More than 200 mid-market CEOs and industry experts are gathered at the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania to connect with each other and share ideas, resources and opportunities that can help them scale their businesses through strategic points of inflection and collaborate as a community to change the world. The ideas below are from the breakout sessions of day one at the CEO Connection Mid-Market Convention. More will come tomorrow after the second day.

Strategic Planning

    • Always worth planning in advance, but
    • Useful to think in terms of 1 year planning and 3 year planning as the different time horizons allow different types of choices.
    • In any case, strategic planning is useless unless you follow through with disciplined execution and, in the mid-market, speed and agility are more important than being right.

Talent Management

  • This is the No. 1 concern of mid-market CEOs. 70% of them cited some sort of talent acquisition, development, encouragement, planning or transitioning as their top concern.
  • A critical part of attracting the right talent is clarifying your organizational values and cultural norms so attract people that identify with them.
  • The No. 1 regret of experienced CEOs is not moving fast enough on people. B players never become A players. And, as Leonard Lauder said years ago, “There is no training plan for senior vice-presidents.

Executive Onboarding

  • One of the most important parts of executive onboarding is speeding the time to a cohesive leadership team.
  • New executives reporting to CEOs must get aligned upfront with the board and CEO on goals, situation, leadership approach and shared vision.
  • Always better to get a head start before the start, manage the message, set direction and build the team and then sustain momentum and deliver results.

Performance and Cultural Alignment

  • Must create alignment through the organization from the C-suite through leadership through the front line, building accountability through empowerment and transparency.
  • Make winning visible by cutting and focusing KPIs. No one can pay attention to 40 key performance indicators. Focus on 8 and get everyone to speak the same language.
  • Measure performance on two levels: what’s getting done (KPIs) and how people are communicating.

Growth Markets

  • Growth markets/international business is an important source of growth for the middle market – and an important risk as every business either competes with international business and/or sources some of its components internationally.
  • All sorts of risks internationally including political, economic, cultural, market, industry. The biggest risk is blind spots – things you don’t know you don’t know. Need to mitigate, manage or eliminate those risks as you can.
  • Help exists. The US Government and Department of Commerce have all sorts of ways to help US companies. Other countries’ embassies are willing to help you go the other way.

Dealing with Big Data to build competitive advantage.

  • Data by itself doesn’t add any value to the organization: You have to know what to do with it. Must lead from the top, using data to help secure the right resources in the right roles and inform strategic/operational processes and decisions.
  • Go from data to knowledge to insights to actions against defined business problems, ideally using big data to lead business/cultural initiatives.
  • Start with a business vision. Move to a common plan. Connect that to data initiatives and goals.

Tax Policy

  • Pay attention to state taxes – generally about 50% of your overall tax liability
  • Pay attention to Wayfair/state taxes – You’re now responsible for collecting and paying sales tax wherever your products are purchased.
  • Need process review to understand risks, create a permanent role to track and remit sales tax, invest in the right technology, invoices, contracts, sales processes

Innovation: Make, buy, partner to build your pipeline

  • Build before you buy: Build trusted-based relationships ahead of acquisitions .
  • Allow companies to come to you, rather than scope out single prospect by single prospect.
  • Partner before acquisition. There is a higher success rate when the relationship begins as a Partnership rather than an Acquisition as the element of trust remains constant.

Cyber Security and Protecting Your Trade Secrets

  • Be afraid. Be very afraid. Stolen trade secrets amount to $200-500 billion each year.
  • Growing issues with hackers – who have organized profitable businesses in this – and Millennials who are on line with everything.
  • Key risk points include customer lists, customer data and strategic settings.

Access to Capital for the Mid-Market

  • Capital needs include liquidity, working capital, capital expenditures, expansion, acquisitions, management or leverage buy outs, estate planning
  • Sources (from keeping most control to giving up control) include regional banks, national banks, business development corporations, funds, family offices, private equity, public markets
  • Types of capital (from lower cost to higher cost) include accounts receivable financing, revolvers, commercial paper, CapEx lines, term loans, mezzanine, redeemable preferred stock, convertible preferred stock, common equity, public markets
  • Prepare in advance: clarifying your goals, uses of funds, sources of funds and build relationships before you need money.
  • Timing matters. Funding is fickle for less liquid middle-market companies. Build an adjustable runway now with flexible credit lines and costs
  • Two-way transparency is better. Let funders know you. Do a real due diligence on your investors or lenders.