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Gaining an edge

As a business owner, Mike Sewart says it can be difficult soliciting feedback when faced with a challenge. That’s why he values his membership in The Executive Committee (TEC), a professional development group for business owners and executives where they can freely share ideas, opinions and information.

The owner of Milwaukee-based OnCourse and Vibrant Graphics, Sewart joined TEC 10 years ago and found the connections he’s made invaluable.

“There’s so much honesty involved with the wisdom and sharing that goes on,” he said. “We all come from different businesses, but face the same struggles and

share what has worked for us in similar situations.”

I thoroughly agree with Sewart about the benefit of informal advisory groups. Earlier this year, I joined a TEC group and am grateful for the advice and information I have already received. With members from different industries, informal, confidential advisory groups provide a much-needed outside perspective, along with other people to bounce ideas off of.

Business owners with advisory groups benefit from receiving a diversity of opinions and access to a larger network, since members have different contacts and may be able to pass on the name and number of a professional who can provide helpful advice.

Sewart has seen these benefits. When he first became a TEC member, Sewart was an executive at OnCourse. Later he purchased the company which provides technology and services to more than 1,000 clients nationwide to help them achieve their organizational goals, strategies and processes.

“TEC helped us get where we are today – a growing, successful business,” he said. “Park Bank and our accounting firm also helped guide us through our growth. I also met other people to discuss certain business issues.”

TEC is just one example of an advisory group. Several industries have their own such groups, and the Metropolitan Milwaukee Association of Commerce (MMAC) also offers confidential forums like the Council of Small Business Executives (COSBE), where business leaders can gather to discuss vital issues.

Mike Sewart
Mike Sewart

Through his involvement with TEC, Sewart met several people who have helped his business.

“You develop a great comfort level with the other members of your group. You learn about their businesses and they learn about yours,” he said. “When I first joined, I didn’t anticipate meeting people who could help our business. But now that I think about it, I don’t think our business would be as successful as it has been without those connections.”

Looking to join TEC or another advisory group to help your business? Here are some tips to make it successful:

  • Come ready to listen: The individuals gathered around the table have their own experiences and expertise to share and can provide vital information or advice on your business’ key concerns. As you listen, do not just think about your current business state, but also the future. Is there anything being said that could help you down the road?
  • Come ready to share: This piece of advice is similar to the first one. Be prepared to talk about your business’ successes and shortcomings. Is there something you want to change at your company, but unsure of how to do it? Don’t be afraid to discuss it with other members. You need to be honest if you expect to get the most from your participation.
  • Be prepared: A facilitator may pre-plan some discussion topics. If you know there are going to be certain subjects discussed, do your homework and think about possible responses in advance. This allows you the necessary time to track down any information you may not know off the top of your head, which will lead to a more productive discussion.
  • Be polite: There’s no guarantee everyone in the group will have the same opinion, but remember this is a group of peers and you need to respect each other and all suggestions. What works at one business may not work for another, so keep that in mind. And – this probably goes without saying – what is shared in the discussion stays in the group.

If you decide to join TEC or a similar group, Sewart offers this final piece of advice: “Come ready to listen and ready to share your own challenges. Be open and don’t be afraid to share your struggles. Remember, you get out of an organization what you put into it.”

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Milwaukee-based OnCourse has more than 35 years of experience helping a variety of businesses and organizations with their goals, strategies and processes, whether it is providing small, paper-based document systems or comprehensive company-wide electronic solutions. Learn more at

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