Is Vistage Worth It? An Honest Review
If you’re considering whether to join Vistage, you’ve probably wondered: Is Vistage worth it?
As a longtime member of Vistage and one of its speakers, I spend hundreds of hours each year with Vistage members, and visiting so many groups has given me a broad, unvarnished view across the organization.
First off, this post is my personal opinion only. I am indeed an active participant in Vistage — so yes, Vistage is worth it for me personally — but I’ve had enough conversations with Vistage members, both established and prospective, to develop a good understanding of who it’s right for and who it’s not. This article is meant to break down the value of Vistage and describe what it’s like for those who are considering joining.
What is Vistage?
If you already understand the Vistage model, skip this section. If not, I’ll make it brief.
Once per month, 10 – 15 CEOs or company leaders meet in a board room for 8-9 hours:
- In the morning, there is a check-in or welcome exercise, followed by a 3-hour speaker workshop.
- Then there is a 1 hour lunch.
- In the afternoon, members present the issues they’re dealing with in their companies and get feedback from the group.
The meeting is organized and led by a ‘chair’, who is present at every meeting and is responsible for keeping order, and stimulating conversation. The chair is usually a retired CEO with some coaching experience.
The Typical Vistage Member
If I had to paint a picture of the typical Vistage CEO group member, it would look like this:
- Leads an established, family-owned construction supply business with $15m in annual revenue
- 60 years old
- Humble, open to learning, doesn’t mind criticism
- Enjoys the kinship of groups; also belongs to a golf or country club
I should mention that there are many younger Vistage members like myself (I’m 36); quite a few cutting-edge tech companies; a fair share of newer businesses; and women in every group (though they are usually outnumbered by the men). But there are always a few members in every group that more or less match the above description.
The Value of Vistage
Before discussing Vistage’s value, we need to understand what Vistage costs: As of 2018, the Vistage initiation fee is $2,250, with monthly dues of $1,380 for CEOs, and a bit less for small business leaders and key executives.
More costly than the membership dues, though, is the time: you spend 1 day per month in an all-day meeting and have a 2 hour “one-to-one” meeting with your group leader, or chair. For some people, that’s too much time to give up. For others, it’s exactly what they need to step back and gain some perspective on what’s happening in their business. Leaders of companies with over $5m or so in revenue probably have a good supporting cast and can afford the time, as long as there is real value associated with it.
So, with those costs in mind, below are what I would consider the chief benefits of Vistage, along with the amount of value I believe each one represents:
Who Vistage is NOT Right For
The Social Butterfly.
If your interest lies more in meeting similarly-talented leaders and socializing with people like you (hey, there’s no shame in that), Vistage probably isn’t right for you. It’s a place to go to improve; not to schmooze. It requires a degree of humility and a desire to learn. If socializing with others who have ‘made it’ is what you’re looking for, I would say that Vistage’s competitor YPO is a better fit, as it has more of an elite feel to it, with members planning extraordinary events and giving their peers access to unique experiences.
If you feel you already know most or all of what you need to know for your business to thrive, Vistage won’t be a good fit, as people come to learn. There is an ethos of honesty, feedback, and accountability. Although successes are celebrated, the drive for improvement must be there, and those with a fragile ego could have a tough time.
The Frenetic Start-up Founder.
While Vistage would probably love to increase its share of members in their 20s and early 30s, if your company is early-stage enough that you need to be working 15 hours per day and don’t have time to step back and reflect, I don’t think you would enjoy Vistage. Also, if your company is very early-stage, you might find the membership dues prohibitive. Overall, your business should be relatively established for you to get the most out of the experience. (NOTE: If your company has $1m-$5m in revenue, Vistage has a product called Small Business groups, which are designed around the needs of companies of that particular size. But those members still aren’t what I would call “frenetic start-up founders.”)
How I Personally Feel About Vistage
Above, I’ve tried to be as objective as possible; after all, Vistage isn’t for everyone. But in this final section, I will tell you my personal experience.
Vistage is one of the best investments I’ve made in my professional career. The opportunity to be surrounded by 10+ successful business minds in a non-competitive, caring environment is rare. And the included one-on-one coaching with your chair is more valuable than I would have guessed (although, it makes sense that retired CEOs who spend most of their time hearing the problems and solutions of active CEOs would have a lot of wisdom to offer).
Is every monthly meeting distinctively helpful? No. The speakers can be hit or miss, but a few speakers per year say something that really impacts my business, and that makes the entire investment worth it. It’s also worth mentioning that attendance varies from group to group, and especially in the summer when people are traveling, you might see a lower-attendance session. Low-attendance meetings are much less valuable.
Overall, I think of my Vistage group as my advisory board. There is genuine advice offered in every meeting, and members really help each other out. Not to mention, simply making the commitment to a peer group in the first place causes me to think more globally about my business than I would have otherwise. If you’re like me, you’re already pretty good at running your company; but there are times when you need outside stimulation to keep bringing fresh ideas into your organization. Vistage fills that role perfectly.
If you have any questions about Vistage, I’m happy to chat. You can e-mail me at my first name, dot, my last name, at gmail.com.
Evan Bailyn is a best-selling author and award-winning speaker on the subjects of SEO and thought leadership.