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Grace and Grit at Tugboat Institute Summit 2020

Grace and Grit at Tugboat Institute Summit 2020

Diana Price
Tugboat Institute
September 1, 2020

In many ways, Tugboat Institute Summit looked different this year. In the wake of the pandemic, the annual gathering of Evergreen® CEOs, held for the last eight years as an in-person experience over two-and-a-half days in Sun Valley, Idaho, transitioned to a virtual experience.

In a year marked by the loss of so many beloved traditions and milestones, it was a hard decision to make. Our community of leaders treasures the days spent together each year in the mountains. For many, the opportunity to hear the experiences, best practices, and personal stories of peers and thought leaders equally committed to growing purpose-driven companies for the long-term—and to process the content in a setting so conducive to reflection—provides a welcome annual reset and inspirational fuel for the year ahead. 

Understanding the unique value of the experience, we knew we needed to shake off our disappointment and start creating something incredible for the Evergreen leaders we are proud to serve. With that commitment as our guide, we set about developing a two-and-a-half-day virtual experience that would offer the same spirit of sharing, learning, and authentic connection members have come to expect. Members, exhibiting characteristic grace and gratitude, adapted with us and rallied behind the team as we got to work.

The result of those efforts was indeed different than our traditional Tugboat Institute Summit, but in essential ways, it was beautifully the same: members gathered and spent time with their peers; they laughed; they felt deeply; they made new connections; they gained innovative insights and practical takeaways. They were inspired.

The first opportunity to connect came through a gathering of leaders of large, multi-generational companies, led by Dr. Tom Epperson, President of InnerWill; Tugboat Forum leader training, led by Tugboat Chairman Jeff Snipes; and, First-Year Orientation. The spirit of generosity shown by the leaders of these sessions and the clear desire to learn and grow among participants set the tone for engagement in the virtual experience.

Following those focused pre-meetings, the livestream event was launched with a welcome from the stage of The Argyros Performing Arts Center, followed by Zoom breakout sessions for all attendees to conclude the first day’s programming.

The next morning, the agenda of live and pre-recorded talks included Dr. Gary Kunkle, who shared insight into academic research around sustained-growth companies through an interview with Tugboat Institute Founder Dave Whorton, and Dr. Tom Epperson, who spoke to the transformative impact of values-based leadership.

During a period when the food and beverage business has been hard hit, talks by Brian Canlis, President/Owner of Canlis restaurant, and Alissa Leinonen, CEO and Founder of catering company Gourmondo Co., reflected the powerful role of the Evergreen 7Ps™ principles of Perseverance and Pragmatic Innovation in this period. Perseverance was also a guiding light in the talk that Vicki LaRose, President of Civil Design Inc., shared. Her story of learning to trust her own voice and her leadership ability through a life and career marked by personal and professional challenge was inspiring and heartfelt. 

Another clear theme of the day was the commitment of Evergreen leaders to be of service—to their employees, their customers, their suppliers, and their communities. Talks by Bill Roark, CEO and Founder of Torch Technologies, and Chris Mittelstaedt, CEO and Co-Founder of The FruitGuys, offered insight into how these leaders integrate their orientation toward service into everything they do.

Sharing a commitment to Evergreen 7Ps principles was the goal for Dave Thrasher, President of Supportworks, who spoke to his decision to guide his company to become Certified Evergreen®. Dave shared a powerful video that he and his team created, describing the importance of being an Evergreen company, which he in turn gifted to other Certified Evergreen companies.

Day two began with a topic relevant to all businesses and leaders today: Power. In a live interview with Dave Whorton, Jack Hand, Chairman of POWER Engineers, shared wisdom from his 19 years as CEO of the global consulting engineering firm. The conversation offered insight into current dynamics and long-term trends in power generation, distribution, and consumption.

Leadership emerged as a through line of several of the talks that followed that day. Allen Serfas, Co-Founder and President of Assistance Home Care, and Kevin Switick, President and CEO of Avian Inc., both spoke to formative lessons they each draw on as leaders of their Evergreen businesses. Bruce Williams, CEO of US Tool Group, shared the impact of a particularly eye-opening experience that sparked a now decades-long journey of leadership and business transformation.

Executive coach Kaley Klemp provided a valuable leadership tool through her talk, “Curiosity and 100% Responsibility,” in which she described the concept of being “above or below the line” in relationships and the three unproductive roles of the “drama triangle,” which can stifle clear communication, creativity, and problem solving. Mac Harman, CEO of Balsam Brands, encouraged his peers to recognize the role they can play as leaders of business policy and legislation through lobbying efforts. And, Jeff Patterson, CEO of Gaggle, encouraged parents and employers of parents to be particularly attentive to the mental health and well-being of children in this unsettling season as they face the loss of school and all-important social connections.  He offered the idea that parents might view this academic year as a “gap year,” modifying expectations for academic achievement and prioritizing safe opportunities for socialization and wellness.

Very personal stories of key learnings in leadership emerged through talks by Carl Erickson, Founder and Chairman of Atomic Object, and Ingrid Carney, Founder and CEO of Ingrid & Isabel. Carl described the benefit of a sabbatical experience on self and business, encouraging other leaders to embrace the opportunity. Ingrid reflected on the idea of bravery and the way she has come to redefine that quality as she has grown as a leader and a parent.

It was fitting to end Tugboat Institute Summit 2020 with the theme of bravery. Ingrid is right: Evergreen leaders exhibit bravery every day as they serve their families, their companies, and their communities. In a year that continues to offer up surprises and challenges, we’re inspired by the abiding character, grace, and grit that this tribe exhibits. We look forward to welcoming members back to the mountains, and we can’t wait to continue to learn and grow together.

Diana Price is Content Director at Tugboat Institute. 

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