Marin County’s Elected CEO – Supervisor Damon Connolly

Connolly2“This was our best breakfast ever!” retorted one of our attendees this week at our November meeting. Supervisor Damon Connolly had just spoken about his first year as a Marin County Supervisor.  Attendees then brainstormed on vital topics for learning/speaking in 2016, and agreed to conduct two joint events with Dominican University of California (Exporting and Economic Forecast).  We also brainstormed on guest speakers, and the best “must read” business books.  That topic was met enthusiastically with many new book recommendations!

Supervisor Connolly shared his background with us, and helped us to follow the common thread of service and compliance in his career.  As many of us are, he was greatly influenced by the example set by his grandfather for community and civil service.  After law school, Damon worked on behalf of Californians to achieve justice from wrong dealings by Enron Corporation.  When Damon moved to Marin County he established his own local law practice, serving business owners and working as a San Rafael City Council Member.

Damon sits on the Boards of Marin Clean Energy, SMART, and other large-scale community enterprises.  Being a County Supervisor is his first full-time role working for citizens in civic leadership.   Together with his four fellow Supervisors, they manage a $500 million county budget.  Damon has taken leadership roles on several topics already, and found support from a populace ready for change.   More importantly, Damon seeks to work as a partner with his fellow Supervisors to accomplish as much as possible by working as a team.

Supervisor Connolly shared literature on Marin’s current budget and answered questions on our fiscal health, budget balancing, managing unfunded liabilities, reducing traffic, transportation planning, increasing tax revenue from Medical Marijuana dispensaries, paying down countywide debt, improving mental health services, railway infrastructure development, building low-income housing, and developing the Marinwood Plaza.  Sounded like a busy first year to us!

He promises to return in the future to give us an update on his progress running this $.5 Billion enterprise!  Follow this link to subscribe to Supervisor Connolly’s monthly newsletter.

We hope Supervisor Connolly and his wife will again join our esteemed CEO Club members at our Annual Holiday party on December 8th.  Thank you, Supervisor Connolly for your membership and ongoing support of the CEO Club of Marin.


OCT ’15- Which Business Combines Retail, Distribution, Wholesale, and Consumer Lending?

2015-10-13 07.38.47 (2)Who knew!  That seemed to be the theme of Robert Verhoeff’s presentation and story presented to the CEO Club of Marin on Tuesday, October 13, 2015.  We started by trying to guess what business he purchased and has run for the last 20+ years, in the style of “WHAT’S MY LINE!”  If Charles Daly was still MC’ing the show, then he would have halted us as it took more than 10 turns to identify Robert’s business as a chain of Pawn Shops around the Northern Bay Area.

In reality, we could have called his business a Consumer Lender, due to the strict compliance, rules, and regulations they face in their lending business.  Or a Retailer, based on the significance of the retail side of their business, both new and used items.  Or a Distributor, as they travel the country sourcing merchandise from Wholesalers to keep their stores supplied with high-demand items.  Or a Valuations Business, based on the volume of property and equipment valuations they do across their eight stores. Their employees have many credentials in valuation, supported by a heavy investment in tools and technology to distinguish rare gems and watches from impostors.

2015-10-13 07.38.34Robert shared with us the common misconceptions he learned and faces still today from people who don’t understand his business.  Robert continually works to educate the buyer, seller, borrower, and legislator about his industry to support its growth and protect its future.  A little-understood industry!

Robert began his career as a CPA in public accounting, worked his way into financial management for a sophisticated technology manufacturer, and then was presented the opportunity to buy into a chain of Pawn Shops with whom he became familiar as a client back in his auditing days.  He took a risk, bought in, and slowly worked to take over the enterprise from the founder.  He then expanded, doubling the number of stores, before pulling back during the last financial recession, to run a more lean and profitable enterprise.

Some interesting facts about his business:

  • His store locations target the middle class.
  • 87% of customers borrowing against collateral redeem their merchandise.
  • Their pricing closely follows changes in the spot gold and diamond markets.
  • They process over 70,000 loans every 4 months.
  • Every item used as collateral has to be valued, at a business cost of between $20-25/average.
  • Contractors- store tools for the winter…cheaper than renting storage units!
  • Fragmented market: Only 3 owners have 8 or more stores in California.
  • $2B market selling collateralized property, with very little fraud.
  • Every borrower is fingerprinted.
  • They buy and sell a lot of musical instruments as well as Jewelry in their Marin stores.


Thank you, Robert, for a fun, provocative, and educational presentation!


Oct 13 | Robert Verhoeff Shows CEO Club how to Hit the Jackpot! Mark Your Calendars…

Want to know how to strike a great bargain?  Then come hear Robert Verhoeff presentation at the CEO Club of Marin’s October breakfast meeting! Robert is president and owner of his own business for 22 years in Marin County. In his line of work, he constantly makes calculated estimates and strategy to get the best deal for both parties involved.  You will know his business, but you won’t know Robert.  Your job will be to help us identify his line of work, and his firm!  Remember “What’s My Line?”Robert Verhoeff headshot

Prior to his current unique passion, he worked as the VP of Finance for a device manufacturer and Audit Manager for the Big Four firm, PriceWaterhouse Coopers.   Robert graduated from California State University-Hayward in 1981, with a major in Business and Accounting. He is married, lives in Marin, and has twin daughters in high school and a 10-year old daughter.

The CEO Club of Marin welcomes Robert Verhoeff as our October speaker in the series, “What it’s like to be CEO of MY company!”

To register, visit our calendar page.

When:   Tuesday, October 13, 2015  |  7:30am – 9:00am

Where:  Il Fornaio – 223 Corte Madera Town Center, Corte Madera, CA 94925

Expanding Your Horizon with a Mid-Sized Company

Our September CEO Club speaker was Robert Sher, author of Mighty Mid-Sized Companies

So, you want to lead your company from a small- to a mid-sized business?  Then I hope you heard Robert Sher’s presentation at the CEO Club of Marin’s September breakfast meeting!  Robert laid out the 7 Silent Growth Killers of Mid-Sized companies, and how to avoid them.

Robert Sher also provided a detailed visual presentation and gave each attendee a worksheet while quickly covering each Killer.  He then drilled down into two killers, #2- Strategy Tinkering at the Top, and #5 Operational Meltdowns, with the help of attendees.    Members of the CEO Club brought much experience at leading and managing small and midsized companies, and contributed to the conversation.  Everyone agreed with Roberts 7 killers, though not everyone could prevent them…based on comments provided!

In review, his 7 Silent Growth Killers are:

  1. Letting Time Slip-Slide Away;
  2. Strategy Tinkering at the Top
  3. Reckless Attempts at Growth
  4. Fumbled Strategic Acquisitions
  5. Operational Meltdown
  6. The Liquidity Crash
  7. Tolerating Dysfunctional Leaders

Robert’s book is available on here and he has a website and forum where you can continue the conversation here. Impress your board, investors, banker, and/or partners by being the first to memorize all seven!

Attendance at the meeting was again high, though reservations were low.  Please remember to RSVP via our new website to ensure enough food and seating for everyone (  Thank you from your organizer (me!).

Networking amongst attendees was energized, and we have new CEO members, vintage members, and recent members, as well as two guests from the school of Leadership and Management at Dominican, and a leading personality from the County of Marin who is building bonds between Marin and Sonoma companies.

The CEO Club of Marin thanks  Robert Sher for sharing with us as our September 2015 featured speaker!

Sept 8 | Robert Sher: Making Your Midsized Business Mighty

robert-sherVisiting us for our September event is our esteemed guest, Robert Sher, CEO, Coach, and Author of Mighty Midsized Companies: How Leaders Overcome 7 Silent Growth Killers. He will present key concepts from his new book, then lead a Q&A session for this CEO Club of Marin special event on September 8th.

Robert is a national columnist at and, and recently had seven articles (one per growth killer) published in Harvard Business Review online. Prior to consulting, he was the chief executive of Bentley Publishing Group from 1984 to 2006 and steered the firm to become a leading player in its industry (decorative art publishing).

MMC book pictureMighty Midsized Companies has been endorsed by management and leadership greats Ken Blanchard, Warren Bennis, Stephen M.R. Covey and others. It is full of examples of how companies like yours have grappled with these growth killers…some won. At CEO Club of Marin, we want to help companies succeed, so when we see top-flight thought leadership that will help companies grow, we share it. Read more about the book and watch the short trailer here to get a feel for our author, Robert Sher.

To get the most out of the event, read this short article to kick start your thinking ahead of time.  It will give you the opportunity to ponder the subjects that will be presented that day, and reflection time about how you can make your midsized firm mightier.  We’ve retained this thought leader for this one session and it will be your chance to ask the questions that will help you and your company the most.

We will be using this workbook to follow along with Robert’s presentation and gather notes that we can share with our colleagues and reports. If you’d like to take a step further and explore some of Robert’s assessment tools, take a look at his Mighty Tools online at no cost.

To register, visit our calendar page.

When:   Tuesday, September 8, 2015  |  7:30am – 9:00am

Where:  Il Fornaio – 223 Corte Madera Town Center, Corte Madera, CA 94925


Mighty Midsized Companies: How Leaders Overcome 7 Silent Growth Killers

Sher_MG_0924Robert Sher  |  CEO to CEO

Robert Sher is founding principal of CEO to CEO, a consulting firm of former chief executives that improves the leadership infrastructure of midsized companies seeking to accelerate their performance. He was chief executive of Bentley Publishing Group from 1984 to 2006 and steered the firm to become a leading player in its industry (decorative art publishing).

From 1984 to 2006, Robert was CEO and co-founder of Bentley, a privately held firm based in Walnut Creek, Calif. Early in the business, he and his partners identified a gap in the fast-growing market for framed artwork: high-quality yet affordable prints perfect for the decorative market. Sher and his partners bootstrapped the business, but key successes breathed new life and cash flow into the business. He led the acquisitions of four competitors between 1999 and 2004 and left Bentley two years later. The firm merged with Global Arts in 2011 to form Bentley Global Art Group.

He is involved in two Northern California associations as a Director of the Alliance of Chief Executives since 2007 and President and Board member of the Association for Corporate Growth San Francisco.

Robert speaks frequently, and has published extensively on the successful leadership traits and skills of CEOs of midsized companies. He is a regular columnist on, has numerous posts on Harvard Business Review online, and  He authored two books, the first book, The Feel of the Deal; How I Built a Company through Acquisitions (1toPonder, 2007) and his newest book, Mighty Midsized Companies; How Leaders Overcome 7 Silent Growth Killers, (Boston: Bibliomotion, Sep. 2014). He also publishes his own newsletter, The CEO Insomnia Factor.

Robert received a B.S. degree in business administration from Hayward State University in 1986 (during which he ran a small business), and an MBA degree from St. Mary’s College in 1988, where he was the recipient of the Jack Saloma Award for student citizenship. From 1995 to 2000, he taught MBA and executive MBA courses at St. Mary’s on growing entrepreneurial businesses

Robert and his wife Renee have two children, Ben and Jessie, and live in Northern California. They love sailing and travel.

From Love of Wine to a Successful Business

Turrentine LogoOur August CEO Club speaker was Steve Fredricks, CEO of Turrentine Wine Brokerage.

Steven treated us to insights behind the veil of industry secrecy, personal insights on his career progression, lessons learned along the way, and what the future might hold for his industry and other consumer product firms.   We were also graced with the presence of his daughter, Haley, who was enjoying summer vacation and hearing her dad speak about his life and CEO career.

BACKGROUND: Steve shared many observations that support the need for the bulk wine brokerage business, and then listed the challenges in delivering consistently and profitably on that need.  He then shared his journey from growing up in LA to studying at U.C. Davis, and discovering the science behind making wines in a Viticulture class. He decided to combine his business major with the science of wine to create his own personal major.  After graduation he worked in wine production in the USA and in Australia, and then in sales/marketing for a winery.  Subsequently, he became a devoted reader of the Turrentine Wine Newsletter.

SUCCESS: Steve shared that his organized, regimented, and consistent work style served him well in the business world, especially when he started in an entry-level sales position with Turrentine Wine Brokerage.  (First he had to convince the owner to hire him, which took some persistent and consistent work on his part!)  He used these skills and characteristics to be successful as a bulk wine broker, working his way to the top over a 20+ year career with Turrentine Wine.  Today, Steve is the President and majority owner of the business.

Turrentine_Steve-FredricksLEADERSHIP SHIFT: As he became the leader of the organization he had to shift his thinking by learning to listen to his employees more, and not always putting the customer first, as was his training.  He also had to learn to use some quiet time, to BE the leader, to think globally, and to build relationships with his employees.  All elements of thinking long-term for the business, and not just closing a sale himself, which brought him his original success and recognition.  He also learned to read more: about business, psychology, and economics.  NUDGE and HABITS became some of his favorite books.  Today he is happier watching his brokers do satisfying deals for clients, than doing those deals himself.  He is looking beyond to future generations in his role as leader.

CHALLENGES: Steve then shared some of the challenges he faces leading the business into the 21st Century.   These include leading multi-generational workforces, with competing motives and different values.   Shifting cultures as the environment changes and the company needs to change to survive, adapt, and thrive.  He has invested in improving internal communications amongst all employees, create pathways for future partners/leaders, shape the future culture and nurture teams, and reinforce behaviors that build long-term client relationships.   Steve is challenged to know each employees’ needs and motivations, focus everyone on the ingredients for business success, establish operations globally, meets client needs to integrate more closely into their supply chains, and anticipate the next trend in the wine business.

SUMMARY: Steve summarized his comments by declaring that he is a lucky guy, able to travel the world, interact with people different cultures yet common interests, own his own business, and lead the company for the next generation to enjoy!

The CEO Club of Marin thanks Steve Fredricks for sharing with us as our August 2015 featured speaker!

Leadership lessons from the BBQ Grill

July BBQ

Thank you to everyone who came!

As I checked the meat and fish on the grill, anticipating the arrival of my first guests, the last thing on my mind was leadership theory or stories.  In fact, don’t we often grill to get away from it all? Maybe have a beer, or cabernet, and focus on something besides work?  By the end of the evening, I was overwhelmed by the sense of leadership, relationship, community, and team building.  Here is what I learned:

  • Thorough planning makes for a successful event. We planned every detail, and as we did so, our “group” turned into a “team.”  We also had more confidence during the event, as we knew everything would be there, when and where we needed it.
  • Enthusiasm is a key ingredient. As we talked excitedly about our upcoming BBQ, others heard and offered to help.  Each new team member brought a new flavor to the event.
  • Double-check the invite list. Who did we forget to invite?  Who missed our invitation, and needed to be reminded.  If someone is important to us, we made the effort to connect via multiple channels to ensure their participation…and feeling of importance.
  • Call the experts. When I sent shopping for the main BBQ grilling items, I brought my wife with me.  Though my enthusiasm loaded up my shopping cart, her experience and wisdom emptied half my cart before the check out.  Letting her over-ride my decisions saved our project team financial resources, precious time, and risk of failure.
  • Delegate appropriately. As the guests arrived I did my best to shift from cooking to greeting.  My team wanted me to perform the tasks they couldn’t…and let go of the rest.  I had to focus on my highest-priority task at the time: greeting, introducing, serving, and onboarding all the guests effectively to ensure their successful participation.
  • Speak to the Vision and Mission. After everyone had some food I made a toast…to the reason we were gathered together, to the values we stand for, to our mission together.  Find what bonds us together at this moment, and inspires us to continuing work hard for the future.
  • Appreciation. I thank everyone on our BBQ team who planned, cooked, shopped, prepped, greeted, served, and cleaned up.  I’m not always face-to-face with all my team members, but I have to remember them, seek them out, and make them feel appreciated.  Finally, I thank my wife and family for all their support.

I was once again overwhelmed, by the appreciation the guest showed me at the end of the evening, and with notes the next morning.

Thanks for a great party last night.  I really enjoyed it.  Lots of everything; delicious food, drinks and nice people! – Stein

Great party, great guests and most importantly terrific hosts. – Eitan

Thank you for a very nice evening. Both Jackie and myself really enjoyed your hospitality. – Marty

As I ponder hosting another BBQ, I wear a satisfied grin and a stronger appreciation for all the players who make our events and career successes possible.  Thank you.

Happy Grilling!


Photos from the Party:

Chris Kitze’s 8 Secrets to Building Successful Businesses

Chris Kitze
Chris Kitze shares his business wisdom with the CEO Club of Marin.

This month at the CEO Club of Marin, we were pleased to have Chris Kitze, CEO of Safe Cash, as our guest speaker. Chris has had a long career of building and running successful businesses, so I posed a simple question to him: “What does it take to be successful in business building?”

His answers seemed to flow naturally and were insightful as always. Here is a brief recap of his response.

Paul Herrerias:  “You have started, invested in, or been the CEO of at least five businesses.  You have successfully led two IPOs and several M&A transactions.  You have many people who would drop what they are doing and come join you in your ventures if you asked them too…what is your secret to being successful in business building?”

Chris Kitze:   “I have been blessed with a good sense for where consumer markets are going.  Additionally, I have been a student of business building and learned a few things over my career that I can share with you today…critical ingredients for business growth and value.  Here are my secrets:

1) First, find great people.  Only hire A-players who will bring in some other A-players.  (Hire B players and they will attract C players…soon D-players will take over and kill your business.)  Use a tight screen for hiring and build the best team you can.

2) Think Strategically.  Keep the big picture in mind and share the vision constantly.  Know where the company is going and where it is today on this journey.  Startups quickly go thru transitions and business cycles that take traditional companies 50+ years. Keep an eye on your strategy and progress.

3) Run your business by the metrics.  Pay critical attention, in real time, to your data.  Have good data and work to get all the information…though you will never have it.  “Test and then Invest” is our motto.

4) Be in communication with your customers.  They will tell you how to improve your current product…and your next product.  Analyze every sale.  What worked?  What didn’t?  Call your customer and ask.  And keep it simple: KISS!

5) Be hands on.  Don’t delegate everything.   Work the balance between leveraging your time and protecting your company, customers, vision, values, and profits. Pay attention to your business and get involved.  Remember: employees can take care of the easy ones…we get the hard ones!  You need to be involved to solve the hard problems.

6) Be honest with yourself….so you can be real and solve real problems.  This is what business people do…solve problems.  Combined with being hands-on, we can solve the hard problems.  Solve them right away!  Don’t let them fester.  And have good lawyers at hand.

7)  Be persistent and totally honest with everyone.  Trust is at the core of everything a business is allowed to do.  More importantly than technical skills and abilities, or college degrees, is our trustworthiness.

8) Stay open to changing your business, plan, products, and/or services.   Morph continually. To survive, adapt, and thrive!