Past Events


Take a look at some of the recent topics we discussed at our CEO Gatherings:

Everyone Demands the CEO’s Attention…Now What? (November 2012)

Kick-off speaker: Pete Lescoe, CEO/Founder of Food Should Taste Good. Since founding Food Should Taste Good in 2006, Pete built the company to become one of the largest natural snack brands in the U.S. The company was recently acquired by General Mills. Pete shared much about his CEO journey and led a productive discussion with other CEOs about how to lead the company and navigate a clear path when everyone wants something from you.

Discussion questions:

  • I’m surrounded by people with their own agendas: sales, marketing, production, R&D, finance, investors, lenders, customers, vendors, the press.
  • How do I optimize the big picture when each of these players around me aims to maximize just one agenda?
  • Can I make each person think I put him first and favor his view? Should I try?
  • Which people and functions should I give more time and attention to?Which ones should get less, or none?
  • When have I paid too much attention to someone and regretted it?
  • What’s a good number of direct reports and why?
  • What are some methods for making a little bit of time and attention go a long way?

Building a Consumer Brand (October 2012)

Kick-off speaker: Paul Nardone, CEO of Immaculate Baking Company. Immaculate Baking Co. specializes in gourmet all-natural and organic baked goods made from scratch.
Previously, Paul managed and built two other consumer brands in the food business, serving as CEO of Stirrings and Annie’s Homegrown, Inc. During his tenure at Annie’s, the company grew its sales and product offerings, and its commitment to kids, education, and the environment.

Discussion  Points:

  • Why do branded revenues command a valuation premium over non-branded
  • What does it take to build a national consumer brand without equity funding?
    Should I try?
  • What are the pros and cons of building a brand slowly vs. quickly?
  • How can I identify upfront whether there is an unmet need for a new brand?
  • What attracts investors to an early-stage branded business?
  • Should I build the branded business with a specific M&A acquirer in mind?
  • What factors tell me to do my own manufacturing, vs. outsourcing it?
  • Can a non-branded business co-exist with a branded business? Should I seek or avoid this?

Lean Manufacturing and Cultural Change (September 2012)

Kick-off speaker: Grant Bennett, CEO of CPS Technologies. CPS embarked on a major initiative four years ago to implement “lean manufacturing processes” throughout the Company. Grant Bennett shared lessons learned and some of the successes and failures at this stage of the “lean journey”.

Discussion Points:

  • How do I assess my company’s readiness to take the plunge into lean manufacturing? Will there be resistance?
  • In what ways do people resist the implementation of lean manufacturing?
  • Are there hard-dollar benefits to lean manufacturing?
  • Should I hire new management talent, an outside consultant, or neither?
  • What does it mean to be a company of problem solvers?
  • What does it take to be a vendor to companies who have adopted lean manufacturing?

Hiring Outside Talent into the Senior Team (September 2012)

Kick-off speaker: Todd Blount, President of Blount Fine Foods, a 5th generation company headquartered in Fall River, MA.  He has gathered and enabled a team of entrepreneurs to position the company for today’s competitive environment.  Blount Fine Foods is a Food Processing and Marketing company that has won awards in the areas of Quality, Marketing and Business Growth.  The company produces gourmet refrigerated & frozen soup for restaurants and retailers nation-wide.

Discussion Questions:

  • Presentation about search firms / process by James Cannon Johnston
  • When do I bring in outside senior talent? When do I grow my own?
  • How will my senior homegrown people feel about an outsider being hired in?
  • Should I use a search firm? Contingent or retained?
  • What are the pitfalls of hiring senior managers?
  • How do I hire an agent of change without destroying my existing company? (Or: how do I move my ship forward without sinking it?)
  • How do I design the new role, and who do I get input from – Board of Directors, investors, existing management?
  • What are some ‘tips’ for conducting the search – testing, homework, presentations, format, interviewees, etc.?
  • How can adding new talent to my team strengthen my hand with investors?
  • How should I structure the new person’s first six months?
  • How long with it take from start to finish, and what’s the first step?

Raising Early Equity Money (May 2012)

Kick-off speaker: Brad Sterl, CEO of Rustic Crust. Brad has been a frequent participant at our CEO gatherings. His Rustic Crust prebaked pizza crusts and American Flatbread frozen pizzas are available in 7,000 stores nationwide. Since Brad founded his company in 1996, he has raised equity from friends, angels, and two venture capital funds. He’s also gotten venture debt, capital leases, bank term loans, a line of credit, and state-backed lending.

Discussion Questions:

  • What difference does it make if I raise equity, and do I have a choice?
  • How important is the team?
  • How do I raise money when my current story is good but financial results are not great?
  • How can I position raising money as a positive, even if I am in survival mode?
  • What are the pros and cons of different types of investors?
    • Friends and Family
    • Angels
    • Small VC firms
    • Socially-oriented investors
    • Traditional VC firms
    • Private Equity firms
  • Selecting investors, why it’s good to be picky
  • How does my first equity raise affect my ownership share and my exit possibilities?
  • If I can get expensive debt, should I prefer that over equity?
  • What about exotic funding sources like state agencies, grants, factoring, and royalty-based deals?

Building and then Selling a New England Company (January 2012)

Kick-off Speaker: Jerry Shafir, founder and CEO of Kettle Cuisine (Chelsea, MA). After 25 years of doing every job and building the business, in the summer of 2011 Jerry achieved a brilliant culmination, in a deal with Arlon Capital Partners, the investment arm of Continental Grain.

Discussion Questions:

  • Should I build my company with the explicit goal of selling it?
  • Impact of a board of directors with outside members
  • M&A intermediary’s role
  • Preparing for a sale—five years, two years, one year, and six months beforehand
  • Choosing when to sell
  • Fielding unsolicited inquiries from acquirers and intermediaries
  • Navigating the intense phase of buyer vetting and deal negotiation.

Food CEOs: Building Branded Sales through Retail Chains (September 2011)

Kick-off Speaker: Brad Sterl, founder and CEO of Rustic Crust (Pittsfield, NH). Brad’s Rustic Crust brand par-baked pizza crusts are now available in 5,900 retail locations. His American Flatbread brand frozen pizzas are available in 2,700 retail locations. He also has significant private label business.

Discussion Questions:

  • Pros and cons of branded vs. private label. Can I do both?
  • Slotting, coupons, manufacturer charge-backs, sampling, consumer events, and advertising pros and cons. How much should I spend? Any keys to tracking all this spending?
  • Gross margin targets
  • Managing brokers
  • Expanding beyond the first region or type of retailer
  • Identifying the influential retailers for my product
  • Trading horror stories.

Selling Your Company (June 2011)

Our kick-off speaker was Salvatore Lanuto:

Sal joined JJWild, a small manufacturing rep firm with revenues of under $1M, in 1991. He became President in 1996 and CEO in 2000. Upon joining the company he directed major strategy shift to leverage its long standing relationship with Meditech Information Technology, one of the top Hospital Information Systems in the country. Refocusing the company on healthcare IT integration, the company became Meditech’s largest integrator, growing top line revenue to over $90M at the time of its acquisition by Perot Systems in 2007. Perot has since been acquired by DELL. Just one year before, he orchestrated a company recapitalization, partnering with private equity firm Advent International, and GE Capital. Prior to joining JJWild, Sal was Vice President of Marketing for Esprit Systems Inc., a leading manufacturer, seller, and distributor of computer terminals. Sal also worked at Hazeltine Corporation, a defense contractor and developer of high tech systems for the government. Sal earned his B.S. from Columbia University.

Sal has recently come out of retirement to direct start up company Service Heartbeat. Heartbeat provides software that enhances the use of mobile technology to improve communications among healthcare providers in order to drive better healthcare delivery.

Discussion topics:

  • Systematically find buyers
  • How to get the best deal
  • Managing stress and risk of a transaction
  • Life after the sale
  • Pros and cons of building a business with the explicit, constant goal of selling it
  • How far ahead should you plan a sale?
  • What makes an owner ready, personally, to sell?
  • What makes a business ready to sell?
  • Should you try to predict who will buy and why?
  • How can you deal with an offer you didn’t seek, or expect?


Running Your Project-Oriented Business (March / April 2011)

  • How important is career path to people I recruit and retain? Should I think about it more?
  • How can we get delivery people to care about the quality of delivery, client satisfaction, profitability and the follow-on sale?
  • What makes for a good hand-off from sales to delivery, and a good kick-off of work?
  • How can I create a 40-, 50-, 60- or 70-hour “culture”, how do I select among these, and what do I do about people who work a lot more or fewer hours?
  • How do project managers learn to be “revenue-aware”?
  • Should I think of intellectual property as an important asset, or a sideshow?
  • What are the keys to identifying follow-on work and selling it?

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View Comparison Chart: How Johnston Company Events Stack Up to Others in the Industry

Here are a dozen quotes and highlights from participants of a Johnston Co. CEO gathering:

  1. “Clients seldom know their own costs to do something, yet they “know” what I’m charging is expensive. We try to help them see the reality, including the cost of delay.”
  2. “50% of our revenue is from repeat customers. Do a good job, call them a couple of times, they buy again.”
  3. “It’s a fine line between great clients who need help and know it, and lousy clients who are clueless. With clueless clients we have to be very clear about who is going to do what.”
  4. “We use 20-page proposals, with price on the first page instead of the last. We give a low, medium, and high price, and explain the implications.”
  5. “Glengarry Glen Ross is the ultimate sales movie-true to life and painful to watch.”
  6. “Some channels and partners screen the work so as to send you the good stuff-others reliably send you the junk.”
  7. “We started using Hubspot for search engine optimization and had immediate results.”
  8. “Our best partner cut off the flow of leads when they perceived us as competing with them. We scrambled and got them back.”
  9. “The experience we give the client is as important as the quality of our deliverable.”
  10. “We do fixed price if we really know what we’re doing. Otherwise, we do time & materials.”
  11. One CEO: “Our best relationships are time and materials.” Another CEO: “Our best relationships are fixed price.”
  12. “It’s a good thing that it’s so hard to estimate right, stay in scope, match the right people to the work, develop re-usable solutions, and finish on time. If these things were easy, my clients wouldn’t need me.”

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