5Q: Christopher T.R. Letts, president, Association for Corporate Growth, Detroit Chapter

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Christopher T.R. Letts, president of the Association for Corporate Growth (ACG), Detroit chapter, is the youngest president of the middle market advocacy organization in the world. While the organization continues to offer tried-and-true educational, recognition, and networking programs, Letts also focuses on engaging traditionally underrepresented groups in the 400-plus-member organization.

DDN: Can you tell me a little bit about ACG Detroit?

CL: ACG is an organization of 60 chapters worldwide, and we touch over 100,000 people a year. We are roughly 14,000 members, and within Detroit, we are an organization focused on serving the middle market … organizations that have annual revenues that range, in terms of size, from $10 million to $1 billion, which is a very wide scope … If you think of these professionals, they range from transaction advisers, investment bankers, capital providers; … we have service providers that would span the gamut from wealth managers, to attorneys, CPAs, etc., and we also have some entrepreneurs … No one fills that space better than ACG in terms of an industry group, and we are very much a leader within that kind of global ACG umbrella within the Detroit chapter.

DDN: As president, what new ideas do you plan to bring to ACG Detroit?

CL: There’s kind of a view and vision that … is a little more focused on things that are more relevant to my generation … One of the things that we have been focused on is bringing in participation from members of ACG that traditionally haven’t been very well-represented, specifically women and those who we call next-gen within the organization, those members under the age of 35 … We have a segment within ACG called Women’s Forum, and there’s been an incredible amount of extremely talented women doing great things within the city of Detroit and within our community. On the next-gen front, when I originally joined ACG, there was not really a real initiative focused on young leaders within the organization … There’s a lot of credit that’s due to our board of directors, because a number of years ago, the organization decided to build out a specific effort focused on bringing in members under the age of 35. … After this initiative has been facilitated, there has been a complete change and dynamic in the makeup of the organization. … In addition to membership efforts, another thing that I think is very unique to my generation is social media and communicating in a way that I think is nontraditional. … We’ve had a very specific effort in communicating the good things that we’re doing within ACG Detroit outside of just press releases and websites. … One of the things that are very important to … our entire membership population is the opportunity to give back. … I sit on the board of directors of an organization called HAVEN. … The men of ACG have been mentoring the boys of HAVEN, … and the women, … have been educating a lot of the mothers who have been a part of HAVEN, teaching them financial literacy, basics of divorce, basic budgeting, etc. As much as we are very much a business organization, living in a very capital-driven world, we find ways to give back that are incredibly rewarding outside of just the parameters of business.

DDN: What does ACG Detroit have to offer its members?

CL: We consider ourselves, point-blank, to be a leading networking organization within the city of Detroit. … We care deeply about our networking, and it is the reason why every single person, at least in leadership, is a part of ACG Detroit. … Second of all, we have unbelievable programming. … If you look at our programming schedule over the past 12 months, we are in line to have in excess of 40 programs that will be available to our membership. These events vary from hugely events like our M&A Allstar Awards, which we partner with DBusiness magazine to facilitate. … Last year, we had well over 300 (members who) were registered to be a part of that. … Our women’s forum Wine Down Wednesday, which is very simply a platform for our … female members to connect over a glass of wine. … These programs are designed not only to be social in nature, which all of them are, but we also have a tremendous amount of educational program to go along with it. … We are hosting the 2019 Great Lakes Capital Connection. … It will be in Detroit in 2019, and we will have over 1,200 capital providers … coming to Detroit for a three-day conference that will bring some of the best minds from the Midwest to our backyard … Finally, … we’ve been recognized by ACG Global for being the very, very best compared to the 60 other chapters that exist within the ACG global ecosystem. If you look at the last four years, we’ve been selected twice by ACG Global as being the very best chapter in the world.

DDN: How does ACG Detroit help the business community?

CL: When you approach $1 billion in revenue or beyond … the thing that never ceases to amaze me is how much of a black box that that space can be in terms of finding true professionals, true thought leaders to serve businesses in that space. Often, when an entrepreneur … starts a business, and I see this all the time here in Detroit, it starts as an individual entrepreneur or closely held family business, … and it often can grow under the radar for quite some time, and all of the sudden, you have these incredibly wide-ranging and successful businesses that go largely unnoticed because many of these businesses have no visibility in the public market … There’s really no organization that’s out there that serves the needs of these middle market businesses in terms of … everything a middle market business could need, there’s no other organization out there that has, for example, the talent that ACG Detroit has servicing every possible need one middle market business owner could have in terms of running their business. … Everything that a middle market entrepreneur could need as it relates to acquiring a business, selling their own business, facilitating the needs of the business, at every single level, those professionals can be found at any ACG Detroit meeting.

DDN: How do you plan to grow ACG Detroit’s membership? In terms of membership, how does the Detroit membership compare to other ACG chapters?

CL: We continue being the very best in terms of meeting the needs of middle market entrepreneurs and having a platform for those organizations serving the middle market businesses to networking congregate … That is my objective that I seek to accomplish every single time I enter into a role associated with ACG Detroit. … In addition to our initiatives that I mentioned earlier, we facilitated some new initiatives that we’re quite excited about. We have what we call a corporate development initiative where we are focusing on bringing some of the incredible talent that we have in terms of corporate development professionals on a singular platform. … We have other initiatives as well, but ultimately, we need to continue doing what we’re doing, offering great programming (and) offering a space for women and young professionals to come in and succeed and lead. Our membership is currently in the range of 430-450 … We are considered a large chapter by ACG standards, which means when we compete for chapter of the year designations, for example, we go up against some of the largest chapters in the world … which is one of the reasons we’re very proud here in Detroit that we’re not only competing but we’re winning at a very high level at the ACG global ecosystem.