“Vistage isn’t so much a place to have your questions answered, but rather a place to have your answers questioned.”
As a young entrepreneur walking away from a 15-year corporate career, Tom Geiger had a lot of confidence, but knew he’d miss the professional resources he had enjoyed at Cargill.
He sought out a membership in Vistage with the hope that the coaching and peer group interaction would help fill the gaps where his own knowledge and experience fell short. “At that time,” he says, “I felt like I needed help navigating how to run a start-up business.”
Heritage Bank CEO Tom Geiger joined Vistage in 1997 to network with his peers and get some of his business questions answered.
Tom says he learned early on: “Vistage isn’t so much a place to have your questions answered, but rather a place to have your answers questioned.” “That’s much more valuable” he says, “I didn’t know where my blind spots might be, but my group helped point them out to me.”
Vistage provides a safe, confidential environment where CEOs can discuss business with other successful business owners, try out ideas, and get feedback before they actually make a decision critical to their business.
Now, 20 years later, Tom is still a Vistage member and has developed a passion for promoting better business leadership with his group. Vistage chair, Don Kielley presented Tom with his 20-year Vistage watch and induction into a distinguished group.
Taking a cue from what he learned at Vistage, Tom sculpted a plan to develop the skills of his commercial bankers, to help client businesses to be more successful. “As a banker, I was hearing what my fellow Vistage members said about their bankers. They had stories about terrible banking relationships with transactional lenders who fail to understand their clients’ business objectives. That observation helped me recognize that Heritage Bank could do much more for our clients.” Under Tom’s leadership, the midsize bank his father began building in the ‘60s has grown and evolved as a commercial bank.
Just as the members of a Vistage group are a cross-networked team, Tom aspired to create this same relationship with his teams of bankers working with clients. Heritage Bank could provide additional value by taking the time to understand the client’s business and growth objectives.
That’s a refreshing approach in a time when many banks care more about closing loans than creating successful results for their clients. Apparently, his strategy is paying off. Today Heritage Bank has 14 locations in three states and nearly 150 employees.
Tom’s Vistage connections introduced him to the Entrepreneurial Operating System (EOS), a popular platform for managing midsize companies. Heritage adopted EOS several years ago, and it’s now an essential leadership and management tool within the bank. Vistage was also instrumental in processing Tom’s decision to transition Heritage Bank into an employee stock ownership plan (ESOP). He says, “That has had the most profound impact on employee engagement and the bank’s overall performance.”
While Tom praises his Vistage community for helping him position Heritage as a leader in the banking industry over the past 20 years, he also concedes Vistage membership is not for everyone. The highest performing members listen hard to what they are told at Vistage. “To gain the most out of Vistage relationships, executives need to be open to honest feedback,” Geiger says.
Creating a Continuous Learning Environment
Vistage chair Don Kielley says Tom’s success and dedication come from him being a “continuous learner.” And to create an engaging, continuous learning environment for his 17 group members, Don relies on nationally recognized speakers he handpicks to address the group once a month.
“My Vistage membership has been invaluable to me. We are able to glean advice from some of the best CEOs to elevate how Heritage Bank serves our clients,” Geiger says. “I’m fueled by the challenge of helping businesses thrive—it’s the same passion that keeps me in Vistage.”
“The relationships with my Vistage peers are special. We’ve gotten to know each other in a way that is unlike any other professional organization I’ve ever known. A telling sign is that several relationships that were forged within the Vistage group continue well after a member leaves the group. It’s a close group of confidants.”
Let’s hope Vistage will be ready for his 40-year anniversary celebration.
Written by Don Kielley for Visatge Minnesota