Development networks grow

NETWORK organisations offering confidential career and business development, and targeting senior management and advisers, are reporting significant growth in Australia.

Melbourne-based Mindshop and The Executive Connection say the expansion is occurring in both membership and services, and each says it has no competitor offering the same package.

Notably, each organisation appears to be marketed and perceived more as a support and resource club, rather than a contacts group.

Mindshop is comparatively small, but has moved beyond Australia and the UK in the past two years to nine countries.

Membership grew by 20 per cent to 200 members during the past year, and by a further 15 in the past month, PR manager Jenny Thurgate said.

The growth is described as “careful”, to attract “members of strong professional calibre”, and the fees are set accordingly – $2,000 initially, plus $600 per month.

“It’s a fair investment to be a member,” Ms Thurgate said.

“It requires commitment and a long-term view.”

The Executive Connection has 8,000 members worldwide, including 700 Australian members, and has recently expanded its services.

TEC came to Perth just this year, but has two 16-member groups already with a third about to commence.

TEC says its Australian members represent total turnover of $17 billion dollars and employ almost 80,000 staff.

Members come from organisations as small as 30 employees with $2 million annual turnover, to those with 2,500 employees and $1 billion in turnover.

TEC membership is restricted to chief executives, managing directors and business owners.

The group says the attraction to such networks is the opportunity to air matters that cannot be discussed adequately within individual organisations.

“It’s a supportive peer group where members can discuss what usually remains undiscussed,” a TEC representative said.

The group says membership “changes lives, increases profits, [and] improves careers”.

The network acts like a sounding board for management and business development issues, but offers more, with other members providing analysis and accounts of their experience in dealing with similar scenarios.

Members within each TEC group are from non-competitive organisations – including service, manufacturing, retail and not-for-profit – and all shared information is kept confidential.

While groups workshop common business management issues determined from within the group, they also address more personal topics such as life balance and stress management.

“Balance of life is a very important part of being effective, so exercise, health and relationships are dealt with,” TEC Australia CEO Ron Hirsch said.

TEC was established in the 1950s in the US, came to Australia in 1986, and is now in 14 countries across Europe, North America and Asia.

Mr Hirsch said 7.5 per cent of TEC members were women, but in the emerging companies category, this proportion was double.

Mr Hirsch said the increasing female membership added richness to groups.

“Female CEOs will ask different questions,” he said.

Mindshop, which operates more on an online basis, and regionally, began in Melbourne just eight years ago and now has several WA members.

This group aims to deliver best practice information in a timely manner and within a supportive and effective network, Mindshop founder and chairman Chris Mason said.

“Business people know that to stay ahead of the game they have to keep their skills sharp, their knowledge up-to-date and their contact base growing,” Mr Mason said.

The group targets advisers, consultants and senior managers and, like TEC, offers business and personal development support.

Much of the best-practice information is delivered online through associations with professional organisations and financial institutions, and members have access to information that can be used with clients.

Mr Mason describes himself as a virtual consultancy pioneer, and Mindshop’s difference from competitors is partly due to its multimedia approach, which includes video training packages, online coaching and a discussion board.

Regional training sessions and face-to-face meetings complement the online offerings, which also include papers and presentations added by members.

“But the intranet service is very powerful,” Ms Thurgate said.

“And it’s helpful when people are travelling. They still have access to the resources and training.”

Quartz Business Advisors managing partner Michele Baynes has been a Mindshop Facilitator network member for almost three years and said the benefits are across-the-board.

Ms Baynes has applied Mindshop goal setting, strategy planning and team-building tools and processes for Quartz Business Advisors, and has participated in online and face-to-face personal improvement programs.

Ms Baynes said she also used the tools and the expertise of 156 Mindshop Facilitators worldwide to access online help to better assist her clients.

“If there’s a situation I haven’t come across or there’s something particular I want to set up, I can ask on the discussion board,” she said.

Other members using the discussion board may ask for information for a client looking at business migration opportunities, she said.

One of the most satisfying benefits was being able to facilitate voluntary programs for the community, for example within schools, through the Mindshop Excellence program, Ms Baynes said.

“It’s all about tools and processes and value adding,” she said.

TEC member and Downings Legal senior partner Mitch Artus said the value derived from membership was decidedly different from that offered by traditional networking groups.

“I don’t see it [TEC] as a network group as such, but as a confidential forum in which to discuss business issues with people in the same position,” he said.

“It’s access to support, experience, ideas and insight from really smart people from diverse backgrounds.

“Sometimes the best contributions to your own business come from someone outside looking in.

“It’s pretty valuable.”

Mr Artus said he enjoyed helping as much as he did benefiting from the contributions of others.

“It works both ways.”

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