We Used To Be Young Presidents

Memphis photo revIn 1991 I joined YPO (Young Presidents Organization). It’s an international organization of more than 20,000 Presidents/CEOs of businesses throughout the world. The membership criteria at the time included being a President/CEO of a business of a certain size, and in order to qualify for membership, you needed to become a President/CEO in business by the age of 40, hence the “young” part of YPO. At age 50 you graduated into the successor organization (then called WPO, now YPO Gold).

In 1991 I was still relatively new to Philadelphia having moved to the market in late 1989 as President of Earle Palmer Brown/Philadelphia, then a major ad agency (it no longer exists today). I wrongly viewed YPO solely through the prism of a good networking organization that might be valuable from a business development perspective for Earle Palmer Brown. I discounted any friendships that might result. I was so wrong.

In 1992 I joined one of the YPO “forums” of the Philadelphia Chapter. The forum was a group of what was then 12 YPOers. There were forum rules—monthly ½ day meetings, annual retreat, moderated meetings, presentations, confidentiality etc. It felt onerous and I was unsure it was for me. I joined a forum thinking that I’d give it a try and could withdraw if I chose to.

It was awkward at first. I did not know any of the YPOers assigned to my forum. Having moved to the Philly market a couple of years earlier, my Philadelphia network in general was still small. I wasn’t really sure I liked many of the members. I still wasn’t sure this forum stuff was for me, but I “stuck it out”.

Fast forward to 2019, more than 25 years later and I am still “sticking it out”. My forum members became close friends, advisers and people I can truly depend on. When you need help in life, many people say, “let me know how I can help”. Alas most offers are not really genuine, or made half-heartedly to seem supportive. With my forum I never question their intentions and generosity, and likewise, I am also ready to return the kindness at a moment’s notice. They are among a small group of people I can really depend on.

25+ years later, my forum still exists, though YPO and its sibling organization, YPO Gold (for 50+ former YPO members) are in the rear-view mirror for almost all of us. What we’ve found is that deep friendships don’t need an organization. We still have some self-imposed structure, though our “rules” have changed to meet our lives and geography. We meet because we want to. There is no obligation.

One of our “rules” is a planned schedule of get-togethers throughout the year as well as an annual retreat. While business issues used to dominate our discussion in the 90s, business has long since taken a back seat to just friendship and life support.

Our recent retreat was in Memphis, a great place to relax, eat well, hear great music and gain an appreciation for the role Memphis played in American music. One of our many stops was at the legendary Sun Studios pictured here.

We are no longer “Young Presidents”. We are merely friends—really good friends. That’s a whole lot more important.  I am so thankful to have met my forum mates and for the friendships we have formed. While it’s YPO No Mo for me, my friendships will last a lifetime and I have YPO to thank.

More Strumings


  1. I love this article! Longtime friends are priceless.

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