Tugboat Institute Summit 2021: Connected and Curious

Susanne Lally, Tugboat Institute

June 29, 2021

Every Tugboat Institute Summit is special. Its uniqueness reveals itself as two-and-a-half days of experiences unfold in the idyllic setting of Sun Valley, Idaho—a safe place to take off the armor, reflect, and be fully present. It was particularly meaningful to bring together Evergreen® leaders for this summit after a year of being apart. 

As such, we were certain that the spirit of reconnection would be the unofficial theme of this ninth annual celebration. Tugboat Institute® members and event speakers were finally able to detach from Zoom screens and reacquaint themselves on a socially safe and human level. However, as we came together it was clear that the drive to gather was more than reconnection. It was a resurgence. A determined display of strength in numbers. Over 135 attendees, from 133 companies, in 27 industries, based in 33 states showed up and shared. The highest in-person summit attendance thus far.

The energy began to build with pre-program meetings. First Year Orientation provided 47 new members a warm introduction to the Tugboat Institute Summit experience thanks to the guidance of Tugboat Chairman, Jeff Snipes and Tugboat Institute’s Maria Hilton. Veteran attendees Elizabeth Glasbrenner, Mac Harman, Don MacAskill, and Lester Thornhill balanced the practical with the personal by sharing their insight and lessons learned. A workshop for large, multi-generational companies rounded out the half-day schedule and was led by Jennifer Pendergast, John L. Ward Clinical Professor of Family Enterprise and Executive Director of the John L. Ward Center for Family Enterprises at Kellogg School of Management, Northwestern University. The ideas formed during this meeting became part of the conversation for Jennifer’s presentation to all the attendees later in the week.

Mindfully curated TED-style talks comprised the next two days of programming—a mix of thought-provoking business ideas, post pandemic best practices, Evergreen principles in action, and personal journeys to inspire change beyond the boardroom.

Dave Whorton, CEO and Founder of Tugboat Institute, kicked off the experience with a brief history of venture capital, the development of the “Get Big Fast” playbook, and how Evergreen businesses prove there is an alternative path to growing leading and lasting companies. Gary Kunkle, PhD, Sr. Research Associate of University of Wisconsin, and David Eichhorn, President and Head of investments at NISA continued this thread by sharing insights around sustainable growth and how to manage the challenges that accompany a long horizon strategy. Jennifer Pendergast and Steve Shifman, CEO of Michelman, spoke to the crucial role of planning a healthy transition of leadership in family-owned businesses along with navigating the emotional element of this professional and personal process.

Best practices and innovative methods of building healthy and productive work environments while balancing business with creativity were topics addressed by Lisa Picard, CEO of EQ Office, and Leslie Jackson Chihuly, President and CEO of Chihuly Studio. Going back to the basics and the critical importance of instilling character in our youth and educational systems was the theme presented by David Holmes, Director of Character Collaborative. Steve Preston, CEO of Goodwill Industries International, asked attendees to reconsider their current hiring filter and apply a more enlightened approach to finding talent outside of the halls of academics.

People making an impact was at the center of the following talks. Dave Petersen, President and CEO of O.C. Tanner Company, and Susie Quesada, President of Ramar Foods International, focused on the abundance of professional satisfaction and innovation that comes from a People First workplace. Evergreen business leaders Tom Rosztoczy, Michael Spraggins, and Lester Thornhill presented tangible ways to create real change in your own community and beyond. Melvin Gravely, CEO of TriVersity Construction, and Conni Reed, Founder and CEO of Consuela, vulnerably shared deeply personal stories that profoundly shifted the thinking and perspective of the audience.

Following the talks, the attendees were given the opportunity to reflect and further discuss during afternoon adventures and evening celebrations at iconic Sun Valley locations. Whether on a bicycle, the golf course, or around an intimate conversation at dinner, attendees noted the depth and ease of connection with their peers despite the year gap at in-person events.

There is no doubt that the commitment to the Evergreen movement remains strong despite a global pandemic—an intact community of purpose-driven leaders united by the Evergreen 7Ps® principles and the common ground on which they build companies that last and make a difference. We look forward to continuing the conversations in our upcoming Tugboat Seminars, Tugboat Institute Fall Exemplar visit to Edward Jones, and again at Tugboat Institute Summit 2022.

Until then…be curious.

Susanne Lally is Director of Marketing, Trademarks, and Partnerships at Tugboat Institute

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