IAM1637 – CEO Builds a Community of Business Advisors and CEO’s

Podcast Interview with Mark Haas

Why it was selected for “CBNation Architects”: Mark spoke about complexity and how he created an “ecosystem” to solve the problems of CEOs in their community. It was also to listen to the foundational principles, values, and ethics in the organizations he's been able to grow.

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Previous Episode:


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Mark Haas 00:00

And, I think if you're gonna set the culture, set the tone for the culture of an organization, you have to have some grounding in a philosophy or a vision or whatever. I mean, the company has a vision. Well, what's your vision? And is it aligned? I know a lot of clients I've had had their idea about where they want to go personally is different from the company, and you guys either ought to have gotten on the same page or part ways or something.

Intro 00:26

Do you want to learn effective ways to build relationships, generate sales, and grow your business from successful entrepreneurs, startups, and CEOs without listening to a long, long, long interview? If so, you come to the right place. Gresham Harkless values your time and is ready to share with you precisely the information you're in search of. This is the I am CEO podcast.

Gresham Harkless 00:52

Hello, hello, hello. This is Gresh from the I am CEO podcast and we're doing something a little bit different. This year with some of our episodes we're repurposing some of our favorite episodes around specific topics related to entrepreneurship. This month we're focusing on entrepreneurship and community.

Us. We, our together, and we're gonna look at entrepreneurship and industries in different types of entrepreneurship, and ultimately what that really means.

But we're also gonna delve deeper into the importance of community networking niche communities and how that supports being a CEO, entrepreneur, and business owner.

So sit back. And enjoy these special episodes around entrepreneurship and community.

Hello, hello, hello, this is Gresh from the I am CEO podcast. I have a very special guest on the show today. I have Mark Haas of AEG. Mark, super excited to have you on the show.

Mark Haas 01:38

Great. Thanks to be here, Gresh. Looking forward to it.

Gresham Harkless 01:41

Yes, I'm looking forward to it as well too. You're doing so many awesome things and what I wanted to do before we jumped into the interview was read a little bit more about Mark so you can hear about some of those awesome things. And Mark is co-founder and CEO of AEG the Association for Enterprise Growth.

He's responsible for leading the expansion of AEG's national ecosystem of city-based communities of elite business advisors and successful mid-market CEOs. Formerly as a management consultant, he advised executives and boards in strategy and operations, including biomedical research, social services, technology, education, and professional services.

He's facilitated high visibility sessions such as World War for military strategy response to nuclear terrorism, national health security training, and STEM education. CEO roundtables are, and it is an international trainer with clients in Europe, Asia, and Africa, and is an ethics officer as well. Mark, you're doing so many awesome things, excited to have you here today.

Are you ready to speak to the I am CEO community?

Mark Haas 02:39

I am certainly doing that.

[restrict paid=”true”]

Gresham Harkless 02:41

Awesome. Well, let's get it started then. So to kind of kick everything off, I wanted to rewind the clock a little bit, and hear a little bit more on how you got started, what I call your CEO story.

Mark Haas 02:49

So as you said, I've been a management consultant, for 40 years and looked at a lot of different organizations, and one of the trends that I've seen, which is sort of unstoppable but unseen, is the growth of complexity.

I think IBM did a survey and 83% of CEOs said that complexity is by far their biggest challenge. And so I recognize that when we get into complex situations, we tend to hunker down into specialties. And that's what's happened to professional services providers. So there used to be a lawyer and now there are dozens of different kinds of lawyers, each having their own lane.

And so I said that if you're solving a complex problem, you can't just take, little pieces of it. You need to have a more integrated solution. So that's really what, AEG is and it's designed to create an ecosystem of business advisors and CEOs who can work together to solve problems. And I get to use the term ecosystem because I'm also recovering biologist.

And, and I know what an ecosystem is, and it's not a network and everybody's using the term ecosystem. It's a very distinct kind of thing. So that's what AEG is. And so my partner John Yetman, a co-founder, was a wealth manager. He takes care of money. I build businesses. So it was a natural partnership to see if we could help CEOs through that transition whether they needed help with technology, or finance, or law, or benefits, or HR, or whatever, through their business and personal journey.

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I can tell you more about the structure of AEG, if that's important to you.

Gresham Harkless 04:22

Yeah, that would be extremely important to kind of drill down and hear more about that structure, because usually, we have to work to get to simple because so many things are complex. So I love that you guys are working on that.

Mark Haas 04:31

The parallel quote is about simplicity, but on the other side of complexity, figure out what the whole system is and then simplify it as much as possible. Don't just go to the simple easy answer off the bat.

Gresham Harkless 04:43

Right. Absolutely. So, yeah, I would love to hear more about the structure, how you work, and how you're structured in serving your clients.

Mark Haas 04:51 Yeah, so it's a membership organization. We started as more of a lifestyle business between the two of us. And suddenly there was so much demand and interest, not only from other colleagues we had but also from people in other cities. Actually, we had five people in five countries say we'd love to have something similar here.

So we turned it into a going concern. Now we're growing and raising capital. We expanded to Baltimore now we're expanding to Tampa. We're probably gonna be in about 20 cities in a couple. So the idea, there are two communities, that's really what we do is build these trust communities.

Because the ability to get a job done means who do I reach out to? Can I trust them? Can they connect me to other people? So it's a community of elite business advisors and complementary disciplines. We have about 80 different disciplines- tax, lawyers, governance, cyber, etc. And we put those two people together. They really get to know each other incredibly well.

Lots of work on values, ethics, community collegiality, and getting to know each other personally and professionally. So it's not like I got a business card from somebody that I've seen three times in three years. We really accelerate the development of that trust you both top of mind. And if I'm gonna refer you to one of my clients, I better trust you and know you really, really well.

I'm not giving up that relationship. That's the verse community. The second one is successful mid-market CEOs of 20 million and more companies. So there are networking groups out there. They're all good in their own way. So it's not like it's a new concept, but we do it a little differently.

So we're both integrating all those different disciplines within a group. It's not category exclusive. But, and it's not just about referrals, it's about community and relationships and to connect the business community with the advisor community, cause they both need those and we'll knit those together across the country.

So if I need an M&A attorney in entertainment, I'm not gonna find them here, but our LA chapter has it, so we'll make that connection. So that's the people love it.

Gresham Harkless 06:55

Absolutely. So I wanted to ask you for what I call your secret sauce. So you might have already touched on this, but this could be for yourself.

The business is a combination of both, but what do you feel kind of sets you apart and makes you unique?

Mark Haas 07:04

Yeah. So the secret sauce is the diversity of people both ethnically, gender, age, discipline, industry, et cetera, but also psychographic. We're looking for people who just have a different view of the world so that we don't get into any silos.

So we have two things. One is like I said, I'm an ethics officer, so that's really important that we create that trust and view that trust in all of our members. The second is we have four values that we use to make decisions. Internally to bring on members, we expect our members to behave in that way.

And those are, and the sequence is important; Give first, we're looking for people who are not just transactional, they're givers. They wanna support their community, they wanna support each other, and they're willing to put in the time and effort to create a better community.

The second is, to do great work. So are you recognized by your peers for doing good work? Are you leading your professional association? Are you an author, a podcaster or whatever.

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The third is, to live passionately. Do you believe that what you do is important and not saying, ah, I hate this job, I just, I just wanna get over with, I wanna retire. If you believe that what you do makes a difference in people's lives, their businesses, their assets, their growth their well-being, that's important.

And the last one, which not everybody passes is to have fun. So it's Give first, do great work, live passionately, and have fun. We found those that really create a community, and we can take every one of our members and say they passed the test on all of this.

Gresham Harkless 08:39

Nice. I absolutely love that. And I wanted to switch gears a little bit and I wanted to ask you for what I call a CEO hack. So this could be like an app, a book, or a habit that you have, but what's something that makes you more effective and efficient?

Mark Haas 08:52

So I read a lot. And as all of us know who read business books, there are 250 pages in this book and only 10 of which are really useful.

I just don't know which 10 they are so it's just read a lot. I use Blinkist, which is not an advertisement, but it's a good way of summarizing, say, you know what? This book isn't really exactly what I'm looking for, I can find out in five or 10 minutes and then I'll go read it otherwise.

The second thing is to read the books that you read before because they're different books now. The books I read as a management consultant gave me one set of perspectives. You know, what I have now is entirely different. I say that I've advised CEOs for 40 years. And so tongue in cheek, I was offended when they did list with listen, with wrapped attention to my every word and implemented everything, I suggested right away.

And now that I'm a CEO, I'm thinking, oh, this is a hard job. Everybody's got an opinion and your job is to sort it out. So having perspective and that's from reading, and that could be fiction or nonfiction. Don't, don't spend your time just looking at business books. Get as much perspective as you can and ask others for recommendations of what they value.

Gresham Harkless 10:05

Awesome. Awesome. So I want to ask you now for what I call a CEO Nugget. So it's a little bit more word of wisdom or a piece of advice. I usually say it might be something you would tell your favorite client, or if you hopped into a time machine, you might tell your younger business self.

Mark Haas 10:18

Yeah, I would say again, I'm big on values and ethics, and I would say if you don't already have them spend some time setting aside. What are your personal valid values?

Yeah. Mine happened to be; service, courage, loyalty, and respect. And they're in the order for a particular reason. Sometimes those conflict with each other and to kind of make your decisions based on those all the time. Get them earlier rather than later. Cause as the CEOs, it's just wave after wave, after wave of stuff.

You can delegate so much away, but a lot of it stays in your head when you have to make a tough decision. There's gotta be some touchstone that you can rely on and not whoever has the loudest voice or the most testosterone.

Gresham Harkless 11:04

Yeah, that makes so much sense. It ends up being a lot of times like could filter and you might have been alluding to this, but do you feel like that's something that so many times you can kind of jump into the business, jump into the position or whatever it might be and tackle all the problems and those things like that.

Do you feel like that's maybe one of the exercises or things that you should get clarity on in the very beginning because that creates a foundation for yourself as well as the organization?

Mark Haas 11:28

Yeah. And, I think if you're gonna set the culture, set the tone for the culture of an organization, you have to have some grounding in a philosophy or a vision or whatever. I mean the company has a vision. Well, what's your vision? And is it aligned? Cause, I know a lot of clients I've had had their idea about where they want to go personally which is different from the company and you guys either ought to get on the same page or part ways or something because you can't be an effective leader unless you share and have that vision in all your customers as well as your employees.

Gresham Harkless 12:00

Yeah, absolutely. That makes, makes so much sense. So, I truly appreciate you sharing that. And, now I wanted to ask you my absolute favorite question, which is the definition, of what it means to be a CEO. We're hoping now different quote-unquote CEOs on the show, and I know you have loads and loads of knowledge and obviously experience as well too.

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So, Mark, what does being a CEO mean to you?

Mark Haas 12:18

Big responsibility. You know, people think, oh, CEO I finally arrived. I can get a nice office and a nice chair. That's not it. I mean, I see being a CEO is- you're a steward of the organization and you have a responsibility, in effect, you work for everybody else. They don't work for you.

So, that means you have to be, to encourage and enthused and manage people and find the resources to fill that vision that you have for the organization. You know, so two of my values are service and loyalty. So the CEO role is one I think I can really thrive in.

I mean, the CEO stands for Chief Executive Officer. It's usually defined as a person with the authority or responsibility to execute and enforce things. Sounds like kings or emperors, but that's really not how organizations should work. You know, the CEO is a leader and his or her job is to get people to follow them.

You know, not just what's inside and outside the organization. And I think things like Simon, their take on leading organizations, they have a purpose. Why do we exist? And so that alignment between your personal goals and values and the organizations, have to be visible.

They have to be promoted and they have to be Incentivized, I guess, you know, that's really the longevity and the ultimate contribution of your company to the community is what's gonna come from that alignment.

Gresham Harkless 13:38

Yeah, absolutely. To whom much who is given much is expected it as well too. So you get to have you know, that opportunity.

Mark Haas 13:45

Either Voltaire or Spider-Man, whoever you want.

Gresham Harkless 13:48

Exactly. Wherever you follow. But either way, the message lands, right. So Mark, truly appreciate that definition. Of course. I appreciate your time. Even more so what I was to do now is pass you the mic, so to speak, just to see if there's anything additional that you can let our readers and listeners know, and of course how best people can get ahold of you.

Find out about all the awesome things you and your team are working on.

Mark Haas 14:07

Well, just a couple of things. One is I think the idea of AEG is a good one. I think it's a sort of wax philosophical. I think it's a way professional services can be transformed. It's very much the way healthcare has been used to be a fee for service and realize there's a lot of collateral damage going to the wrong doctor or being delayed.

And I think the same thing is true if we can provide a more integrated perspective and service on professional service providers and try to get ourselves out of the silo. And we're being complexity pushes in those into silos, and we have disciplines and certifications and licenses and so forth. To the extent we can move out of that and work together and better understand each other.

That'd be great. I don't think we can wait for artificial intelligence to solve this problem we have to do it ourselves. So I would say from the CEO's standpoint, cultivating different perspectives, certainly diversity of opinion, diversity of experience, diversity of history is really important. So the CEO themselves, seek out a peer group.

I know it's time, I know it's money, but spend the time. I think you'll get some insights that'll make you a better leader and a better person. Yeah. They just email me at

Gresham Harkless 15:19

Awesome. Awesome, awesome. And to make it even easier, we'll have the links and information again in the show notes so that everybody can follow up with you and, and find out about all those awesome things. Of course, appreciate your time today.

Mark Haas 15:28

Great. Thanks very much, Gresham.

Outro 15:30

Thank you for listening to the I am CEO podcast powered by CB Nation and Blue 16 media. Tune in next time and visit us at I am CEO is not just a phrase, it's a community. Check out the latest and greatest apps, books, and habits to level up your business at

This has been the I am CEO podcast with Gresham Harkless, Jr. Thank you for listening.


Dave Bonachita - CBNation Writer

This is a post from a CBNation team member. CBNation is a Business to Business (B2B) Brand. We are focused on increasing the success rate. We create content and information focusing on increasing the visibility of and providing resources for CEOs, entrepreneurs and business owners. CBNation consists of blogs(, podcasts, ( and videos ( CBNation is proudly powered by Blue16 Media.

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