By Tom Gregg, Co-Founder Beyond CEO Coaching
I was very lucky that I grew-up in a very educated Washington D.C. area family. It also happened to be white. My father was a career civil servant in the federal government. Going to college was a given in my family, and the only decision was which one I would attend, which I had already chosen at age five. I have always believed that I could do and accomplish anything in life that I put my mind to and work hard at – anything. To me, that was the American dream. I believed this to be true for all Americans. I know now that it is not true for everyone. I started my first company at the age of 27 with a $10,000 investment from my father. I did not know any peers who were entrepreneurs or CEOs of companies. This was way before Shark Tank. Coaching at that time was for sports. If you were a CEO and had a coach, it was because an investor forced it on you because you were not performing. I felt very alone, and as the company grew, I felt the weight of the world on me. I felt that if I failed, the world would literally come to an end from my shame, as my belief system was based on being able to do anything.
When my company got to $1M in revenue, I found that I could join a peer network called Entrepreneurs Organization (EO), and when my company got to $8M, I was able to join the Young President’s Organization (YPO). These groups gave me a lot of guidance and grew my networks, as did an advisory board that I eventually formed. However, these groups really only supported me once a month, and my advisory board quarterly, unless there was an emergency. I still had nobody that really focused on regularly helping me. I think if I did, a lot of the pain, suffering and mistakes I made would have been greatly reduced; the company could have done much better than it did, and I could have enjoyed the success I was having a lot more than I did. I was able to successfully sell the company after ten years, and I leveraged that success to lead other successful companies. I feel now that I have and continue to live the American Dream, but I think I was able to do it partly because I had an advantaged upbringing, and our system and structures were set in many ways to my advantage. I believe change is long overdue. One way I believe I can help is through coaching Black CEOs. I know what help I wished I had as a struggling CEO with all the advantages. I know that CEOs dictate the culture of their companies. I know that once you have run one company successfully, you are in high demand to run others. The American Dream is for everyone, not just for lucky white men like me. In 2005, my father wrote a book called Social Justice. I was too busy to read it then. He wrote, “What is required is a new set of ideas and strategies for moving humans to a higher cultural plane on which all can live to their full potential in health, joy and dignity.” I hope Beyond CEO Coaching can be one tool towards that reality.