The Business Forum

"It is impossible for ideas to compete in the marketplace if no forum for
  their presentation is provided or available."         Thomas Mann, 1896


The History of The Business Forum

Business Forum Luncheon held at the Beverly Wilshire Hotel in Beverly Hills, California in 1982
   The first official Business Forum Conference Luncheon held at the   
  Beverly Wilshire Hotel in Beverly Hills, California in February, 1982.


The concept of The Business Forum, which was first voiced more than a quarter of a Century ago, is simple to the extreme, and yet almost impossible to imagine anyone ever making happen.  Basically, we were able to bring together a group of senior executives and ask them if they were able to trust us enough that if we found someone with a technology, product, service or philosophy we thought might help their business, they would agree to have lunch with us and this expert, on the understanding that they would incur no cost whatsoever, nor would they be under any obligation to make any decision to buy anything, or do anything further in any way, by attending our meetings.  Also, we asked if they would join in questioning the expert and taking part in a moderated discussion? Simple! . . . and strange as it seemed then, they all said yes and agreed to make time in their busy calendars to join the venture!

Panel Debate LuncheonsIn 1982 the concept of a true forum discussion as a meeting format was so new that few people believed it could be managed properly, let alone survive more than a few weeks.  According to the founders of The Business Forum, "a true forum is where a group of qualified people openly discuss a specific subject with accredited experts under the oversight of a moderator who enforces both fairness and the accepted rules of the group."  Today just about any gathering or even a series of lectures, may be called a "forum"; and many meetings are sold as forums even if they are not, whereas The Business Forum has held as many as three true forums a week in the Pacific States of America and they have remained as successful as they were the day the first one was held in Beverly Hills in 1982.

Round-Table LuncheonsEveryday people write, phone, fax or access us on the Internet (www.bizforum.org) and email us to make sure that their organization's entry is up to date and to ensure that they are still in there. Even more call in to establish a contact in an existing member company or organization so that they may get sponsored into the network and association.  We also get numerous new contacts from friends who recommend their friends and colleagues to be put on our lists. If you think about it, this is really quite understandable, when you realize that most people would want to take advantage of every possible free lunch with their peers and the chance to join them in interrogating experts on subjects essential to their careers. 

As Matt Gonzales, then the National Facilities Director for Toyota put it some time ago, "Where else can I have access to so many people in the business community, network with my peers, hear world-class experts on subjects I need to keep up with and get a first class lunch at absolutely no cost and with no obligation whatsoever?"

Over the years The Business Forum grew into the other six States that make up, with California, the seven Pacific States of America. The original three dozen or so Charter Members who funded the beginnings have been joined over the years by hundreds more Corporate Members who want to find out where we will be having lunch next month and who realize the benefit of what we are doing enough to become members, otherwise of course it could never have happened.  The list today reads like a who's who in business and government and too long to publish here, it includes, as one guest jokingly once put it "everyone from the Jet Propulsion Laboratory to Yum Yum Donuts."

Closed Meetings - By Invitation OnlyThe list of organizations and corporations buying lunch for our "friends" these days, could in all modesty be described by the word "impressive".  In fact there are many major corporations that would love to have the "client list" that we have had. In the last few years a representative list of the sponsoring organizations that have provided our friends with the ability to question their experts includes most of the best known names in the business world.  Since the beginning The Business Forum has had sponsors that have included governments, states and many of the world's largest corporations, as well as individuals of impressive achievement in their field. In other words, it would seem that they believe, that if you need to meet the decision makers of west coast business, then you really need to know The Business Forum. 

We fully understand the importance of maintaining this reputation.  The luncheon discussions of today are still based on the original rules we established all those years ago, some of which are quite strange, but then, who knew it was going to grow the way it has?

The actual rules under which the meetings are held are announced at the beginning of every meeting, and they are:

  • Guests are invited to attend at no cost and no obligation whatsoever, but must give the moderator two business cards to prove they are who they say they are.

  • Parking will not be validated until the end of the meeting.

  • Everyone agrees to behave in a civilized manner, not to interrupt while someone else is talking, refrain from any sort of profanity and obey the directions of the moderator at all times. Anyone who wishes to comment should inform the moderator by lifting their hand and they will be the next speaker. The moderator may ask anyone (expert or guest) to stop speaking and surrender the conversation to someone else, at any time.

  • No selling of any kind by either the guests or the sponsor is allowed during the meeting.

  • The desert shall be very rich and preferably chocolate.

According to both our members and sponsors alike, everyone wins! Guests get to meet and question a recognized expert, in the company of their peers and thereby stay up to date - sponsors get to cut their costs and meet pre-qualified decision makers that can affect their business, and The Business Forum continues to grow! It helps of course, that our guests know that only their peers will be invited, that there will be no sales pitch and no boring 101 presentation and the lunch and the level of discussion will always be sophisticated to say the least!  So if would seem that we just may continue to have lunch with intelligent people from San Diego to Seattle for many years to come, to the obvious joy of all the decision makers we know who are seeking to debate with their peers. 

As one of our guests once put it: "The Business Forum has the perfect vehicle, a concept with 19th Century sophistication and charm, 20th Century acceptance and trust in the business community and 21st Century answers and solutions. A real class act!"

What started as a small group of like-minded executives wishing to educate themselves and assist each other, grew to become the largest non-affiliated business organization on the West Coast of America, with the only ongoing program throughout the Pacific States of America. Obviously, after all these years, we feel we have proved that it works, even if we are not always able to explain exactly how it all happened.  In 1987 we set ourselves the goal of incorporating all the States within what we termed the Pacific States of America into our program, allowing us to act as a central clearing house for decision makers in this region. We also hoped to be able to build an institution that held the respect and trust of these same decision makers. 

The Business Forum Association was founded in 1987 to help subsidize the operations of The Business Forum and to allow it to run it's programs without being dependent for a profit from the Sponsors of Business Forum Events to pay for the growth of the organization. The existence of The Business Forum Association has also allowed us to grow from just the one meeting every three months in Los Angeles, to an ongoing program of several meetings a week throughout the Pacific States of America.

We launched our program in Washington State in 1994, in Oregon in 1995 and in Nevada, Arizona, Utah and Idaho in 1996.

In 1995 we launched our web site onto the Internet. 

The Business Forum also grew with the natural north south axis of trade that has evolved on the western coast of North America separated from the rest of the continent by the Rockies Mountains to the east and national borders to the north and south. Logic has set our area of operations roughly within that area of the United States of America influenced by the 9th Circuit Court and the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco.  In 1987 we set ourselves the goal of incorporating all the States within what we have termed the Pacific States of America into our program, which would allow us to act as a central clearing house for the real decision makers of this region. We also hoped that we would be able to build ourselves into an institution that held the respect and trust of these same decision makers. 

Our goal has always been to provide an independent and trusted source of information that might help the business community better contribute to the success of the Pacific States of America as a region. We believe we are well on the way to achieving that goal, and we hope we shall eventually get to the position where every senior decision maker in the region will be willing to trust us enough to join the program.

Round-Table LuncheonsThe basic idea behind The Business Forum is very simple. Educating oneself about something new, is a matter of learning where quite often the student is not only alone, but without mentors and unadvised by unbiased or experienced mentors. Most new information is peddled (honestly and dishonestly) by very biased or inexperienced sources, i.e. salespeople as the driving force to convince the potential buyer; or reporters who gain their insight from the same promoters, or literature and advertisements produced by those same promoters.   We believe this paradox has often slowed new ideas and their introduction into the market place or has forced the buyer to gamble on their own inexperienced hunches - until The Business Forum was formed and the equation was changed!

What the founders of The Business Forum stumbled upon, was that they were at the same time both promoters hoping to convince others and, the recipients of other people's promotions.  All were experienced and successful, with an unusual caveat, they operated in different fields of business and professions and were, in many cases, each others advisors. The oldest maxim of buying is to gain the recommendation of someone who has already bought and can advise you on the results that they experienced, just as the oldest maxim of selling is that there is no better method to succeed than by gaining the recommendation of past buyers.  However, there are few past buyers at the start of any new idea, which is when the benefits of being a trailblazer are at their highest.

This is where the Founders of The Business Forum saw the benefits of "group interrogation". In 1982 there were several ways of learning about new ideas and technologies, but none of them eschewed the concept of "group  interrogation". One could attend a lecture or seminar, but then you were merely the recipient of another form of sales pitch. You could read magazines, journals and newspapers, but it was never certain that the reporter was doing anything more than writing their own impression of a sales pitch that had been made to them. Trade shows and exhibitions were of course merely animated sales pitches and entertaining legions of salespeople and pouring over proposals and quotes was, again, subject to the same lack of experienced knowledge and the obvious chance of sales pitch misinformation inherent in evaluating any proposal. 

Focus Group LuncheonsIn other words one always returned to the basic fact that with "new" products and services most decisions are made on hunches and the performance of the person doing the "selling".  Again, using the benefits of reverse engineering, the founders of The Business Forum established that if we could use Marketing in its truest form and, if the product, service or idea was both sound and of value, "Group Interrogation" of any such Marketing presentation would always produce a faster and better impartation of understanding to us, the potential buyers. It would also produce the welcome side effect of frightening off most dishonest peddlers, who would realize that their sales pitch could not withstand the intelligent questioning of experts operating in a group with their peers.
 


That The Business Forum is more civilized, welcome and palatable, than just about any other introduction to new and important products and services, has proved to be a fact and we have seen it demonstrated many times since The Business Forum was first founded. Today the very fact that an individual, or an organization, is willing to sponsor a business forum is almost a guarantee of their complete belief in the product, idea or service they are offering and their willingness to have it's authenticity and value subjected to intelligent discussion by their potential clients.  It does not take the intellect of a genius to realize you would be a fool to spend tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars of your organizations money on something the promoter of which would not allow to be discussed openly by your peers and advisors.  

We research and choose our sponsors with great care and consideration, even requesting references from our members in many cases. The sponsor in turn knows that the knowledge and honesty of their speaker is key to the successful outcome of the program, all of which has led to a history of The Business Forum presenting only the best and most knowledgeable experts to our guests and members.  We also choose who to invite with just as much care as we choose our sponsors, ensuring that we are inviting only decision makers who are in a position to either implement, support or purchase, or influence the decision making process of whatever idea, product or service the speaker is fielding. This keeps all of our meetings very focused and informative for those who attend. 

Today there are "business" forums all over the world - the problem is that most of them are "for profit" and many are organized by Universities, Business Organizations or Government entities just to promote themselves.  The chance of another Business Forum such as we established in 1982 coming along are slim to say the least.  First of all, to establish an organization like ours, someone would have to persuade three dozen or so senior business people to put up several thousand dollars apiece of their own money, with no return promised or expected. Then convince them to hand over their roladex, and the names of their contacts and associates to be included for invitations to your forums, with their name able to be used as a testimonial.   They would also have to agree to offer a high level of hands on assistance and advice, for no financial reward for about twenty eight years.

Any group of executives could probably do exactly what we have done, provided they were willing to lose money and a great deal of their time in doing so.  Easy, right?  Then all you would have to do is go out and convince a few world class organizations and several governments to agree to  pay you, so that their best people could endure one and a half hours of intense interrogation by a group of expert decision makers, in organizations that were their potential clients. They would have to do this knowing that you offer no guarantee they would benefit from doing so. They would also be expected to pay for the lunch and other costs associated with the meeting, for a group of people who had not even agreed to accept their calls afterwards. Not difficult, right?  Your third task would be to get senior decision makers to agree to come to your forums and take time out of their busy schedules, trusting that you  would be right in assuring them that they would benefit from doing so.  Easy, right?
 


In a World that has grown to be ever more cynical The Business Forum acts as an oasis of reality, fairness and trust, thanks to those initial decisions we made back in 1982 and the Charter Member's wish to avoid any hint of compromise. The Business Forum is in no way political, nor is it biased in any way whatsoever outside of it's Mission Statement. However, only by quoting  some of our past sponsors can we prove this without sounding like raving egotists.  Altruistically The Business Forum is therefore a sound concept, but in the real world it takes hard cash to fund any organization, no matter it's aims. Who could doubt your sincerity, when you support an enterprise which really does offer a true free lunch to senior decision makers, to discuss with your chosen expert the ins and outs of some new service, product or technology, on the understanding that they have absolutely no obligation to do anything, after you have stood experts before them to be subjected to their questioning, and you bought them the best lunch in town?  It is not something you would expect experienced business people to put up the money and time to do and yet they have actually been doing exactly that for nearly two decades and our past Sponsors continue to send us testimonials that tell us why.

In 2009 we formed The Business Forum Institute and began recruiting a Fellowship willing to share their expertise and experience with aspiring business people, academics and students all of the world by publishing The Business Forum Journal every month on the Internet.

The mission of The Business Forum Institute is to provide decision makers, leaders, historians, policy makers, students and teachers in Business, Government and Academia all over the world,with access to facts, expertise, experience and qualified opinion that will assist them in their endeavors to achieve success.

In other words, a seemingly innocent idea has grown over three decades to the point where we have yet to find an idea, service, program or product it can not be applied to for the benefit of all - and the testimonials, like these listed below, just keep on rolling in.
 


 

I commend The Business Forum for once again providing this important opportunity for the exchange of ideas and information.

Senator Barbara Boxer
The United States Senate


The Business Forum delivers very lively debates on key topics of interest for the Information Technology community across a wide spectrum of industries.  These discussions have provided us with critical understanding of important issues as well as how technology can be employed in real world settings.  

Ken Salzberg - System Technology Laboratories
Intel Corporation


The Business Forum provides a compelling setting for sharing the latest pragmatic ideas and best practices for improving business operations and performance through Information Technology.  The emphasis on discussion and debate leads to very real insights for everyone involved.

Bob Kalka - Security Business Unit Executive
IBM - Tivoli Group


Just a quick word of thanks for the success of the recent business forums.  It has been a great opportunity for Cisco to discuss issues with customers on a face-to-face basis outside of the normal sales process. We've been using it as a focus group without the one-way mirror. It lets us get frank feedback and opinions from some very hard to reach executives.

Kevin Flynn - Senior Manager, Security Technology Marketing
Cisco Systems, Inc.


As you know I will be returning shortly to Australia at the completion of my term of appointment as Commissioner for the State of Victoria, Australia, covering the USA, Canada and Mexico. I would not wish to leave America without expressing to you my thanks for your assistance in considerably increasing the range of senior business contacts I was able to make in California.

The Business Forum is clearly well recognized among the business community. It is also clear that senior business people in the area value the process and the contacts they are able to make through the business lunch arrangements the Forum is able to make to bring together a select group of business people in any of a very wide range of business activities. I wish you well with the Forum in the future.

Alan S. Reiher, Commissioner.
The State of Victoria, Australia


The Business Forum is unique on the West Coast for its ability to assemble a representative sample of the right people and engage them in commercial dialogue.

William H. Spuck, Program Director for Industry Affairs.
Jet Propulsion Laboratories


The Business Forum gives professionals a convenient way to network with their peers, exchange views on current trends, manage risk and identify opportunities to lower cost and improve the customer experience.

John Radford, State Controller.
State of Oregon
President: National Association of State Auditors, Controllers and Treasurers   


Nevada officials were amazed at the quality and level of contacts we gained from luncheons with The Business Forum.

Robert Schriver, Executive Director.
State of Nevada Commission on Economic Development


(We) are familiar with what you have accomplished sponsoring events that lead towards strengthening our economy ... and we support your efforts.

Robert Stark, Director.
NASA


Norris Environmental Services' participation as the host of six Business Forum luncheons over the last two months has provided me with a truly unique opportunity to meet with a large number of influential decision makers within our targeted market segment. I particularly appreciated the environment within which the meetings took place and the open candor of the conversation. The identification of new business opportunities through 'Directed Discussion' proved to be a far easier process than I had expected.

While it is not yet possible to accurately evaluate the full impact these meetings have had in new business for Norris Environmental Services, I must admit that the revenue growth we have experienced since we started hosting The Business Forum meetings has been impressive. In the eight weeks since adding your services to our tactical marketing mix, we have experienced a growth of gross revenue of over 27%!!

I would like to express my personal thanks for the time we have spent together and look forward to a continuing business relationship. If there is any way I can be of assistance in furthering the goals of The Business Forum, please do not hesitate to call on me.

Richard A. Henninger, Director Sales & Marketing
Norris Environmental Services


Your organization recently promoted and conducted a series of ten luncheons with Axiom.  I would like to take this opportunity to express my appreciation for what The Business Forum has been able to achieve for us. Using the round table luncheon format, your organization was able to provide a highly interactive setting for Axiom to share observations and insights with a select, targeted audience. This interaction has been extremely useful in helping us temper our market messages and enhance our prospect database.

Furthermore, The Business Forum was able to accomplish this for approximately fifty (50%) percent less than it currently costs Axiom to promote and conduct this type of event on our own. I have enjoyed working with you and your group and look forward to future successes together.

Brian Bouren, Executive Vice President
Axiom


I wanted to take a minute to comment on the program you developed to address the issues affecting corporations in their quest to protect and secure their information resources. Over the years, I have participated in a number of events designed to address the various issues affecting business leaders and their use of information technology. In all those years, I have rarely found a program or an event that actually delivers all that it proposed. The program, vendor participants and business leaders you brought together for The Business Forum sessions we took part in, in my experience, are unmatched. Our return on our marketing investment dollar was far greater than we anticipated.

When, we consider the associated costs of participating in an industry trade event, hosting a seminar series or participating in an exhibition, I must weigh the resources required to build, staff, execute and follow-up, face-time with the participants or prospects and what I expect the number of qualified leads the event or program will generate. It is clear, that my marketing dollar was well invested when we participated in your program. What was most impressive was the number of senior level attendees The Business Forum attracted and the open interaction generated with industry leaders. This was well beyond my level of expectation!

The fact that you were able to arrange to have senior members of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), world class Internet and forensic experts and a cross section of leading Information Technology vendors openly and interactively address the issues affecting corporate managers, in a non-attribution environment, is unequaled.

What is even more impressive, is that you replicated this program across half a dozen cities in four states over three months. We will be following up the contacts we developed through The Business Forum for months to come.

Daniel T. Wooley, Vice President.
Memco Software Inc.


Congratulations! You delivered the goods, (or in this case the audience). When we scheduled our luncheon presentation 'The Application of Image Technology in Item Processing', I told you that because of the specific nature of this topic it was important that the attendees be knowledgeable in bank operations. On top of that I told you that we wanted to target specific banks in specific areas. Finally I required that the forum be scheduled for a particular date.

I admit that I was skeptical that you could arrange all that. The fact that you did is testimony to the value of your service. Thank you.

Robert W. Harrington, President
Triadigm International


I want to thank you for helping our project, "Plasma Technology" conversion from space to commercial applications through The Business Forum. In three meetings, we have interest from over 20 significant business opportunities. These opportunities are for either co-development of technology from "Laboratory to Market" licensing royalties, or end users.

We believe that The Business Forum participation and 'can do' attitude has bridged the gap of transferring space applications to commercial users.

Dean A. Farmer, Technology Transfer Program Manager.
Rockwell International Aerospace Corporation


Structural Composites Industries is pleased to support your organization's efforts to bring a product development focus to the Business Forum.  By gathering a small, talented group of people from companies doing business in a particular field of interest, a quick, effective tool for rapidly advancing a product's development cycle has been successfully achieved. I truly believe that your most recent sponsor received a wealth of valuable advice for the mere price of lunch.  Seeking guidance from experts in the field cuts through the time consuming process of trial-and-error product development. It also avoids the costly mistake of missing an opportunity for real product innovation through new technology infusion. SCI supports your efforts to help companies tap into the extensive knowledge base that resides in your contact group. Keep up the good work.

Kevin Giesy, SCI Product Manager
Structural Composites Industries


I wanted to let you know how much I have appreciated the professional approach The Business Forum has taken as we presented our professional opinion on the change in approach on the effects of ergonomic regulation. We have presented from the Mexican border to the Canadian border and you have filled the room with key decision makers in every market.

Daniel Foote, Ergonomic Legislation Liaison
Steelcase Corporation


Prior to the six meetings you did for me, I did not really understand what benefit The Business Forum would be to my launching of a new technology into the market place. I felt it was worth a try, based upon your description of potential results and your tactical marketing knowledge reputation. Had I known what I have learned from your meetings, before the meetings, I would have come better prepared for the large degree of interest manifested by the 100+ leads I must now follow-up on. The negative part of your forum is that it provides just too many hard facts and personal contacts for one not knowledgeable in your simple, but overwhelming marketing method.  Now, six months after your meetings, I am still following leads and have hot prospects wanting to apply our technology into ten product applications.

I will always recommend The Business Forum as a tactical marketing vehicle, or even a strategic marketing information gathering vehicle, but you must warn people to be prepared for the results!!

Larry E. Selmer, Program Director
Rockwell International Corporation


I just wanted to thank you for yesterday's Forum at The Biltmore in Los Angeles. What can I say?  That you can get Adobe, IBM, Cisco, Intel, Microsoft, SSP, SolSoft and SafeNet to participate at the same table is absolutely unequalled. The only other organization I know of that could put those eight companies into the room to be asked questions, is the Justice Department, and they could only do it by legal means. Then you pack in 36 of the top CIO's and CISO's in Los Angeles County! Absolutely brilliant - and the food and the service were 5 stars to say the least!

Paul Rosenthal, Professor of Information Systems
California State University, Los Angeles


The luncheon program organized by The Business Forum on our behalf has been very successful for the Royal Danish Government Consulate General.  We especially believe that the meetings related to the environmental sector have found the right format, thus proving to be very productive for the participants, the guests, and this Consulate General. 

We look forward to working with The Business Forum in the future.

Lasse Reimann, Consul General
Government of Denmark


I would like to take a moment to express our gratitude for the work that you do, as well as for the relationships that have been fostered for us by The Business Forum.  In the space of three 90 minute lunch meetings, Panda has created a great first impression with over 50 large corporations. We have already entered software evaluations at five companies, including a 5,600 employee hospital and a global law firm.

Jonathan Gael - Enterprise Solutions Group
Panda Software, USA, Inc.


We have had two Business Forums and we have been very pleased with the number and quality of companies who have turned out for these events, as well as the format. The Business Forum is an effective way to establish a closer rapport with prospects and even our current accounts, in dealing with topics of great interest and mutual concern. Thank you for introducing us to this concept!

Gregory B. Baird, Vice President Group Sales
Blue Cross - CaliforniaCare Health Plans
 


For more viewpoints go to either  GUESTS or SPONSORS


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