Tugboat Institute® is dedicated to supporting Evergreen leaders, their teams, and their companies through recognition, a range of experiences, several publications and programs to bring forth inspiration, new ideas, proven best practices about business, family and life. To be clear, we do not profess to be experts, but instead we view our role as conveners and curators. We believe everything that needs to be known is within our Evergreen community and from Evergreen thought leaders. Our current offerings include:

  • Tugboat Institute Membership offers qualified Evergreen CEO and presidents, and nextgen leaders, a trusted, authentic network of peers, unique experiences to connect and learn, and access to our rich library of content
  • Evergreen Journal, the voice of the Evergreen movement, shares the stories and best practices of our members and Evergreen thought leaders, building awareness of Evergreen principles and best practices, and offering inspiration to leaders and teams. The Evergreen Journal is available to any interested learner.
  • Our Certified Evergreen program, provides Evergreen companies the opportunity for extensive, rigorous assessment with the intention of continual improvement and further maturation on the Evergreen 7Ps as well as public recognition that one’s company adheres to these highest standards. A firm’s leadership does not have to be a member of Tugboat Institute to be Certified Evergreen.
  • Gathering of Teams brings Evergreen leaders, their teams, and family members together to connect, share, and learn around Evergreen principles, best practices, and hard-earned personal wisdom. Gathering of Teams is open to select Evergreen leaders and thought leaders who are not current members of Tugboat Institute.

Please explore our website to learn more about Tugboat Institute!


In 2005, Dave Whorton had a transformative conversation with an entrepreneur and friend that would deeply challenge his beliefs about business and launch a movement.

Having founded four companies in Silicon Valley and spending his early career as an investor at two of the top venture capital and private equity firms in the world, Dave’s conversation with Stella & Dot founder Jessica Herrin awakened him to an alternative path to business success. Jessica’s approach to building a business was novel in the Silicon Valley landscape: She dreamt of building a private company to last her lifetime and beyond, growing at a paced rate over time, and fueled by a deep purpose and a commitment to her employees.

The conversation became an idea that took over seven years to germinate. In 2013, Dave had dozens of conversations with leaders around the country who were ambitious to build a meaningful company but eschewed the VC and PE path to exit by sale or IPO. Combining sound business principles, extraordinary purpose and a desire to bring their employees along in their success, and without an expectation of an exit, these leaders were building growing, private, profitable companies for a lifetime, or longer.

In 2013, Dave coined the term “Evergreen” leaders and “Evergreen” companies to describe the people and businesses leading this movement. After a small gathering in Sun Valley, Idaho in October of that year, with the help of Chris Alden, he created Tugboat Institute to convene Evergreen CEOs to help one another through inspiration, new ideas, best practices, support, and encouragement.
(Read the full launch post here.)


We believe in the vital importance of humans coming together to create and grow enduring, private businesses that make a dent in the universe.


Our vision is two-fold. First, that Evergreen companies will go from being underappreciated to being broadly recognized for what they are—attractive employers, partners, suppliers, customers, and community members that aren’t going away because they are adaptable, well-run, share in their success, and are not for sale.

Second, that Tugboat Institute will be the unrivaled resource for Evergreen CEOs and their businesses, providing a value-aligned support network unlike any other and additional services that are highly valued by our members and the broader Evergreen community.

Our Team

We have dedicated our careers to supporting great entrepreneurs, and we believe that supporting Evergreen leaders is our calling.

Dan Benetz

Dan serves in an advisory capacity to The Tugboat Group, including Tugboat Institute, Tugboat IP and Tugboat Ventures. More

Michelle Bitler

Michelle manages financial reporting and payroll for Tugboat Institute and contributes to a variety of operational and programming projects, including Certified Evergreen. More

Ryan Drew

Ryan heads the creative development, strategy and distribution of Tugboat Institute’s curated content, research, education, and Certified Evergreen programs. More

Maria Hilton

Maria engages purpose-driven leaders in the Evergreen movement, recruits new members, builds community, and promotes programs and events to serve the Tugboat community. More

Jenn Johnson

Jenn contributes to building the Tugboat Institute community and developing meaningful connections with current and prospective members. More

Susanne Lally

Susanne leads Tugboat Institute’s marketing, public relations, and communication efforts along with strategic partnership programs. More

Annie Pokorny

Annie oversees Tugboat Institute Events, Tugboat Forums, and Tugboat Institute member relations. More

Nani Stoick

Nani spearheads and executes Tugboat Institute events in-person experiences such as the Fall Exemplar Visit, Gathering of Teams, and the annual Tugboat Institute Summit. More

Dave Whorton

Dave founded Tugboat Institute in 2013 to connect, support, and inspire purpose driven leaders of Evergreen businesses. Dav More

Fellows & Chairs