(What follows is a reprint from the Sunday, May 18 edition of the Ann Arbor News.)
What happens when high-powered business leaders get together to share success stories, exchange ideas, and lessons learned? We found out on Wednesday, May 7, when the Women’s Exchange of Washtenaw (WXW) held their inaugural event in Ann Arbor. Over 200 people attended this first event of what promises to be a dynamic, rewarding, and highly successful group.
About a year ago Carrie Hensel (CEO of Inner Circle Media) and I sat down to discuss several pressing business issues. We wanted to grow our businesses and found that as we talked we were helping each other solve our business problems. We wondered how many other businesswomen were having this same type of conversation. The more we talked the more we felt we needed to take action. We decided to form the Women’s Exchange of Washtenaw, a group dedicated to growing businesses by encouraging an exchange of ideas and an open approach to conversations. By bringing business leaders together to build stronger relationships we hoped to foster growth in our region.
A Steering Committee was formed, and an energized group of businesswomen led the charge to create the first WXW event. After a year of planning we were ready to host our first event. A panel of highly successful women business leaders from Southeast Michigan opened the event by sharing stories about the challenges they faced when growing their businesses and related lessons they had learned in their careers. They inspired the crowd to ask pointed questions about topics ranging from funding their businesses to finding the right employee for the right position.
The panel was followed by a series of four breakout sessions in which facilitators and attendees brainstormed about key issues involved in growing a business. The issues included managing growth, creating a business culture, relationship building, and visioning. Each session was fast-paced and lively discussions could be heard in every room. The breakout sessions were followed by a wrap-up session and informal networking.
I was encouraged to see several small groups of women continuing their conversations even as the event winded down. I listened in to discussions about how to work with family-owned businesses, what were the best relationships to cultivate, and how visioning had benefited one locally woman-owned business. These types of exchanges were just what we had in mind when we created the group. WXW was creating synergy among the attendees and connecting women who could continue their dialogue on their own.
The first WXW event is really just the start of something even bigger. The enthusiastic response has spurred further discussions on the future of WXW. Attendees came from as far away as Toledo, Ohio, to attend the kickoff to WXW, and there is interest in more regional collaborations with other groups. We also asked all of the WXW attendees to fill out an exit survey. They asked for us to continue the group and host more activities, including roundtable discussions and in-depth working sessions on a variety of topics. The format for our first event—a panel and breakouts—was also rated highly, so we plan on using it for our future events.
The attendees were also complimentary. “Great networking! Thrilled at the number of attendees,” commented one attendee. “The women who attended were dynamic, interesting, involved,” said another.
The overwhelming response has been positive. That positive energy can be converted into action that helps businesses grow. We’re ready to continue the exchange by sharing our growth strategies, working together, and forging strong relationships. WXW is just one of many area organizations dedicated to business growth. I would encourage business leaders to attend regional events sponsored by other groups, such as the Chambers of Commerce. Our local economy depends on groups such as this to create connections between businesses. It’s all part of what Carrie and I said at the end of our first WXW meeting: Now We’re Talking!