Virginia Business Leaders Learn How to Grow Their Companies at Economic Resilience Conference

By Laura Hennessey Martens and Jay Hodgkins

How can businesses manage growth and remain resilient over the long haul, so they can sidestep the failures that plague so many post startup companies?

That was the big question company leaders from across the Commonwealth of Virginia came to explore at the 2016 Business and Economic Resilience Conference, hosted by the University of Virginia Darden School of Business Institute for Business in Society in partnership with the Batten Institute for Entrepreneurship and Innovation and Center for Global Initiatives.

“Our company is currently in a growth phase, with the many challenges that this brings to a small business,” said Brian Morse, certified wildlife biologist and co-founder of Virginia Forestry and Wildlife Group, a natural resource consulting firm that provides professional wildlife and forest management services to landowners throughout Virginia. “Having such phenomenal resources like Darden and its Institute for Business in Society opening their doors to folks like me and offering this type of workshop is truly valuable.”

The full-day conference was designed to help small and medium-size Virginia companies explore three critical aspects of business — growth, leadership and resilience — through a variety of interactive sessions. The day included a panel discussion, business resources fair, hands-on workshop, networking opportunities and a keynote address by author and businessman John Bassett III.

Following welcoming remarks by Darden Professor Gregory Fairchild, Bassett delivered an engaging keynote aimed at helping business owners survive, thrive and keep jobs in their communities — bolstered by plenty of his Southwest Virginia humor and charm.

Made famous by the book Factory Man , which details Bassett’s crusade to save his company against an onslaught of inexpensive Chinese imports that nearly wiped out the American furniture manufacturing industry in the 1990s and early 2000s, the Vaughan-Bassett Furniture Co. chairman shared lessons from his own book — Making It in America: A 12-Point Plan for Growing YourBusiness and Keeping Jobs at Home .

Weaving in and out of his favorite stories and one-liners, Bassett distilled the 12 points from his book down to what he called the “five real rules” for building a resilient business in America that can succeed against the competitor down the street or the one overseas.

Darden Professor Ed Hess, an expert on business growth, offered a customized, hands-on workshop that addressed specific challenges of the company leaders in attendance. While interacting with the participants, Hess shared four fundamentals of smart business growth based on his extensive research in this area.

“The work of Ed Hess was exactly the kind of information that I was looking for,” said James Strozier, CEO of Highground Services Inc., an engineering corporation that specializes in process control, system automation and instrumentation projects in industrial and municipal markets.

“A common thread that connected both Mr. Bassett’s keynote talk with Professor Hess’ workshop was the value that businesses need to place in developing highly engaged employees,” said Morse.

“Both John Bassett and Ed Hess addressed the issue of people in much of what they spoke about,” said David Durovy, director of the Post Institute, a web-based publishing company offering educational training to individuals who care for adopted, foster and diagnosed children. “I know that generally we regard people as an important part of the business process, but the message was loud and clear to me: People are not only an important part, they are the business and can make it or break it.”

During the program, business leaders also had the opportunity to engage one-on-one with industry experts from the fields of marketing, human resources, accounting, finance, economic development, international trade, technology and innovation during a resources fair, which followed a panel discussion with the speakers. Networking opportunities were also woven throughout the day during lunch and a day-end reception.

“It was great to network with others at the conference,” said Strozier. “In addition to the presentations, I made a couple of really good connections.”

In addition to sharing and learning from each other, participants networked with industry experts and Darden’s top-rated faculty.

“This conference was a fantastic opportunity for local businesses,” said Dr. Eva King, director of scientific services for Indoor Biotechnologies, a Virginia-based company that provides products and services for indoor air quality and environmental allergen detection. “It provided cutting-edge, practical, relevant content presented in an open and welcoming format.”

The Business and Economic Resilience Conference is an annual seminar that arose from the Tayloe Murphy Resilience Awards, a previous program that honored resilient companies from across Virginia. More information about the conference is available on Darden’s Institute for Business in Society website.

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About the University of Virginia Darden School of Business

The University of Virginia Darden School of Business delivers the world’s best business education experience to prepare entrepreneurial, global and responsible leaders through its MBA, Ph.D., MSBA and Executive Education programs. Darden’s top-ranked faculty is renowned for teaching excellence and advances practical business knowledge through research. Darden was established in 1955 at the University of Virginia, a top public university founded by Thomas Jefferson in 1819 in Charlottesville, Virginia.


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