The Upsize Growth Challenge, presented by Winthrop & Weinstine, is a contest created by Upsize magazine to match two winning business owners with the expert advice they need to reach their goals. From nominations, judges select two winners based on the ambition of the growth goal and the quality of the work already completed to meet it. They participate in two workshops with expert advisers supplied by the sponsoring companies: Dean Willer and Deb DuBois of Winthrop & Weinstine and Bridget Manahan of Western Bank. Upsize presents an interview with Cheryl Alexander & Associates in this issue, complete with advice from experts that applies to all growing firms, from the newUpsize Growth Challenge blog (check it out at www.upsizemag.com/blog.) Nominations for next year’s contest open in spring 2014.



·         Iron ladies

·         interview by Beth Ewen

On the way to rebranding her 40-year-old firm, Upsize Growth Challenge winner Cheryl Alexander, CEO, put some steel in her company’s spine as advised by our experts. With her daughter, Executive Vice President Tami Sulistyo, she doubled her prices, dedicated resources to business development, and insisted on creating hard metrics so clients could measure results of her company’s leadership development training services.

 She also committed fully to “owning” their expertise, which is developing women leaders, that allows them both to charge more and be right on trend with today’s “lean in” mantra. In the end, the company’s new brand—an iron orchid, both tough and tender, and new tag line “leaders engaging hearts and minds”— became an apt description for their personal transformation as business owners, as well.

Upsize: We’re in your orchid room, where you do your one-on-one and small group coaching. Tell me what the metaphor of the orchid means to you.

Cheryl Alexander: My team of coaches has said, What do you love about orchids? And I said, They bloom magnificently in their own time. When we got our first orchid, we took a class and we learned at least once a year you re-pot it and take care of the roots. And that’s kind of what happens in business. 

What it means for the company, we had used an image of an orchid and people said that’s pretty. It looked soft, feminine, and isn’t that nice. There’s a perception that orchids are fragile, but there are 20,000 species. We had to get past the fragile and fussy stereotype.

Tami Sulistyo: So when we hired Steve Twite of Lime Creek Marketing to do our re-branding work, he’s an artist in his own right. We kept hearing from women about the dynamic tension of needing to be tough and tender. That’s the balance. That’s the challenge. When Steve was listening, he threw out, What about an iron orchid?

Cheryl Alexander: At first I had trouble with ‘iron.’ It’s too inflexible. And then I thought about Ironman and Ironwoman, and you’re always stretching to go further. That evolved into the image and foundation of our rebranding. 

Upsize: Why did you set out to rebrand now?

Cheryl Alexander: We’ve done it three times before, and we have been successful. From clients, we were running into statements like, No time, no money. Can you give us something quick? But coaches hold you accountable and help you develop new habits, and that takes time.

Upsize: How did the process go?

Tami Sulistyo: The three of us met frequently, starting in January. We had focus groups. We did a ton of research, looking at competitors and milling it around. Then honestly, participating in the Upsize Growth Challenge, and listening to what the experts had to say, helped us get there.

Here were people who didn’t know us well, who were saying to us, Claim your niche, claim your women-centric expertise. Why not roll with it? they were saying. Combined with what’s going on in the world—you have Sheryl Sandberg of Facebook and her book “Lean In.” It pushed us over the edge.

Cheryl Alexander: Our way has been, it’s so needed, what we do, let’s just give it to everyone. Talking with Dean Willer was one of the turning points.

Upsize: That’s the Winthrop & Weinstine attorney who’s one of our Upsize Growth Challenge experts.

Cheryl Alexander: He said, Claim your women-centric mission and you can charge for your expertise. He said, You’re not a beginning company. You can charge two to five times what you do. I thought, well, I can’t do five times, but I can do two. 

Tami Sulistyo: Because this is our mission, our passion, we weren’t charging what we should. 

Cheryl Alexander: People get the confidence to claim what they want. That happens in our leadership coaching, and it happened with us, too.

Tami Sulistyo: Now we’re working with a metrics expert, who puts solid metrics around the things we do.

Cheryl Alexander: We’re trying to get to, what are the economics of this type of training?

Upsize: The Upsize Growth Challenge experts also talked about your need to spend time on business development. Before, both of you spent a lot of time coaching. Have you found a rainmaker?

Cheryl Alexander: We’ve made significant changes, working with one of our coaches, for example, with deep connections in large corporations. We’ve arranged with her to retain a percentage of business over time, so she can develop clients for us.

Tami Sulistyo: We have a few other people doing the same thing. It still makes sense to have me do day-to-day operations, and Cheryl is out there doing keynotes and lunch and learns, which we charge for at appropriate rates.

Cheryl Alexander: One of the key takeaways from Western Bank’s Bridget Manahan was, Why don’t you go to businesses run by women? Oh, of course! Why not go to the women-owned companies, where they’re already receptive to what we do? We had been going to the harder clients, the male-dominated companies.

And Deb DuBois, of Winthrop & Weinstine, talked about using social media more effectively. We need a social media strategy, and we’re going to be hiring an intern to live-tweet for us, for example, when I’m doing keynotes.

Upsize: Where do you think your company will be in five years?

Tami Sulistyo: I’m excited about launching an iron orchids growing society, because we’re on the edge of being a nice little company working with leaders, to creating a movement of iron orchid leaders.

It’s exciting, being on a train. This is the work we’ve been doing for years, but it’s so obvious the world is calling for this. That’s gratifying, to feel like you’re in the right place at the right time.

Cheryl Alexander: I think we’re hurting as a society—all the trust that’s been broken since the financial crisis. But all the research shows, before I will follow you, you have to care about me, and then I’ll give you everything I’ve got. You open that up and it just spreads.

Cheryl Alexander Stearns is CEO and Tami Sulistyo is executive vice president of Cheryl Alexander & Associates in Maple Grove: 763.416.4570; cheryl@calexanderassociates.com; tami@calexanderassociates.com; www.calexanderassociates.com


…about maintaining a sales culture

“You’ve developed in a short time a sales culture, and it’s obviously successful,” says Bridget Manahan, executive vice president with Western Bank in St. Paul and the Upsize Growth Challenge finance and operations expert. “And a key part of maintaining a sales culture is doing what you coach others to do.” 

In other words, the mother-daughter team who runs Cheryl Alexander & Associates needs to develop the habits that allow them to get measurable results, day after day and month after month.

“I applaud the strategy you’re developing of bringing metrics to what you do,” Manahan says. “The discipline will be keeping that going when you see the results.” 

Specifically, she likes their new focus on looking for coaches who aren’t only about “compassion and character,” as they used to do, but who also want to gain a piece of business, which they’re paid 10 percent to obtain.

 “So they’re thinking bigger, they’re hungry,” says Tami Sulistyo, executive vice president of Cheryl Alexander & Associates.

Bridget Manahan, Western Bank: 651.290.8140; bmanahan@western-bank.com; www.western-bank.com


…about becoming a thought leader

Nailing down return on investment is a big deal to Deb DuBois, marketing director at Winthrop & Weinstine and the Upsize Growth Challenge marketing expert, and she encourages business owners to spend time doing it, like Cheryl Alexander & Associates has.

“If you’re just measuring the soft stuff, it’s hard for you to use it later to market yourself,” she says. “The ROI piece, it’s something that helps executives think of this as an investment in their workforce and they need the return.”

She encourages Alexander to keep doing speaking engagements, and she suggests hiring a “young person to come in and do social media for you.”

For example, when Alexander gives a keynote address, an intern could be in the audience, tweeting. Or when Sheryl Sandberg, the COO of Facebook, visits the Twin Cities as she did in October, Alexander could weigh in as an expert on women’s leadership.

“Put out a tweet. Cheryl Alexander says this about that,” DuBois recommends.

She approves their effort to create an app to reinforce accountability among peer groups of leaders. “I love that. It’s a good idea to differentiate yourself,” she says, but cautions them against revealing too much about the idea before it’s launched, so as not to tip the competition.

DuBois notes one other significant change from the first Upsize Growth Challenge workshop, in May, to the second, in September: a succinct explanation of who they are and what they do. “I’m so happy for you. It’s great to hear all the progress,” DuBois says.

Deb DuBois, Winthrop & Weinstine: 612.604.6688;
ddubois@winthrop.com;  www.winthrop.com

 WHAT THE EXPERTS SAY…about charging what you’re worth

When Cheryl Alexander sat down with Dean Willer, the Winthrop & Weinstine attorney who advises our winners, he was blunt: Her leadership development consulting firm should be charging two to five times its current rates.

“You’re an expert and a leader in your field,” he said, Alexander recalls. “Why are you charging like a beginner?” Alexander, who founded Cheryl Alexander & Associates 40 years ago, gulped hard, then took the leap.

“I couldn’t see five times more, but we’ve now doubled our rates,” she says proudly, and she’s thinking about working toward the quintuple figure.

In the past, she said, she wasn’t accounting for the overhead, administration, development and other functions that go into her firm’s work, and so was under-pricing services.

Further, she’s begun taking a more strategic approach to getting new business. She does frequent “lunch and learn” sessions to introduce potential clients to her services, but she’s not giving everything away in those sessions anymore.

Rather, she’s giving a “taste” of what her firm has to offer, including valuable takeaways that her audience can use. But she’s not sharing every single bit of information she has. Instead, her eye is toward bringing in new business.

Dean Willer, Winthrop & Weinstine: 612.604.6633; dwiller@winthrop.com www.winthrop.com


Beth Ewen