Groups. He is also the former chairman of Pillsbury Restaurant Group and senior vice president of brand development for Pepsi-Cola.
"The right CEOs are like sponges; they're trying to get as much input and advice as they can and they're capable of making decisions," Campbell said, "but usually it's a treat for them to have somebody to talk to that's not a board member or an employee. It's like a part-time coach who's doing it because they want to be helpful and they've got no axe to grind and they've sat in your seat."
Among CRT's resolutions for 2010 is a goal of educating more of these newer leaders.
"One of the things we're going to be focusing on is raising our profile because, even though the organization has done great work for over 10 years with over 200 companies, we're almost like the best-kept secret in town," Campbell said. "And particularly in this downturn, which I don't see ending anytime soon, I think we would be able to help a lot more companies if more people were aware of us."
The companies CRT members have led in some capacity include Teal Electronics, SAIC, Iomega, NCE Pharmaceuticals, Kyocera, Mail Boxes Etc., Gibson Guitar and Scripps hospitals.
CRT partners include the College of Business at CSU San Marcos; CONNECT Springboard, which provides free assistance for life sciences and high-tech companies in all stages of development; the Corporate Directors Forum and SDSU's Entrepreneurial Management Center.
There are no strings or catches to participate in CRT. The application, while still a process, is not painstaking, and there isn't a waiting list.
"The way most clients have come to us over 10-plus years is through sponsors and members," Campbell said. "Personal relationships through a sponsor company like a bank or a personal wealth manager or a real estate company. Close to two-thirds to three-quarters of the clients come through sponsors, and we have 20 sponsor companies at any given time."
Campbell said another big chunk comes from the mentors themselves.
"We have 40-plus mentors active in the organization right now," he said.
With 35 years of executive management experience, Campbell said, "It's very rewarding to work with people that are receptive to kind of Dutch Uncle-type advice. I think we make it pretty painless for the CEOs involved."
For information, call (619) 823-8658, e-mail Info@ChairmensRoundTable.com or visit www.chairmensroundtable.com.