Entrepreneurs Become Foxhole Buddies

December 30th, 2009

Topics: SOLitude News

Kevin_R_TuckerWhat started as a side business for Kevin Tucker quickly grew into the classic American Dream come true.

“When I first started my own business, I was every department and did all the work,” said Tucker, of Virginia Beach. “I ran my business out of my garage.”

Tucker is the founder and president of Virginia Lake Management, which he started in 1998. The company provides lake and storm water pond management services including water treatment, fountains and aeration systems, water quality testing and fisheries management.

Eventually, Tucker was able to quit his day job and commit his full time and effort to his new company. Today, he employees 13 full-time staff members, has three offices, ships merchandise across the country and services six states.

“I always believed I would be successful,” Tucker said. “I see more and more potential for new work and improvement every day.”

Looking to expand his knowledge and find support from people going through the same situations with business and in life, Tucker joined the Entrepreneurs’ Organization. The global network has more than 7,000 members in 38 countries who all own their own businesses.

EO was founded in 1987 and the Hampton Roads chapter has been around since 2000. Membership is by invitation only but interested parties can still contact the local group to find out about joining.

“It’s an incredible opportunity to be around people who are like-minded,” said Tucker, 36. “It’s being part of a group of people who you know have your professional back.”

EO’s focus is self-explanatory. It’s for entrepreneurs only and membership requirements include being the founder, co-founder, owner or controlling shareholder of a company. The company must gross a minimum of $1 million annually and the founder or owner must be less than 50 years old.

“Being part of this group has exceeded my expectations,” said Tucker, who joined EO Hampton Roads almost four years ago. “It has made me a better person and my business has benefited from it as well.”

Tucker has found help and advice in everything from creating a business marketing plan to where to find the best hotel for a vacation.

“No matter what our job is or what we do, we all have one thing in common and that’s running our own business,” Tucker said. “There is a wealth of knowledge that comes from many different areas and this is the perfect place to step back and take a fresh look at your own work.”

There are annual membership dues of $1,300. New members have a first-time joining fee of an additional $600. On top of that, EO Hampton Roads annual dues are $1,050 with a one-time new member chapter animation fee of $250.

Even in a weakened economy, the steep fees have not resulted in departures from the group.

“Our membership has not grown a lot but it hasn’t dropped either,” Tucker said. “I think in bad times this organization provides value that would be hard to replace if a member dropped out.”

For Jim Weigl, president of Virginia Toy and Novelty Co., EO Hampton Roads has helped him tap into new ideas. He started his company in his living room in 1999 and today has nine full-time employees, and ships merchandise across the U.S.

“This is a unique peer group where you can utilize and learn from other people’s experiences and business expertise,” he said. “It’s a group of experts ready to help meet your needs at any time.”

Weigl, who is president-elect and will take his position in July for the 2010 EO Hampton Roads fiscal year, has found help through the group with writing an employee handbook, legal advice, and how to manage and best fund large orders. Weigl has been a member of the local chapter for three years.

“The relationships that are formed here are life-changing,” he said. “It not only helps professionally, but personally. These people are also some of my best friends.”

Since the overall organization is global, events are held around the world each year. In addition, 113 chapters meet individually. Chapter meetings give members the opportunity to connect with other local EO members while benefiting from the knowledge of guest speakers who discuss a variety of business topics.

“These chapter meetings are a great chance to meet people you would otherwise not have a chance to talk with,” Tucker said. “You get the benefit of their expertise sitting in a small group and talking with friends.”

Beyond the chapter meetings, forums are held to get down to the real issues. The forums are geared toward talking about the triumphs and tragedies of life as an entrepreneur. Moderator-trained EO members guide the sessions, which emphasize confidentiality, personal responsibility and the sharing of lessons learned, according to the EO Web site.

“We relate the good and the bad,” Weigl said. “Then we sort things out and all leave better people and have the ability to run a more effective business.”

Typically forums meet about once a month and the same group of people is in the forum each time. Forums can be as simple as a lunch date or a fishing trip, depending on what the group decides. “Keeping the same group builds trust and understanding with each other,” Tucker said. “We get serious and we get personal. We are truly there to help each other.”

The Hampton Roads chapter has 53 members and six forums and a seventh is in the works.

“Everything EO does is top-notch,” said Martin A. Joseph, president of TOMAR Computer Integrations Inc. “The events are amazing and the meetings are packed with valuated information.”

Locally, the chapter has held meetings at the Norfolk Yacht Club and Town Point Club. Owners of Landmark Media Enterprises LCC, DollarTree, the president of Stihl and the owner of the Tides baseball team were just some of the keynote speakers.

“Everything is confidential and we strive to help each other succeed,” said Joseph, who is a past-president of EO Hampton Roads. “It’s a great place to share ideas and make sure you’re on the right track.

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