Lessons Learned From a Year of Leading a Professional M&A Networking Group Through the Pandemic
By Elise Thorpe
Principal, Vice President Lovitt & Touché
President, Association for Corporate Growth, Arizona
When I started my term as president of Association for Corporate Growth, Arizona Chapter, last year, I eagerly anticipated my role in planning regular events where members of the local deal-making and M&A community came to network and learn from some of the top business leaders throughout greater Phoenix.
Then the pandemic hit — and like every other business, organization and trade group, my role and focus completely shifted. ACG-Arizona scrambled to go from in-person to on-screen as we navigated unprecedented chaos to remain relevant and provide value to our members. I performed a similar about-face at Lovitt & Touché, pivoting to ensure I continued to meet existing and pandemic-created needs of my clients, as well as the goals of my business development position.
As we make our way into a new year, I wanted to reflect on the lessons learned from navigating the pandemic, not only as ACG-Arizona president but as a vice president and principal with Lovitt & Touché. I am hopeful that these lessons will offer guidance for professionals and business leaders as the pandemic continues and so much in the world remains uncertain.
In a year that required us to socially distance ourselves from others, we were reminded of the critical importance of relationships — not only to our social well-being and sanity, but also to maintaining business and professional success. The stronger your relationship with your friends and coworkers as well as vendors and clients, the more understanding they likely were this past year and will remain so during future challenges. ACG-Arizona’s strong relationships with our sponsors, vendors and partners allowed us to make rapid changes to how we did things. Without those solid relationships in place, it’s doubtful our group would have continued to thrive as we did.
I also found strong relationships to be key in my role with Lovitt & Touché during this past year. The time and dedication I put into maintaining relationships with my clients who depended on me and my team for guidance and support paid big dividends. Our mutual respect and trust grew, strengthening our partnership and allowing my clients to focus on their business during the most challenging and uncertain days.
Flexibility is Key
Stay flexible might as well have been the unofficial mantra of 2020; the sudden onset of the pandemic forced everyone to change, pivot and reorient how they live and work. For many businesses, confronting the pandemic meant get flexible or die. For an organization like ACG-Arizona, whose bread-and-butter focus is on in-person, face-to-face gatherings, flexibility became a way of life. Although we successfully pivoted to virtual events, we constantly evaluated whether we ought to plot a return to in-person events at some point, maintain our new virtual offerings or institute a hybrid model.
Aside from forcing organizations to evaluate potential possibilities, remaining flexible also invites and leads to creative solutions that might not otherwise come up. For example, at ACG-Arizona, we created pods where we grouped together members with different professional backgrounds into virtual breakout groups to encourage networking and discussion that proved too challenging in a larger Zoom call. We also launched a new series called M&A 101 to educate newer members and young dealmakers about the industry. Our virtual Women Empowering Women series was launched with Arizona partnering with the LA and DFW Chapters of ACG which otherwise would not have been possible due to physical distance.
At Lovitt & Touché, we implemented new ways to entertain and stay in front of our current and prospective clients since our traditional event opportunities were eliminated (i.e., Phoenix Suns games, shows at ASU Gammage, Phoenix Ballet performances, etc.). We quickly shifted to virtual gatherings such as craft beer and wine tastings, cooking classes, putting lessons and creative flower designs. We were able to engage socially with our guests, strengthen our relationships and provide a much-welcomed avenue for them out of social isolation.
Power of a Positive Attitude
At the onset of the pandemic, with so many changes being forced on us so suddenly, it felt as though we were at the whim of events beyond our control. Add in the extended social isolation and time spent inside, and those feelings of helplessness certainly proved overwhelming to many. But while navigating the pandemic hasn’t been easy, the challenges of the past year have reinforced the importance of maintaining a positive attitude.
We all know constantly focusing on the negative isn’t helpful and can leave us feeling down and helpless while leading to disengagement. We all have likely fallen prey to dwelling on the negative multiple times in the past year. But by maintaining a positive attitude and finding gems of gratefulness each day, we can short-circuit those debilitating effects of dwelling on the bad and empower ourselves to keep moving forward to find success and contentment even in some of the most trying circumstances. I have seen this approach work wonders in both of my roles with ACG-Arizona and Lovitt & Touché. It starts with focusing on what we can control - our attitude, our daily behaviors, how we communicate with our peers and clients and how we show up every day!
Hopeful For What’s Next
Even with the built-in hopefulness that comes with a new year, it remains a tough time to be a leader. COVID-19 cases continue to climb across the country and vaccine rollout takes time. Despite these ongoing challenges, I am hopeful and confident that by doing our best to maintain strong relationships, remain flexible and keep a positive attitude, we all will be positioned to overcome the challenges and thrive regardless of what comes next.