Member Success Story

With the help of his Vistage group,

Curt grew his fair trade business and raised record donations to protect endangered species.

Meet Curt Vander Meer

Employees: 11-50
Region: Indianapolis
Industry: Confectionary

Success with Vistage

  • Achieved consistent double-digit growth rates
  • Increased donations to conservation nonprofits
  • Improved work-life balance

“A Vistage group understands and appreciate the journey that you’re on and look to help you accomplish what your outcome statement is, not what they think your business should be doing.”

– Curt Vander Meer, CEO and majority owner, Endangered Species Chocolate

Before Vistage
In 2014, Curt Vander Meer became the majority owner of a business for the first time. Endangered Species Chocolate was already successful before he took the reins, growing by double-digits each year since 2010 and holding the No. 1 spot in its marketplace. “That can sound like everything was rosy,” Vander Meer says, “but we had the same challenges every other company has.”

Those challenges, along with his new responsibility to employees and customers, weighed on Vander Meer’s mind every day. Vander Meer recognized he needed keep learning in an ever-changing business world, so he joined a Vistage group in 2015.

“I wanted to be in a community of other business leaders who are sharing experiences and learning from one another,” Vander Meer says.

With Vistage
Vander Meer identified four areas of focus going into his Vistage group: people, strategy, execution and cash. He learned a lot about these areas from his Chair Peter Fuller, who guides the group, expert speakers at monthly meetings, and from exchanging strategies with other group members who’ve addressed similar obstacles.

But there’s one thing Vander Meer didn’t expect to learn: How planning can help business and life fit together. New business owners, especially successful ones, tend to fall victim to the “tyranny of the immediate,” ignoring long-term goals for immediate gains, Fuller says. He coached Vander Meer and others in the group to plan their lives —personal and business — to avoid this trap.

“Curt didn’t initially get why I was so insistent on understanding how many vacation days he wanted to take,” Fuller says. “That was irrelevant to him until he realized that to make family time happen, he would have to make significant changes to his own leadership style.”

Now, Vander Meer says he writes goals that blend the concerns of work and life, such as how he wants to work in his local community and the number of vacation days he wants to take. “It’s written as if in 2019, I will be doing these things,” he says. “Then, we work backward to ensure that we’re taking the proper steps to get us there so we’re not just wishing.”

“Peter is taking us on a journey,” Vander Meer says. “We’re working on a three-year business plan that keeps the end in mind. It doesn’t just address what we want from business, but what we want in our lives.”

Since joining Vistage in 2015, Endangered Species Chocolate’s double-digit growth has continued. The company has also been able to increase its donations to conservation nonprofits, donating $1.4 million over the past three years.

Owning a business is a journey, Vander Meer says, one taken many times before by people in his own community. In his Vistage group, those who have been on the journey give each other unbiased, unfiltered input.

“They understand and appreciate the journey that you’re on and look to help you accomplish what your outcome statement is, not what they think your business should be doing,” Vander Meer says. “They’re looking at your data and asking, ‘How can I help you? How can I help you reach this desired outcome?’”

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