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Vision for Peer Support Yields Leadership Roundtables

Thaine Fischer, President, Capital Corporate and Trust Services, Inc.

For Thaine Fischer, the path to giving back to entrepreneurship begins in rural Montana, winds through several career turns, and has led most recently to service on the board of the Scottsdale Area Chamber of Commerce.

As a member of the Chamber's Small Business Advisory Council, Fischer is spearheading the development Leadership Roundtable, where business owners, CEOs and executive managers participate in groups of up to 12 peers in non-competing businesses. The groups meet monthly to help each other address issues common to leaders of all businesses and industries.

Fischer grew up in rural Montana. His father – an entrepreneur who never thought of himself that way – was a cattle and insurance broker and later owned a home building company. Between structured chores morning and night on his family's small farm and work on a neighbor's ranch, Fischer developed a strong work ethic that has served him well.

An All-American in Wrestling, he earned an associate's degree in computer science on athletic scholarship to Northwest Community College in Powell and subsequently enrolled in an electrical engineering technology program at Arizona State University. One semester short of graduating, he was offered the opportunity to work for a large real estate developer in the area.

Real Estate Entrepreneur

Fischer started selling real estate in September 1987. The timing could hardly have been worse. The stock market crashed in October. A year later, Fischer accepted a position with Resort Suites, a vacation apartments rental business. Eighteen months later, at the age of 25, he started his own business, Fischer Villa Resort Management. With an emphasis on customer service in a relatively new industry, the venture grew quickly.

"I was the only employee for the first year," he says. "I started with ten units and kept growing to five locations in Mesa, Scottsdale, and Tucson, as well as two locations in Branson, Mo."

Fischer's growth and enthusiasm for entrepreneurship was fueled at this time by his involvement in Young Entrepreneurs' Organization. In fact, in 1995, he helped co-found the Arizona Chapter.

By 1999, Fischer was positioned to sell the company to publicly traded ResortQuest. Barred from real estate activity by a non-compete agreement, Fischer worked as a consultant for Integrity Systems, helping the company expand its clientele in the small- to mid-size business market until 2002, when ResortQuest approached Fischer to take over its Arizona operations.

"My brief stint with corporate America was a learning experience," says Fischer. "From an employee standpoint, I learned a lot about reporting to management and financials."

While with ResortQuest, he also continued to consult with two businesses, one of which he purchased in April 2004. Capital Corporate & Trust Services, Inc. is a legal document preparation company that specializes in forming corporations, LLCs, trusts, and wills.

"I liked that it worked with small businesses – from landscaping to technology – that are starting from bootstraps," he says.

Leadership Roundtables

Fischer's affinity to small business is also what motivated him to get involved with the Scottsdale Chamber of Commerce. The high-energy Scottsdale Chamber fosters entrepreneurship through a variety of innovative programs, including networking experiences, business promotion opportunities, workshops, counseling, and products and services. Members are encouraged to join committees to expand awareness and connections in the business community.

A member since the late 1980s, Fischer is devoting significant chunks of his time and expertise to the Chamber's Small Business Advisory Council. The Advisory Council’s provides guidance to Chamber staff on issues and challenges to Scottsdale's business community and identifies, reviews and recommends new programs that may help small businesses succeed or address a specific need.

The Leadership Roundtable program that Fischer identified fills the need for a venue where Chamber members can gather in small groups to share experiences and offer support in a confidential environment.

"At first," he says, "there was a concern that the Chamber's diverse membership would make it difficult to form groups where members would have enough in common to be helpful to one another. As a Chamber member, you might not own a business. You might be an executive, or you might have a home-based business or an emerging business. The question was whether these people would be able to relate and gel peer to peer."

Members of the Chamber board thought the roundtable concept was worth a try. Last year ended with three roundtables up and running successfully with two more started this fall. Careful to avoid homogeneity, the Small Business Advisory Council attempts to put business owners with business owners, executives with executives, and so forth.

Still, based on feedback from roundtable participants, it appears that diversity, if anything is a plus.

Asked to explain the key to success of his roundtable, the Trailblazers, Aubrey Strickstein, Ph.D., president of Executive Development Retreats, credits diversity and adaptability.

"We come from diverse backgrounds and experiences," he says, "which makes for rich dialogue. I compare us to a baseball team. In order to have a great team, you need to have all positions covered – not just pitchers and shortstops. We realized early that the success of our group hinged on having a wide range of talents.

"The Leadership Roundtable provides an environment of trust that makes it possible for us to share ourselves and our businesses and be real about it. In turn, we know that the feedback we get from our group will be honest, and most importantly, will have our best interests in mind."

Fischer takes great satisfaction from his role in starting the Leadership Roundtables in Scottsdale and foresees a day perhaps when other chambers across the country adopt similar models.

In the meantime, his professional and personal life promises to keep him fully occupied. Recently married, Fischer finished his first triathlon in June and would like to eventually participate in the Iron Man competition.

If engineering is the art of applying scientific information to practical problems, it seems today that the real estate developer who told Fischer he wasn’t an engineer was only partly right. Fischer may not be developing technology. But he is creating the basis for hundreds of solutions to practical problems in the world of entrepreneurship.

© 2006 Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation. All rights reserved.

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