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The art of operations

by Colleen Killen-Roberts

Divisional Vice President of Entrepreneurship

Moving from success to significance

This week I’m excited to begin our third round of Legacy Council, a program we launched in 2021 for entrepreneurs who have either exited their companies or are near that stage.

Describing the technical components of Legacy Council is pretty straightforward: The year-long program begins with a 2½-day retreat at Big Rock Valley, our 2,000-acre learning campus in southwest Michigan where participants develop a vision for their legacy. Next, participants reconnect in virtual roundtable sessions that are held quarterly, and I also conduct monthly calls to support them on their journey. Finally, we meet back at Big Rock Valley to share how the year went and what they accomplished with their peers.

Yet articulating the essence of Legacy Council is more difficult and goes far beyond succession planning. Legacy Council is about how entrepreneurs transition from being identified by their business to moving toward a personal legacy. It’s about what they want to be remembered for and how they want to impact others.

This transition is no easy feat, for entrepreneurs are wired to think first about their business and employees rather than putting their own needs front and center. When they do, they become unshackled. Sparks tend to fly — especially when you put them in the room with other entrepreneurs who are at a similar point on their journey.

 We’ve already had some amazing results from our first two cohorts of Legacy Council, from finding new sources of joy to some unexpected matchmaking.

Take Dan Ducote, founder of Enginuity Global LLC in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. Dan was in the middle of selling his company when he joined Legacy Council and credits us for helping him work through some “hiccups.” What’s more, Dan is now working on developing a retreat complex near his home where entrepreneurs can engage in peer learning and work through challenges with subject-matter experts.

Dan admits that in the beginning, he didn’t know what to expect from the program. “Halfway through the kickoff retreat, I was still asking myself, ‘What am I doing here?’ ” he says. “Yet by the end of the retreat, I realized this was something I needed to put my heart and soul toward. Colleen’s and Dave Galbenski’s input as facilitators was invaluable at staging that initial transition from ‘what am I doing here?’ to ‘Here’s the plan: Here’s where you’re going to go and see what the future could be. Today, I would do this again in a heartbeat. Legacy Council has made me a better person — and helped improve my life.”

Beth Kelly and Todd Gustafson

Another initially cautious participant was Beth Kelly, founder of HR Collaborative in Grand Rapids. “When approached about joining the program, I didn’t want to say no, but my interest was very broad and not very enthusiastic,” she says. “I knew I was approaching the age where I should be thinking about legacy but wasn’t.”

“During the kickoff retreat I met Todd Gustafson of Kinexus Group and learned that he was trying to get into a business like mine. Coincidently, although the business had served me well, I was beginning to think about an exit strategy. We met later and talked about what both of our businesses did, how they could complement each other, what his intentions were for growth, what my intentions were for transitioning the business and where I wanted it to go next.”

And the rest is history. On February 29, Beth and Todd completed Kinexus’ acquisition of HR Collaborative — and during the Legacy Council’s closeout retreat in March we all shared a toast to them!

Legacy Council is a testament to my belief that when you put the right people in the room, great things happen, and I’m delighted to hear their takeaways. The program has also been a big win for the foundation. Several Legacy Council participants, including Dan Ducote, have agreed to serve as champions through our Entrepreneur Emeritus initiative. We’ve even added our first entrepreneur, Barbara Stankowski, to our board of trustees.

And finally, Legacy Council has changed me. It has been an honor to be allowed to join these amazing folks on such a personal journey.  When you spend this much quality together you create lasting relationships, for which I am grateful.  In fact, co-leading the Legacy Council program with Dave Galbenski has been one of the highlights of my career.