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Tuesday, May 30, 2023

Business Groups Look for Next Generation’s Leaders

When Tony Safoian joined the Universal City/North Hollywood Chamber of Commerce, he didn’t have a full understanding of what the organization did. Sure, he knew about the chamber’s usefulness when it came to marketing his company, SADA Systems, an information technology firm in North Hollywood. What he didn’t know was how the chamber serves to better the community and facilitate economic development. “There’s a way to really influence what happens in this local community in terms of policy, in terms of development, new businesses and distribution of wealth,” said Safoian, 27, and the company’s president CEO. Today, Safoian is president of the chamber’s board, a role he uses to generate interest in other young business people to get involved in the organization. It’s one example of a growing number of networking and business groups in the San Fernando Valley area looking to help young business professionals make connections and learn leadership skills necessary to come into their own. Could there be more of these business groups for young people? Sure, said those who fall in the under 40-age group. Part of the problem is that the leadership in the established organizations doesn’t know how to connect with young people, Safoian said. That’s vital because young people are the future leaders of those groups. It’s in their best interest to reach out to the younger generations, said John Bwarie, president of the San Fernando Valley chapter of the Jaycees. He said a key example of the old guard reaching out to bring new fresh business-related perspectives is the naming of 36-year-old Brendan Huffman as the executive director of the Valley Industrial & Commerce Association, Bwarie said. “Having Brendan on board at VICA is an example of young business people coming in to their own and we don’t have to see the same people who have been here for 30 years in charge,” Bwarie said. Providing the Valley’s leaders of tomorrow was one reason why the Jaycees chapter was formed six months ago, he said. The chapter so far has attracted 34 members and joins chapters in Burbank, Universal City/North Hollywood and the Santa Clarita Valley in serving the region. The San Fernando Valley chapter helps its members in leadership development, networking and community development through projects and programs. In January, the chapter hosts Involvement 2007, an expo at which nonprofits recruit volunteers and board members. Organizations help business skills Active Jaycees members, however, cannot be more 40 years old. The Los Angeles chapter of the Young Presidents Organization also imposes an age limit of 44 years old, as well as limiting its membership to heads of companies with at least 50 employees and revenues of $15 million or more. Belonging to the organization can be time-consuming but has been a great asset in running a business, said Jeffrey Evans, a principal at Equis Financial Staffing in Calabasas. Membership in the YPO provides contact with business people from a broad range of industries who share their personal experiences in facing challenges in running a business. “There is no situation in business that you are going through that someone hasn’t actually been through successfully or unsuccessfully,” Evans said. Another organization not as limited is the Professional Network Group, which has a chapter in the Valley as well as chapters focusing on specific industries. The membership is made up of service professionals such as attorneys, consultants and accountants. But joining the PNG is not for the business person looking for a quick pipeline to more contacts and clients, said David Ackert, a member and head of The Ackert Advisory, based in Encino. The PNG’s culture is different from other networking groups in that it is more about what a member can give rather than what they take away from a meeting. Generally, the first year of a new member is spent showing they have something to offer, Ackert said. “What I say about networking groups in general is you are signing up for a bunch of new relationships,” Ackert said. “Like any relationship it takes time before the relationship bears fruit. You have to build trust; you have to find who you like in the group.” Chambers of Commerce are a good place for a young business person to start their working and if they don’t do the trick there is always the Jaycees or the PNG, Ackert said. Another option is a business person starting up their own networking group. Ackert has created four groups himself and currently runs two. Getting a new networking group off the group is part of the business development program offered by The Ackert Advisory. The key to a successful networking group is to make it niche-focused and less a general business group, Ackert quipped. “Some of them will grow and some of them will fizzle,” Ackert said. “You’re always better off taking the initiative rather than signing up for somebody else’s program.”

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