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Meet Michael Black - CEO, National Marker Corporation

I joined National Marker Company as a national sales manager in 1998. Within two years, I quickly rose through the ranks and was named president in 2000. At that time, I was responsible for more than 60 percent of the company’s sales.

Fast-forward to 2010: National Marker Company was a booming manufacturing company. I was 43 years old and looking to expand my associations and network. I recognized that in order to continue to drive the business forward, I needed professional development. I dabbled in a few local CEO-focused groups during this time, but they did not provide the business focus I was looking for. When I came across Vistage, the model and offerings aligned best with my needs and I decided to join Chair Scott Thurber’s group.

Around the time I joined Vistage in 2010, a significant event was unfolding at National Marker Company. The owner had recently handed the business over to his son, who was looking to cash-out and sell the company. Once word got out, we quickly realized that the most likely buyers also happened to be our staunchest competitors.

I understood the dire repercussions of this type of acquisition. If the company was sold to one of our competitors, not only would National Marker employees lose their jobs, I would be asked to stay on as part of the acquisition. I vowed that I wouldn’t let either of these things happen. I needed guidance and a game plan. Processing and supporting big decisions like this was a major selling point for joining Vistage, so I decided to turn to Scott and my Vistage group for help.

While we were processing my issue, a fellow group member had an audacious idea: had I considered putting in an offer to buy the company myself? In my wildest dreams, I had never imagined this to be a realistic possibility. Not only did I not have the resources to personally finance the purchase, I didn’t know anyone in my network who did, either. After considering all possible options, this member insisted that buying the company was, hands down, the best course of action. Once I clearly saw the alternatives, I was convinced he was right.

Together, working with Scott, our group brainstormed various options to make it happen. Within 72 hours, we had a plan of attack. Members from my group graciously opened up their networks and along with Scott, we were able to line up financiers and negotiators who believed in me and my story. With Scott and my Vistage group behind me every step of the way, I officially purchased and became the owner and CEO of National Marker in 2012.

As of October 2019, I’m proud to say we just made our final payment to Bank of America, which financed the purchase of the business just seven years ago.

If you took a snapshot of the National Marker Company that I bought in 2012 compared to the National Marker Company that exists today, here’s what you’d see: A free cash flow of about three-quarters of a million dollars annually. A company that is three times larger in size. Exponentially faster shipping times - from 10 days down to two. 2019 National Marker Company has the fastest shipping times in the industry, arguably the fastest year-over-year growth, and has been named one of the “Best Places to Work” for three consecutive years.

I cannot stress how critical Vistage has been to my journey as a CEO. If it weren’t for Scott and my Vistage group who extended their networks to me, helped me work through critical and time-sensitive challenges, and talked me off the ledge on more than a few occasions, neither I — nor National Marker Company — would be where we are today.

The combination of high-caliber members, expert speakers and a mutual commitment to helping each other through difficult business challenges has made my Vistage experience invaluable. I am grateful to be part of such a remarkable, driven and diverse group of CEOs. We each bring our own unique set of skills, expertise and experience, which allows us to continually learn and grow from one another.

Vistage has helped me push past my comfort zone and gives me the tools, support and courage to be the leader I want to be.

It also goes without saying that Scott has also been instrumental to my leadership transformation. Scott is an incredible listener and gives sound advice. I always leave conversations with him feeling a little lighter. When I’m experiencing a challenge that is weighing me down, he helps me to uncover the root of the issue and determine the best course of action to move forward. He is a constant, calming presence in my life. He is no longer just the Chair of my Vistage group. He’s now my friend.

Vistage has helped me push past my comfort zone and gives me the tools, support and courage to be the leader I want to be. It has taught me to be more involved, more personal and more transparent, which has made a world of difference in every aspect of my life. Vistage has made me a better person — not just in a professional sense. I have become a better husband, a better father and a better friend because of what I've learned over the years.

At the end of the day, my goal is to be the very best that I can be and to try to take advantage of every opportunity. If I look in the mirror and don’t like what I see, I now make the conscious decision to make changes. Vistage helps me do that.


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