It really is lonely at the top. While clichéd, the axiom has only become truer since the pandemic’s onset as colleagues and C-suite peers retreated to their homes and became more geographically dispersed.
It’s hard for executives to find trusted confidants when facing challenges or looking to build relationships and brainstorm with like-minded people. But executive peer groups offer a solution. These organizations provide leaders with access to small, confidential peer networks that can play a crucial role in an executive’s professional success.
Such groups are particularly useful for executives who need to radically change their leadership approach, says Dennis Baltzley, senior partner and global head of leadership development solutions at management consulting company Korn Ferry. “There is no presentation that’s suddenly going to change how you think. You [have] to get with people who challenge you and give you different perspectives.”
Dozens of these executive networks exist, from the older and more prestigious groups like the Young Presidents’ Organization or Vistage to newer groups focusing on specific functions such as SHRM’s executive network for HR leaders.
While the opportunity to foster new relationships and strengthen existing ones is invaluable to members, the greatest benefit these groups offer are peer advisory forums where members can candidly discuss ideas, strategies, and challenges, Baltzley says. But access comes at a price: Most cost thousands of dollars to join.
Before completing an application, executives should consider what they want from the membership. Are you joining to network or to gain knowledge?
“It shouldn’t just be [because] my boss said I needed to get more external exposure. That’s not enough. That’s not an outcome,” says Baltzley.
Executives should also consider the relationships they want to build through these groups and recognize that members are there to reciprocate support. “These relationships are mutual, and you have to invest in the other person to make them happen,” he says. Meeting two new people and agreeing to meet each quarter is far more rewarding than meeting 10 new people at a conference and never speaking again. Baltzley also recommends evaluating group size, meeting agendas, and how much time is dedicated to discussion.
Here’s a comparative compilation of some of the most popular executive groups with a breakdown of cost, size, executive type, and membership requirements.
Young Presidents’ Organization (YPO)
Founded in 1950, YPO is the oldest executive peer network, with over 25,000 members globally, 450 local and regional chapters, and more than 600 annual events.
Members join at least one local chapter consisting of 16 or more members, and each chapter sets its calendar based on the needs of its members. YPO also hosts over 3,800 confidential peer groups, called “forums,“ that convene monthly and host an annual retreat.
Spouses or partners of members can join YPO’s personal and family networks, attend events, and join a spouse-specific forum. Business legends like Estée Lauder heir Leonard Lauder and investment billionaire Charles Schwab have occupied YPO’s membership ranks. More contemporary members include Zillow cofounder and ex-CEO Spencer Rascoff and TaskRabbit founder Leah Solivan.
Requirements: Qualifying members must be under 45 years of age and hold the title of president, CEO, board chair, managing director, managing partner, or equivalent. The member’s company must employ at least 50 full-time workers or have 15 or more full-time employees and at least $2 million in annual employee compensation (excluding the executive’s pay). The company must also meet specific revenue criteria: $13 million for sales, service, and manufacturing; $10 million for agency-type businesses such as real estate, advertising, or insurance; and $260 million AUM for financial institutions or over $20 million enterprise value.
Cost: New members pay a $3,975 one-time initiation fee and $3,975 annual dues. Local and regional YPO chapters also carry initiation fees and annual dues that members must pay in addition to the aforementioned fees, ranging from $2,000 to $7,000 annually. For example, Chicago’s YPO chapter members must pay a one-time $7,500 initiation fee and $5,267 in dues annually.
Young Global Leaders (YGL)
YGL, dubbed “the most exclusive private social network in the world,” admits around 100 individuals annually. Its roster includes New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, Amal Clooney, Leonardo DiCaprio, and Elon Musk. Created by World Economic Forum (WEF) founder Klaus Schwab in 2004, YGL now has around 1,400 members and alums across 120 countries. Members participate in a three-year leadership development program that includes executive education courses, expeditions, and peer network collaboration. YGL also holds an annual summit for current and former members.
Requirements: Nominees must be age 40 or younger at the time of nomination and present extraordinary achievement, a proven track record of substantial leadership experience, and an “impeccable” public record. Selectees must demonstrate a commitment to serve society through contributions beyond professional commitments. Business sector candidates must be responsible for the entire operations of a qualifying corporation or division and hold the title of president, CEO, chairperson of the board, managing director, managing partner or publisher, or equivalent. If the company is a WEF member or partner, the candidate must have the CEO or board chair’s approval. Prospective members cannot nominate themselves; someone else must nominate them. The executive search and consulting firm Heidrick & Struggles evaluates shortlisted nominees, and a selection committee then screens candidates.
Cost: Members must pay a contribution fee to participate in YGL community activities. Contribution levels vary based on information provided to YGL and company information. YGL supporters pay the largest contribution at 50,000 CHF annually (about $54,000).
Vistage boasts over 28,000 members across 26 countries and primarily caters to leaders from small and midsize businesses. Member groups of 12 to 16 leaders from noncompeting organizations meet once monthly to discuss problems, share ideas, and identify strategies. Vistage also hosts executive summits and a CEO conference series. The organization reports that member companies’ revenue grew 4.6% in 2020, while nonmember revenue declined 4.7% that same year.
Requirements: Qualifying members must be CEOs or high-level executives with at least $5 million in annual sales revenue. Prospective members can apply online.
Cost: Membership costs at least $10,500 per year. New members pay a one-time initiation fee of $2,500.
Nearly 20,000 women have joined Chief since its 2019 launch, and another 60,000 reportedly sit on its wait list. Women executives at Disney, Nike, and Goldman Sachs are among Chief’s membership cohort. Members are sorted by role into groups of eight to 10 individuals and convene for monthly leadership development meetings. Members can also access live and on-demand workshops and conversations. Past guest speakers include Melinda French Gates, former PepsiCo CEO Indra Nooyi, and Gloria Estefan.
Requirements: Qualifying members must be a C-level executive, accomplished VP, or equivalent executive role. They must also have at least 15 years of experience and demonstrate a “commitment to driving impact and supporting others to change the face of leadership.” Prospective members can apply online.
Cost: Members at the VP level pay $5,800 annually, while those in the C-suite pay $7,900 annually. Sixty percent of Chief members receive sponsorship from their companies. For an additional $1,000 annually, members can access Chief’s clubhouses in New York City, Chicago, Los Angeles, San Francisco, and soon London. Amenities include food and beverage services, private call booths, and nursing rooms for mothers.
Chief Executive Network (CEN)
CEN and its sister network for senior-level executives, Senior Executive Network, have over 550 members across several industries, including manufacturing, technology, architecture, and health care. Members are placed in groups with noncompeting CEOs from the same sector and meet for in-person, confidential discussions several times per year. Members can access leadership conferences, personal coaches, and subject matter experts.
Requirements: The organization looks for members who lead companies with comparable scale. Current members must approve prospective members before they can join, but candidates can sign up for membership without a member nomination.
Cost: Membership fees vary by company size and type of membership but are generally less than $1,000 per month.
Entrepreneurs’ Organization (EO)
Over 17,500 entrepreneurs belong to the EO. Founded in 1987, the EO is based in over 60 countries and hosts 213 chapters globally. Chapter members connect with six to eight peers for monthly forums. Chapters also host executive education events, networking opportunities, and mentorship programs. Similar to YPO, members can join regional chapters, which meet two to four times annually.
Cost: New members pay a one-time $3,500 initiation fee, and all members pay an annual $2,470 fee, excluding chapter membership costs. For instance, membership for EO Seattle includes $3,250 in annual fees and a one-time $900 initiation fee.
Requirements: Members must be the owner, founder, or majority stakeholder of a business earning $1 million or more in revenue annually. Venture-backed companies must have either $2 million or more in privately raised funds or $5 million or more in publicly raised funds and employ at least 10 people. Applicants can submit themselves for consideration online.
The Alternative Board (TAB)
With over 25,000 members globally, TAB operates peer groups across 25 countries. Peer groups consist of eight to 10 small- to midsize-business owners from noncompeting industries, facilitated by a coach with at least 10 years of management experience. Groups meet monthly for four hours, and every member brings a topic to discuss. Members also meet with the facilitator for monthly one-on-one coaching sessions. TAB offers local events, workshops, online webinars, conferences, and a networking community called TAB Connect.
Requirements: Members must be the owner, CEO, or key decision-maker of a small to midsize private business. Member businesses typically generate $500,000 to $20 million in revenue annually, though some generate as much as $50 million annually, and employ between five and 100 individuals. Acceptance is on a by-case basis. Candidates are evaluated based on their openness to receiving advice from peers, interest in growing as a leader, and interest in helping TAB peers.
Cost: Membership dues range from $600 to $900 monthly.
Arguably the most opaque of the executive networks, G100 allows only chief executives of top companies to join its ranks. The organization offers peer-to-peer and executive mentoring programs, including a chief executive peer group, talent consortium, and women’s network. Its chief executive peer group brings CEOs from top private and public companies for regular member calls and seasonal in-person meetings to discuss business and leadership strategy. All meetings are confidential and facilitated by former CEOs and senior advisers from companies including Johnson & Johnson, Aetna, and Home Depot. Meetings are restricted to CEOs only, with no staffers or substitutes permitted. Amazon CEO Andy Jassy, Apple CEO Tim Cook, and General Motors CEO Mary Barra have led past discussions. Founding members include former General Electric chairman and CEO Jack Welch, former AlliedSignal CEO Larry Bossidy, and Dell founder and CEO Michael Dell.
Requirements: G100 does not list specific membership requirements on its website, though a white paper from competitor Chief Executive Network states membership is by invitation only and extended to CEOs and chairpersons of large global companies. However, interested parties can fill out a contact form on G100’s website, and someone on G100’s development team may respond regarding membership.
Cost: G100 does not disclose the cost of membership on its website, though a white paper from Chief Executive Network ranked it the most expensive compared to CEN, YPO, Vistage, and EO. Participation fees for a 2019 program on managing digital risk and driving business growth were $15,000 per individual or an enterprise discount of $40,000 for up to four participants from one company.
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