From Beaver Creek Mountain: Seen and Heard at the Thought Leaders Retreat
LISTENING, LEARNING AND PLAYING IN BEAVER CREEK: The 2018 Thought Leaders retreat was a success in every respect, from the location to the speakers to the discussions, interactions and comaraderie displayed by our 130 attendees. This year’s retreat was purposefully a little hard to get to, but the mountain setting at the beautiful Ritz-Carlton Bachelor Gulch on Beaver Creek Mountain in Colorado was conducive to the relaxation, learning and reflection that we so rarely have time for in our day-to-day lives. Most attendees were drawn from our classes of Forty Under 40, Game Changers and Champions honorees, but we also had a select group of high-level invitees. For several days this week, we took over the meeting rooms, restaurants, bars and outdoor seating areas of the hotel, where we visited, debated, ate, drank and enjoyed the cool mountain breezes.
WHAT WAS SAID: Thought Leaders is an off-the-record conference, but there were plenty of takeaways that were not proprietary and will give you a good idea of the quality of the discussions. Among the speakers who had everyone buzzing were two who did a good job pushing us out of our comfort zones, Verna Myers and Duncan Wardle. We put on a lot of events every year, and recruit a number of speakers, but we can’t recall speakers who generated as much positive feedback as these two.
BUILDING AN INCLUSIVE ENVIRONMENT: “Why We Miss Talent: How Unconscious Bias Derails Merit,” was the theme of the kickoff keynote by inclusion strategist and author Myers, who talked for an hour about how diversity and inclusion must work hand-in-hand in the workplace. With an engaging and dynamic presence, Myers stressed that “group-think is the enemy” when trying to improve workplace diversity and foster inclusion, and greater focus must be made to who is getting opportunities and whose voices are being ignored. She also delved deep into unconscious bias: “If you think you aren’t biased, you are less likely to see when you are. Even as good people, you have biases. Denial is the worst situation we can possibly have.” In addition, when asked about how employers should assess whether job candidates will fit into the corporate culture, she said, “When you hear ‘fit,’ your antenna should go up. ‘Fit’ is the word of the status quo.” Every dinner conversation on Tuesday night hit on themes from Myers’ discussion earlAier in the day.
Among her points:
Inclusion is about intention and attention.
Diversity is about being “invited to the party”; inclusion is being “asked to dance.”
Bias is preventing us from being inclusive.
She ended with five takeaways to counter bias:
— Keep standards high
— Slow down decision making
— Test your assumptions
— Don’t use your mental list
— Interrupt bias when you see it
To learn more, visit her at vernamyers.com
MORNING CREATIVITY WITH DUNCAN: Wardle kicked off day two of the retreat with an interactive and absorbing discussion on creativity and innovation in the workplace and as a mindset of today’s leaders. The former Disney executive had a charming, self-effacing style as he revealed some of the biggest barriers to creativity, and, in many cases, had attendees shaking their heads as his points hit home about the way their own workplaces stifle creativity. “Innovation was trending five years ago,” he said. “Now it’s about survival.” Among his points: There is a big difference between “to iterate” and “to innovate,” and one of the biggest barriers is time. He stressed, “Give people the time to innovate.” He also pointed to the transforming power of shifting “my idea” to “our idea” as one of the most powerful ways to inject new thinking into an organization. He had a fun group exercise that stressed not to respond to ideas with, “No, because….”, but use “Yes, and….” Other takeaways: Be playful as leaders, think more about “what if?,” and talk to the “naïve experts” – people on the ground floor of your organization who have the closest contact with your customers. Most importantly, get out of your “river of thinking,” which keeps you thinking and acting the same way over time. Finally, he encouraged everyone in the room to think about “bravery.” Innovation, by it’s very nature, is about trying something new, so be prepared and open about the element of risk. Wardle’s 60-minute tour de force left the room excited, and he was generous with his time and ideas later in the day after the retreat had concluded. The consistent feedback on Wardle was that his keynote provided actual tools and tactics to employ in life and at work. To learn more about him, follow him on Twitter @duncanjwardle.
ACTIONABLE INTEL: Conde Nast Entertainment’s Croi McNamara was peppered with questions during a 45-minute interview about the successful video strategy that she’s implemented at a company that has traditionally been known for the success of its consumer magazines. When McNamara asked the crowd how many were trying to grow their own video business, more than half the people in the room raised their hands. She then demonstrated how most companies overthink — and overspend — when it comes to producing video. Touting what she called a “light lift, low-fi” approach to content, McNamara showed examples of videos produced by Conde Nast using iPhones, limited lighting and only a few people. “We try to keep our core staff as small as possible,” she said, “and then freelance out as much as we can. One of the keys is to go as thin as you can, especially early on.” McNamara touted YouTube as a primary platform, because Google has the know-how to distribute video and consumers are used to finding it there. Other keys from McNamara: Be clear about your goal (is it revenue? audience reach?); create a format that you can use repeatedly; and be consistent.
LEADERSHIP LESSONS: Last year, Tony Ponturo closed out the retreat by interviewing TV production legend David Hill. This year, it was Ponturo’s turn to be grilled, as SBJ/SBD’s Abe Madkour talked to the long-time sports business leader about career development and reinvention. Here’s some of what Ponturo had to say about what he’s learned and what he tries to pass on to others:
— Experience builds your confidence in yourself that you can do the job. If you speed through jobs quickly, but don’t stay in any of them long enough to get enough experience to build confidence, then you can become president of the company but still not have the confidence that you can do the job.
— Life is short. Don’t waste time with bad people or a bad environment.
— Leaderhip is not the job, the position or the title. Leadership is getting people to follow you because they believe in what you’re saying, they understand what your’re saying, and they know you’re down in the dirt with them and you walk the talk.
— Once you’re a leader, it’s 24/7. You’re always being observed. The team is always looking and thinking: Is it about us? Or is it about you?
SPEAKING OF REINVENTION: During a session on athletes as entrepreneurs, former NFL players Marques Colston (Saints) and Robert Smith (Vikings) talked about their careers since they left the playing field. Colston has become an investor, mostly in sports technology companies. “It all leans on leveraging playing 10 years at the highest level and having access to a lot of resources and opportunities,” he said. “I started to lay the foundation about halfway through my career. I was fortunate to have some really good advisors.” Smith is founder and CEO of Fan Health Network. “The seed was really planted when I was a young child, with my interest in science and medicine,” he said. “I thought I wanted to be a doctor when I was a kid. With Fan Health network we’re using sports and celebrity passion to drive up engagement rates in corporate wellness programs, and, in turn, to drive down health care costs.” Fan Health Network has a new deal with the NFLPA that will allow it to use players in corporate wellness challenges and other initiatives.
GROUP THINK: The retreat ended with a one-hour group discussion facilitated by CSM LeadDog’s Dave Mingey and Madkour. Most of the discussion focused on opportunities, challenges and unforeseen issues related to legalized sports gambling in the U.S., but there was also ideas offered about ways to increase diversity and inclusion in sports. The session ended with discussion on topics, format and content for next year’s retreat, and future event locations.
WORK HARD, THINK HARD, PLAY HARD: Attendees took full advantage of the beautiful surroundings and ample recreational opportunies in the Beaver Creek area. There was a long list of planned activities to take advantage of, from the traditional golf and tennis outings to art lessons (the aptly named “Painting & Pinot” session), a Jeep tour that went about 9,000 feet up into a wilderness area, a sporting clay shoot and a three-mile mountain hike that went up more than 8,000 feet. Oddly enough, while the hikers were told to watch out for black bears, the only one spotted was on the golf course.
One of the highlights of the annual dinner is always the award presentation from the day’s activities. After a cocktail reception and a meal that included leg of lamb, sauteed shrimp, herbed chicken breast and skirt steak, we had a fun time handing out prizes to this years winners. In tennis: Dan Mannix, Steve Lauletta, Craig Karmazin, Eric Guthoff, Ross Meltzer, Clay Walker and Michelle Berg; in golf: Todd Fleming, Tom Proebstle, Josh Kritzler, Brendan Moynihan, Manny Rodriguez, Dave Mingey and Andrea Davis; in sporting clays: YuChiang Cheng, Brent Schoeb, Gary Gertzog, Justin Wood and Derek Aframe; in painting and pinot: Maria Fleming and Sarah Braham; in the wilderness hike: AJ Maestas, Teri Patterson Smith, Miheer Walavalkar and Jennifer Carper; on the Jeep tour: Rebekah Scholvin; and, in a drawing for those who had the skip the outings: Danielle Maged. Among the prizes were gift cards, golf balls and Yeti tumblers courtesy of event sponsor Winstead.
ADVENTURES IN TRAVEL: With an event held at a remote resort, there are always travel issues. But Mannix and some of his colleagues from CSM LeadDog took that to the extreme. In trying to get to Beaver Creek, the CSM LeadDog team first sat on the ground for hours in San Francisco, where they had been at the Rugby 7s tournament, then were diverted because of weather to Salt Lake City. After they finally arrived in Denver late Tuesday night, they headed for the hotel, only to be stopped five miles short by a rock slide that took more than an hour to clear. We didn’t give out a prize for most difficult road to the retreat, but if we had, Mannix and his team would have been strong contenders. Leaving the event on Wednesday also proved challenging, as the main flight out of Eagle Vail was cancelled, leaving many, including Fleming and his wife, Maria, Kern Egan, Nick Carey and Will Pleasants to get rental cars and get to Denver for flights back home.
SPOTTED: As noted, it would be impossible to offer sightings of everyone on the grounds over the two days, but here are a few. Grace Blue’s Eric Guthoff sitting at one of the long tables at the lobby before 7 a.m. on Tuesday trying to get in some early work….. Courtside Ventures’ Deepen Parikh hitting the gym Tuesday for a morning workout…Wells Fargo’s Carey woke early Tuesday to take a 3 ½ mile climb up the mountain and saw two bears …. Engine Shop’s Carper got in a six-mile climb on Monday before her three-mile hike on Tuesday… Kudos to a lean Bernie Mullin, who has dropped more than 40 pounds and is continuing his healthy habits to hit his ideal playing weight … Indy Racing League’s Rod Davis walking down from a morning hike at 7:45 a.m. on a beautiful Wednesday morning … Even after a fun group dinner, the gym was active on Wednesday morning, with MSG’s Jordan Solomon, CSM Lead Dog’s Matt Grandis and Live Like’s Walavalkar all getting in workouts… Even after a nearly two-hour hike, the NFLPA’s Ahmad Nassar still found time to ride hard on the exercise bike before dinner …. Madkour, Lauletta and SBJ’s Ross Nethery took advantage of Monday afternoon to hit some tennis balls. The former college tennis player Lauletta was the best of the bunch … A group put together by Maestas included up to 14 people sharing tapas at dinner on Monday night.
THANKS TO OUR SPONSORS: We couldn’t have pulled off the retreat without the support of Winstead, CSM LeadDog, UCHealth, NFLPA and MGM Resorts International.
If you’re interested to know more about next year’s event or have questions, thoughts or comments, send a note to Abe Madkour (firstname.lastname@example.org) or Ross Nethery (email@example.com). Have a great weekend!