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What Do You Wish You Knew Before Becoming a CEO?

If the purpose of a business is to “increase shareholder value,” first define what shareholders truly value. Financial gains are important for large publicly traded companies, but what do the shareholders (owners) value in a closely held small business? It may not be just more money. Increasing value may be related to building the right culture, doing good in the world or being an innovation leader. Understanding that value takes many forms beyond what shows up on financial statements.
DARRYL PAHL
CEO, DF/NET Research
Seattle, Washington
Vistage member since 2018
Employees will listen to every word you say, or don’t say, and make up their own story unless you clarify, clarify and re-clarify. Transparency and clarity are key.
CARL BOUTHILLETTE
Bulverde, Texas
Vistage Chair since 2023
I wish I had known how different it would feel. Work is no longer about getting to the next step career-wise or making sure you finish your to-do list. It is instead about being ultimately responsible for the business and the team that is working for you. There are moments where people express gratitude and appreciation, but not as many as when you are in lower positions. A lot of times you literally have to be your own cheerleader.
ELIZABETH DOUGLAS
CEO, wikiHow
Palo Alto, California
Vistage member since 2022
I had to learn how to identify which of my customers were most valuable to current operations and which helped us build our brand for the future. We had a lot of small customers consuming a lot of internal resources at lower margins. We had to choose which customers to invest in and that would help us grow the company to the next level.
BRETT BARNEY
President & CEO, American Fine Arts Foundry
Burbank, California
Vistage member since 2013
I wish that I had realized how difficult it would be to go from being a peer with my fellow executives to being their leader. One year ago, we were all on the same level. With my promotion to president and CEO, I am now leading people with whom I was a peer for 15 years. We are figuring out our new roles and relationships.
DR. CINDER MILLER
President, Gray & Pape, Inc.
Cincinnati, Ohio
Vistage member since 2023
That I wasn’t alone. Every other CEO also doesn’t know everything, and they are all on their own path of learning how to do it well.
SCOTT SCHAPER
President, RSM Marketing
Lenexa, Kansas
Vistage member since 2019
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