Business dilemma? Try the peer show

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The Independent Online
David (not his real name) has an enviable problem. The sales and marketing business he founded three years ago has really hit the big time in the last 12 months, and now an American company wants to buy it for $6m (pounds 4m) and keep him on as chief executive. Should he sell now? Hold out for better terms? Or break off talks and run the risk of a future downturn in business which will dramatically reduce the value of the company?

The puzzle produces plenty of suggestions from his colleagues on The Executive Committee (TEC) branch 15, a regional support group of chief executives and small business owners who meet once a month to mull over issues facing each others' businesses. "Watch the earn-out clause in your contract," says one, "because I have never seen one work properly." Another says: "Why are they only offering you only four times earnings?" The consensus is that David has done very well and, if he is going to sell, he should hold out for a better offer.

This, says The Executive Committee branch 15 chairman Philip Gee, is the raison d'etre of the group. "We are trying to help CEOs improve their performance, and therefore the performance of their company," he explains. "A lot of it comes down to making sure they are focused on their priorities."

The idea for a friendly peer group of bosses came to Robert Nourse, a businessman in the American city of Milwaukee, in 1957, after he realised that he learned more from informal chats with fellow delegates at business seminars than he did from the seminars themselves. Forty years later The Executive Committee has about 5,000 members worldwide.

So far the presence in the UK has been low-key, with only 200 members signed up. According to Philip Gee who, like other branch chairmen, is paid for his time running the monthly meetings and additional sessions, the organisation eschews a high profile not because it is has any secretive masonic-type ambitions, but to allow the regional committees to build up balanced groups that do not, for example, contain direct competitors. The proceedings of the meetings themselves remain confidential to encourage frankness among the participants.

And what will the outcome be for David? Flushed with the thought of having pounds 1.7m in the bank from his shareholding at the age of 31 to add to the pounds 800,000 he got from selling a separate retail business a few months ago, David had gone into the Executive Committee meeting almost ready to cash in. Now he is determined to get a better deal. "I want to sell, but they will have to come back with a much better offer."

Anyone who runs or owns a business is eligible for membership of their local committee. Applicants should contact UK headquarters on 0171 373 8686 - they will be interviewed by the local chairman before being invited to join. Membership costs pounds 8,000 a year plus an initial joining fee of pounds 600.