Michael Gelfand

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Acing the Family Vacation

Lessons from three hard-charging CEOs on how to make time for—and make the most of—travel time as a family.

Find the Right Motivational Speaker

From wedding toasts to celebrity roasts, we’ve all had the misfortune of sitting through an uninspiring speech or presentation at someone else’s event. To avoid that unhappy scenario at your retreat, steer clear of sub-par, garden-variety motivational speakers and focus on blue-chip personalities and deep thinkers. It goes without saying that exclusive speakers command higher fees; expect to pay upward of $40,000-$75,000 for the A-list names like Alan Greenspan, Lou Gerstner, Clayton Christensen, Lance Armstrong and Niall Ferguson that the agencies listed below can arrange.

Greater Talent Network (www.greatertalent.com) offers a wide range of athletes, journalists, authors and experts ranging from Jeffrey Toobin, Gore Vidal, Meredith Whitney and Seth Godin.

The Lavin Agency (www.thelavinagency.com) handles a roster from across arts, entertainment, politics and industry—think Margaret Atwood to Anderson Cooper.

Leading Authorities (www.leadingauthorities.com) delivers influential business leaders, such as A.G. Lafley, Gordon Bethune and Lee Scott.

The Leigh Bureau (www.leighbureau.com) boasts a roster of prominent business leaders, academics and journalists like Malcolm Gladwell and Paul Krugman.

The Harry Walker Agency (www.harrywalker.com) represents former heads of state, cabinet officers and Nobel laureates, including former President Bill Clinton, Kofi Annan and Gloria Steinem.

Washington Speakers Bureau (www.washingtonspeakers.com) specializes in political leaders like Madeline Albright, Ted Koppel, Chris Dodd and Condoleeza Rice.

The Great Retreat

Related reads: What an Outside Facilitator Can Do For You Find the Right Motivational Speaker Going It Alone Chief Executive’s Choice Hotels & Resorts
Of all the responsibilities you might typically associate with being a CEO, planning an executive retreat isn’t one they teach you about in business school. However, a recent survey of CEOs conducted as part of Chief Executive’s February CEO Confidence Index research clearly shows that many of today’s CEOs consider their role in arranging retreats an important task—something they consider well worth their time and energy. More than 81 percent of 285 CEO respondents said they are involved in selecting locations for board, management, customer and other off-site meetings and retreats. Furthermore, survey results suggest that most CEOs put a lot more effort into the retreat-planning process than simply worrying about the hotel’s proximity to golf courses.

Massachusetts’ Charles Hotel

Executive retreats are critical events on the corporate calendar. “I sit on numerous local and national boards,” says Terry MacRae, CEO of Hornblower Cruises & Events, an international marine company. “Despite how some people will squeeze budgets and try to make retreats go away, when you look back to watershed moments in a company’s history, you can often trace them back to a retreat.”
What’s in a Retreat
Far more than back-to-back meetings in a windowless conference room, a retreat is about you and your team getting away from distractions of the office and rolling up your sleeves to solve specific issues, overcome challenges, set new goals and think creatively about your future—and hopefully to have real fun together. “People get so caught up in the inertia of business and watching the bottom line that CEOs and senior executives rarely have time to slow down,” says Christine Corelli, president of Christine Corelli & Associates, a Chicago-based Fortune 500 consulting firm. “The goal of an executive retreat is to slow down so that you can speed up business.”

Alaska’s Boardwalk Lodge

“You and your team need to stop and think, ‘What are we doing right, where do we need improvements, how are we doing in our efforts to meet goals?’” she says. “Sometimes it’s about who is performing and who isn’t, or what is working and what isn’t. Retreats are about getting away from the office to go through the important aspects of your business: marketing, customer service, sales, everything related to the business, what complaints are we hearing. You go away with your team to where the thinking can be clear and uninterrupted by day-to-day operational objectives, and, hopefully, you do it in a creative setting where you have time to take off your jacket, sit down and have an open conversation about where we were, where we are, where we’re going, and how we’re doing.”

Colorado’s The Broadmoor

Retreats are an opportunity to create a long-view mindset for your team and each individual on it, asserts John Crosby, principal of Tucson, Arizona-based Architecture for the Soul, a consulting firm that specializes in business coaching and executive- team, change-management strategy. “Think of a mouse running in grass and looking for cheese. Then, think of stepping up and out of that perspective, and becoming a hawk,” he says. “People who spend all week long in meetings and their weekends immersed in the rote detail of going through 1,400 emails, lose sight of the larger picture. When you’re running as fast as you can and don’t feel you can do it faster, the only option is to do it faster. The retreat allows your team to think with insight, inspiration and awareness; and when everyone’s making choices and decisions from that place, you’re realizing your overall vision.”
Planning is Everything
Enhancing creative thinking, helping to build relationships, boosting morale and improving cross-functional collaboration and corporate culture are among the many benefits of retreats cited by survey respondents. However, achieving these outcomes is far from assured. You’ll need careful planning, both of the actual event itself (including choosing the destination, the accommodations, the activities, etc.) and of the goals and agenda you set.

New York’s Glenmere Mansion

Once you’ve made the decision to hold a retreat, the next step is to choose a venue—which is more complicated than it may sound. Your location needs to be determined well in advance of the actual retreat and it should be comfortable, convenient and conducive to fruitful discussions. Ideally, it should also be an inspiring locale that provides the right backdrop for creative thinking, socializing and rejuvenation. (See p.52 for a list of great retreat venues.) Given the importance of having all those factors in place, it’s critical to think hard about the type of venue you want. “Begin by visualizing your event,” suggests Lisa Ross Faust, managing partner at the Contemporary Events Group, an Atlanta-based corporate meetings, special events and convention-management firm. “Do you want a hot climate or or a cold one? Are you willing to travel a full day to get there? How is the food, and what things can you do there? You have to qualify what you want and what you have time for before you can begin planning the actual trip.” Other key criteria include assessing what facilities, services and amenities you’ll need (e.g., a single boardroom, or multiple meeting rooms of varying sizes), what team-building and downtime activities are readily available onsite or nearby, and whether the location has an event team capable of managing all of your catering and planning needs.

Florida’s Creek Ranch

Sometimes budgetary concerns or concern about the perception of lavish spending influence venue planning, adds Ross- Faust, who cautions against waiting too long to book your retreat. “In this current economy, we’re seeing many companies hold onto their dollars, even though they know they have a meeting tentatively planned,” she says. “If you wait until the last minute to put it together, it can end up costing more.” Once you’ve identified potential venues, compare and contrast them by submitting requests for proposals then reviewing what each contender has to offer. Consider rates and specifications for accommodations, meeting facilities and services, food and activities during the dates you are looking to book. For companies tackling the booking process on their own, travel experts stress the importance of emailing or calling the venue’s sales manager to discuss the particulars before booking—rather than relying on potentially outdated website information.
The Details
Unless your company is small enough to bring your entire senior team, you need to weigh who needs to be there and whether their attendance is mandatory. Then, communicate that information clearly. Be sure to factor transportation into your planning. Your team will need to get to the retreat, move around while there and make the return trip back. Depending on the destination, these logistics can prove to be significant obstacles.

Florida’s Doral Golf Resort

Whether you opt for a conveniently located hotel or a resort with a history of serving the wants and needs of corporations or something more remote and specialized (e.g., a pheasant-hunting lodge out in the wilderness or a health and wellness spa ensconced deep in some forgotten hills) to set a different tone, your next step will be establishing your meeting goals and building an agenda that will interest, challenge and engage your participants. The mechanics of the event—what you’ll do while there—are important, but nothing should trump defining your goals and planning your agenda, says Katharine Halpin, founding principal of Phoenix-based The Halpin Companies, a leadership strategies and executive-coaching firm. After all, that’s what inspired you to have the retreat in the first place.

Arizona’s Miraval

“You want to create an environment where people can speak with more honesty than normal and feel comfortable enough to share their deepest concerns and form better connections,” says Halpin, who notes that getting everyone’s contributions to the agenda is crucial. “The true measure of success in the workplace is not whether your team members are measurement-centric, have high IQs or have mastered the skill sets required for their jobs. Those things are all very important, but your team can only be effective if the individuals master their emotional intelligence. Retreats help nurture and groom people to become more intelligent; and when conflict arises down the road, they’ll have developed the tools and strengthened those connections to work through challenges.” Most meeting facilitators and leadership coaches advise investing the time to develop a prioritized list of discussion topics in advance by holding one-on-one meetings with participants prior to the retreat. “You should speak with all the attendees individually about your planned agenda,” says John Baldoni, president of Ann Arbor, Michigan-based Baldoni Consulting, an executive coaching and leadership-development firm. “Let them know where you think you’re headed and get their feedback on issues that can be raised.” Avoid scheduling wall-to-wall meetings, he adds. “Your meetings should be set up with the bulk of the heavy-lifting slated for mornings, after which you should allow attendees some personal time to enjoy socializing or participating in formal or informal activities that are unique to the location. Your focus isn’t on presentations and meetings; it should be on thinking out loud, debating, deliberating and socializing.”

Virginia’s Jefferson Hotel

Once you’ve set the agenda, says Baldoni, share it, then develop and circulate materials that will be referenced during your meetings so that participants can arrive prepared with comments, questions and concerns. By preparing participants in advance, you’re encouraging them to be involved and equipping them to hit the ground running. Encouraging everyone to participate on an equal basis may make for some heated conversations, he says, but they’ll likely be productive conversations; and when the retreat is over, your team members will have a better understanding of each other due to those frank discussions and positive opportunities to bond. Finally, avoid the pitfalls of overreaching. Don’t overwhelm and overtax participants by setting unreasonable goals and an exhausting itinerary. “You have to be realistic about what you can accomplish in your agenda,” explains Halpin. “Be strategic, set outcomes, be authentic and follow through. Whether your goals are strategic planning, a project kickoff, customer service issues, improving morale or launching a new product, you have to set clear goals—and not too many of them.” After all, ultimately, you want your employees to return engaged and enthusiastic—excited about what’s possible and their role in making it happen.

Nebraska’s Lied Lodge

Chief Executive’s Choice Hotels & Resorts

Name Location Phone Event Planner Catering Differentiators
Pa-Ko Plantation Midway, AL 877-539-5699 N Y Rustic accomodations on 5,000 woodsy, central Alabama acres; offers quail, turkey and deer hunting.
Renaissance Birmingham Ross Bridge Golf Resort & Spa Birmingham, AL 888-236-2426 Y Y Woodlands and lakes in the rolling hills outside of Birmingham, state-of-the-art equipment, facilities and services, includes 14 meeting rooms and 20,000 sq. ft. of event space.
Alaska’s Boardwalk Lodge Thorne Bay, AK 800-764-3918 N Y One of the country’s great fishing lodges, 23 nearby lakes, rivers and streams for flyfishing, Coast Guard-certified skippers charter 28-foot ocean fishing excursions.
Alaska Rivers Company Cooper Landing, AK 888-595-1226 N N Media-free accommodations, rafting and fishing on the Kenai River.
Knik River Lodge Palmer, AK 877-745-4575 N Y Relatively easy access, offers helicopter tours, glacier dog sledding and wildlife tours.
Miraval Arizona Tuscon, AZ 800-232-3969 Y Y Listed on Conde Nast’s Gold List 2012 of World’s Best Places to Stay, 6,600 sq. ft. of meeting space.
Grand Canyon Ranch Meadview, AZ 702-736-8787 Y Y Located five miles from west rim of Grand Canyon, working cattle ranch offers white water river rafting, mountain biking, hiking and team building activities.
C.O.D. Ranch and Retreat Oracle, AZ 800-868-5617 N Y Surrounded by 32,000 acres of the Coronado National Forest, and overlooks 6,000 acres of the Galiuro Mountains.
Sedone Rouge Hotel & Spa Sedona, AZ 866-312-4111 N Y Luxuriously appointed hotel spa in Red Rock Country with 4,000 sq. ft. of event space, including indoor/outdoor meeting facilities.
Mountain Harbor Resort & Spa Lake Quachita Mount Ida, AR 870-867-2191 Y Y Water sports on Lake Ouachita, Turtle Cove spa and lakeside log cabins.
The Peabody Little Rock Little Rock, AR 800-917-3202 Y Y Four Star, Four Diamond-rated hotel connects to the recently reconstructed Statehouse Convention Center.
Bacara Resort & Spa Santa Barbara, CA 805-968-0100 Y Y Pacific Coast getaway with two nearby golf courses, three swimming pools, a spa and a 1,000-acre ranch for leisurely hikes.
Calistoga Ranch Calistoga, CA 707-254-2805 Y Y Award winning spa, 1,175 sq. ft. Wine Cave and other fabulous state-of-the-art meeting rooms, both indoor and outdoor.
Marconi Conference Center Marshall, CA 415-663-9020 N Y 62-acre state historic park in scenic West Marin county, meeting rooms are on National Register of Historic Places.
Oak Creek Lodge Santa Margarita, CA 805-964-6790 Y Y 163-acre ranch with 6,000 sq. ft. lodge and the Sage Hill cabin for corporate retreats.
Ojai Valley Inn & Spa Ojai, CA 888-697-8780 Y Y Historic hotel with an award winning spa, golf, and mountain backdrop, 11,000 sq. ft. of meeting space, including an executive boardroom and outdoor facilities.
The Broadmoor Colorado Springs, CO 866-837-9520 Y Y Five-Diamond, Five-Star service, three championship golf courses, spa, tennis, fly-fishing, horseback riding, rock climbing, ballooning and 60 adaptable meeting and conference rooms.
Tivoli Lodge Vail, CO 303-748-3668 Y Y Ski resort at the base of Golden Peak, offers jeeping, rafting, kayaking, downhill mountain biking, rock climbing, and paragliding, as well as balloon rides, horseback riding, fishing, golf, hiking and tennis.
Renaissance Boulder Flatiron Hotel Broomfield, CO 303-464-8400 Y Y Views of Rocky Mountains, top-of-the-line meeting facilities, including 8 meeting rooms and over 6,300 sq. ft. of function space.
Interlaken Resort & Conference Lakeville, CT 800-222-2909 Y Y Victorian on 30 acres between two mountain lakes, certified Green Lodging establishment offering nine meeting rooms, golfing, a pool and lake activities.
Homestead Inn Greenwich, CT 203-869-7500 N Y Four-star luxury boutique hotel, a 1,000 sq. ft. cottage boardroom, 18 rooms and private dining room.
The Bellmoor Inn & Spa Rehoboth, DE 866-899-2779 Y Y Seaside resort with indoor and outdoor meeting space, central Rehoboth Beach location.
Creek Ranch Haines City, FL 800-225-4255 N Y Working ranch in Florida’s lake district sits on 6,665-acre Lake Hatchineaha (bass fishing heaven), offers riding lessons, trail riding, air boating, hiking on nature trails, 9,000 sq. ft. home home includes seven bedrooms and multiple living rooms and kitchens.
PGA National Resort & Spa Palm Beach, FL 800-863-2819 Y Y Five master-designed 18-hole golf courses, 19 clay tennis courts, 40,000 square feet of scalable meeting space, 4,000 square foot outdoor pavilion.
Doral Golf Resort & Spa Miami, FL 305-592-2000 Y Y PGA golf destination, 100,000 sq. ft. of elegant event space, state of art business facilities, award winning spa and wellness services.
Epic Hotel Miami, FL 877-785-0820 Y Y Uber-chic hotel on the banks of the Miami River where it meets Biscayne Bay, more than 25,000 square feet of meeting space in eight flexible meeting rooms.
The Cloister at Sea Island Sea Island, GA 855-572-4975 Y Y One of only six U.S. destinations to host a G8 Summit, this regal destination has 25,000 sq. ft. of flexible, hightech event space overlooking the coastline. If you need other dignified distractions, they also offer a clay-target shooting school, horseback-riding clinics and three superb on-site golf courses.
Ritz Carolton Reynolds Plantation Greensboro, GA 706-467-0600 Y Y On the shores of 19,000-acre Lake Oconee, five signature world-class golf courses (99 stunning holes) designed by Rees Jones, Jack Nicklaus, Tom Fazio and Bob Cupp, 18,000 sq. ft. of meeting space.
River Dance Lodge Syringa, ID 866-769-8747 N Y On the banks of the Middle Fork of the Clearwater River, guests stay in charming, hand-crafted custom log cabins. Offers horseback riding, whitewater rafting, biking, fly fishing, hiking and “glamping” (glamorous camping).
The Drake Hotel Chicago, IL 312-787-2200 Y Y Downtown Chicago hotel withs 33,657 sq. ft. of flexible meeting space, with 20 meeting rooms.
Harpole’s Heartland Lodge Nebo, IL 217-734-2526 N Y Hunting lodge in serene Pike County, offers whitetail deer hunting and upland bird hunting (including wild quail hunting and pheasant hunting), 1,500 sq. ft. meeting space with a separate boardroom.
Wooded Glen Retreat & Conference Center Henryville, IN 812-294-3770 N Y This 10,000 sq. ft., IACC-approved meeting space is located on 567 scenic acres.
French Lick Resort French Lick, IN 888-936-9360 Y Y 40,000 sq. ft. of meeting space, 34 meeting rooms, and boardroom with seating for 15, championship golf course.
Hotel Blackhawk Davenport, IA 888-525-4455 Y Y On the Mississippi River, offers activities ranging from riverboat rides to on-site bowling.
Lil’ Toledo Lodge Chanute, KS 620-244-5668 N Y Hunting lodge and lakeside cabins on 15,000 acres of unspoiled prairie overlooking the Neosho River, 650-yard rifle range.
Royal Sonesta Hotel New Orleans, LA 504-586-0300 Y Y Bourbon Street hotel with 20 function rooms, a state-of-the-art board room, 20,000 sq. ft. of meeting space, and close proximity to attractions.
Cypress Bend Resort Many, LA 877-519-1500 N Y Located on on Toledo Bend Lake, offers golf, spa, fishing and 3,500 sq. ft. of space, including four breakout rooms, an executive boardroom.
Lodge at Moosehead Lake Greenville, ME 207-695-4400 N N Offers moose safaris, float-plane rides (for sightseeing or remote fishing for lake trout, salmon and smallmouth bass), group whitewater rafting and ATV riding.
Canyon Ranch Lenox, MA 800-742-9000 N Y Elegant Bellefontaine Mansion in the Berkshire woods offers hiking, kayaking and a well-known spa, all within earshot of nearby Tanglewood.
Charles Hotel Cambridge, MA 617-864-1200 Y Y Luxury hotel with views of the Charles River, Harvard Square location, 18,000 sq. ft. of indoor and outdoor space, 15 meeting rooms.
Grand Hotel Mackinac Island, MI 517-349-4600 Y Y National Historic Landmark on Travel + Leisure’s 500 Best list, also ranks highly on Conde Nast Traveler’s U.S. Gold Resort list.
Eagle Crest Ypsilanti, MI 734-487-0600 N Y IACC-accredited Conference Center with an awardwinning championship golf course bordering Ford Lake, 23,000 sq. ft. of flexible meeting and conference space.
Grand View Lodge on Gull Lake Nisswa, MN 866-801-2951 Y Y Championship golf, spa experiences, fishing, boating, swimming, horseback riding, cross-country skiing, snowshoeing, biking and walking trails.
Monmouth Plantation Natchez, MS 800-828-4531 Y Y A Natural Historic Monunment, this restored antebellum mansion is set on 26 acres of manicured gardens.
Ritz Carlton St. Louis St. Louis, MO 314-863-6300 Y Y Ritz Carlton-style luxury with eight meeting rooms ranging from 483 square feet to 1,680 square feet.
Grand Cascades Lodge Hardyston, NJ 973-827-4357 N Y Seven top-rated golf courses (designed by Fazio, Robert Trent Jones, von Hagge, and Rulewich), a renowned spa, an all-weather biosphere atrium.
La Posada de Santa Lee Resort and Spa Santa Fe, NM 505-986-0000 Y Y A Travel & Leisure Top 500 Hotel of the World, offers meeting rooms and breakout areas inside and out and a 4,500 sq. ft. conference center, activities include golf, hiking and skiing.
Mohonk Mountain House New Paltz, NY 845-255-1000 Y Y Victorian castle set on cliffs above Lake Mohonk, offers 2,400 sq. ft. of dedicated meeting space and breakout rooms, 85 miles of hiking trails.
Mirror Lake Resort Lake Placid, NY 518-523-2544 Y Y AAA-rated Four Diamond hotel offering year-round Olympic-style activities including bobsled and luge.
Glenmere Mansion Chester, NY 845-469-1900 N Y Boutique hotel and spa with just 19 rooms in a Gilded Age Villa on 150 secluded acres overlooking Glenmere Lake.
The WInds Resort Beach Club Ocean Isle Beach, NJ 910-579-6275 Y Y Enjoy a windswept oceanfront location, or head for one of 20 championship golf courses within 8 miles, or nearly 100 courses within a 30-minute drive.
Sundance Resort Christmas Meadows, UT 877-831-6224 N Y Beneath Mt. Timpanogos, the Redford Conference Center offers natural beauty and bountiful meeting space.
Stowe Mountain Stowe, VT 800-253-4754 Y Y Enjoy competitive team-building skiing Vermont’s highest peak or high-elevation golf on two 18-hole championship courses.
The Greenbriar White White Sulphur Springs, WV 800-675-1287 Y Y Timeless luxury amid the Allegheny mountains, with 85,000 sq. ft. of flexible meeting space and a complete conference center facility.

What an Outside Facilitator Can Do for You

No matter how hands-on you usually like to be as a business leader, in the case of running meetings at a retreat, it’s often best to hand the reins to a pro. You’ll still set the goals, the agenda, the rules and the tone for the retreat; your outside facilitator will simply bring your vision to fruition. For an investment of anywhere between $1,500 and $15,000 per day, a qualified facilitator can:
Set and Maintain Ground Rules
Qualified facilitators come into each situation without interpersonal biases and are experts at establishing ground rules for meetings and sticking to them. By contrast, CEOs (or the internal surrogates they assign) may find it difficult to abide by the rules they set or struggle to keep others from transgressing those boundaries and launching individual criticism, which can stop or derail meaningful exchanges.
Assign Homework and Expectations
A facilitator can help you identify key issues for discussion and craft surveys on agenda items to hand out before and after the event, in order to help your attendees prepare for an effective meeting in advance and to reflect on the meeting discussions.
Ensure Everyone Participates in the Conversation
A good facilitator will keep your team engaged in challenging conversations longer than you might typically think appropriate, giving the less assertive or more reserved members of your team the time they need to formulate and articulate their thoughts.
Cultivate Team-building Opportunities
Facilitators have experience with designing team exercises, such as pairing up employees or small groups and assigning them to perform different exercises and share different experiences.
Keep Track of the Output
Your facilitator will help you capture key decisions and unresolved issues—resolutions, issues and unanswered questions. New goals will all be captured and consolidated in a closing summary document that recaps the progress, conclusions, goals achieved and issues left unresolved. Some facilitators will lead post-retreat sessions to assess how well the group has implemented ideas and goals.

The CEO’s Guide to Executive Retreats and Board Meetings

Of all the responsibilities you might typically associate with being a CEO, planning an executive retreat isn’t one they teach you about in business school. However, a recent survey of CEOs conducted as part of Chief Executive’s February CEO Confidence Index research clearly shows that many of today’s CEOs consider their role in arranging retreats an important task—something they consider well worth their time and energy.

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