The UB School of Management’s Center for Entrepreneurial Leadership (CEL) is a true jewel in the WNY business community. CEL alumni come from all areas of business and tend to be rabid fans of this extremely effective business growth and development organization.

CEL is the premier Western New York resource for entrepreneurs who are looking to overcome challenges, inspire innovation, and propel their business to growth and profitability.

Whether they’re an emerging entrepreneur or an established leader, CEL’s peer-based, mentor driven programs provide the confidence needed to successfully start a business or take an existing company to the next level.

ESC recently interviewed Sue Steffan, the Executive Director of this powerful program.

ESC: Tell me about CEL – what’s the purpose?

SS: My goal is to help as many businesses in WNY as possible to become more effective and profitable. Simply put, our job is to make Western New York better, grow the economy, increase jobs, and help entrepreneurs realize their full potential.

ESC: What are the reservations a business leader might have in deciding to join CEL?

SS: If I had a nickel for every time I heard, “I just don’t have the time.”…oh my gosh! And I keep saying, “If you don’t have the time, that’s exactly why you need to come, we’re going to help you find the time.”

We want it tattooed on everyone’s forehead: “Work on the business, not just in the business!” Of course, we provide amazing programming, and we bring experts in to talk about every area of business, but it’s way more than that. The magic sauce is really all the people who are in the room with you. Finding that network of likeminded business owners who are taking the time to work on their business. They’re going to become your people, your experts. So, when you are dealing with some weird problem at work, you can’t really talk to the employees around you, because you’re their boss. Your family and friends might not understand if they’re not business owners. Your CEL classmates are the people who can really understand what the heck you’re going through. It’s incredibly helpful to collaborate with folks in completely unrelated industries. They’re looking at your problems, issues, and opportunities, with a brand-new set of eyes, and giving advice without any stake in the outcome. It’s all about candid feedback and it doesn’t matter if it’s coming from a solopreneur or a ‘captain of industry”. Your CEL classmates want you to succeed and flourish. What’s the old saying? “A rising tide lifts all boats!”

ESC: You mentioned CEL’s programming. Could you elaborate a bit on that?

SS: CEL consists of eight programs including the CORE program and the Mastery Forum, the M&T Bank Emerging Entrepreneurs Program and Family Business Program among others. Each addresses a different area. Participation depends on where each individual is in their career and the trajectory of their business. In addition, there are workshops, speakers, and networking opportunities. Of course, each participant also has a mentor.

ESC: That’s an amazing opportunity to learn. Do you find that business leaders have a common set of concerns and problems?

SS: Yes! For emerging entrepreneurs, we hear “I need to start hiring people and I’ve never done that before. How do I do that?” To take it a step further, we’ve been hearing from all business owners something that I know ESC has helped tons of businesses with – how to attract and retain talent, especially post-pandemic. We design our programming based on what is going on in the world. We design sessions on attracting and retaining talent and creating a good corporate culture. How do you hire slow fire fast? That’s still one of the top concerns we hear across all sectors.

Another huge concern is work life balance. They’re trying to figure out, “how do I find an extra couple of hours?” But more importantly, trying to help them get to the point where their business is running, and they can take a vacation. We tell them at the beginning that the test of whether you have mastered this is if you can go away for two weeks and shut off your phone and know that your business isn’t going to explode! We help them with setting up processes, developing the team, and the art of delegating. Another huge concern is their financials, both from the standpoint of what’s going on in the economy, as well as not understanding their own. Also, “what do I do with this whole digital marketing thing? Do I need to know what Tik Tok is and what do I do about Yelp reviews?” Succession planning and exit strategies are usually a piece of this as well, a high number of our businesses this year are concerned about that. The list is long and I’m proud to say that CEL can address all of these concerns and then some.

ESC: CEL truly is the unsung hero of our business community!  Now I understand why your alumni are so enthusiastic. If ESC can help in your mission, let me know.

ESC proudly serves hundreds of businesses in WNY with many of the issues Susan mentioned in her interview. From succession planning to employee retention, we support clients with all HR issues and challenges.

Please contact us if you’d like to learn how we can help you and your business needs.