There's a saying within the ACG that "you're just one handshake away from your next deal, and that's why people have been coming to InterGrowth for 45 years," says Gary LaBranche (pictured), president and CEO of the Association for Corporate Growth (ACG) about the annual conference, which draws about 2,000 middle-market dealmakers.
"It's the one time of year when people from all over the country, who are serious players in the business, come together for the intended purpose of doing business. It's a remarkable thing to see free- market capitalism in a microcosm, in the general sessions, at lunch, by the pool, on the tennis court and on the golf course."
For LaBranche, the general sessions are among the highlights of the conference, which is being held at the Rosen Shingle Creek in Orlando, Fla., from April 22 to 25, 2013. Keynote speakers include former Senator Alan Simpson (R-Wyo.) and Erskine Bowles (pictured), the former White House chief of staff for President Bill Clinton, who is also known to dealmakers as the founder of boutique investment bank Bowles Hollowell Conner & Co. (See the February cover story of Mergers & Acquisitions for more on BHC.) Together, Simpson and Bowles co-chair the National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform, a bipartisan commission that developed a plan for trimming the nation's deficits by $4 trillion over the next decade.
"What better time in our nation's political history would there be to bring Alan Simpson (pictured) and Erskine Bowles together -which is a rare thing-to talk about the most pressing domestic issue in the U.S.?" queries LaBranche. "I'm really looking forward to hearing from these two wise men."
Also on deck is Adm. Eric Olson, the former commander of the U.S. Special Operations Command and the highest ranking Navy SEAL ever. Olson served during a period that saw some of the country's most intense manhunts, such as the one that resulted in the 2011 death of al Qaeda founder Osama bin Laden, who was believed to be responsible for the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001.
Olson offers attendees the "opportunity to hear from somebody who has to make life and death decisions that affect national security and world peace," explains LaBranche. "Think about the kinds of things the Navy SEALs have done and the attention to detail they have, the preparedness and the thinking through a problem and envisioning 16 scenarios that could occur. It's always uplifting to gain insight from people in entirely different fields. To see and understand how they have dealt with issues illuminates what we do."
When asked to explain the relevance of the keynote speeches to conference attendees, LaBranche responds: "We exist in a complex, globalized community, in which emerging trends, like tax policy, social changes and technology all have an impact, or the potential to have an impact, on our businesses. If you have your nose to the grindstone every day, you don't have the ability to appreciate the big picture and perceive subtle and disruptive changes around us."
Other speakers include Peter Diamandis, chairman and CEO of the X Prize Foundation, which offers large incentive prizes to drive what it calls "radical breakthroughs for the benefit of humanity." He is expected to share stories of innovations changing the way people think, work and educate future generations.
Also speaking is Doug Holtz-Eakin, former director of the Congressional Budget Office, about tax implications on the middle market, and Richard Levick, author of The Communicators: Leadership in the Age of Crisis, about what executives should know to safeguard brands during a crisis.
Beyond the speeches and the formal breakout sessions, InterGrowth offers myriad opportunities to network informally with other dealmakers and develop new leads. While ACG veterans are also looking to re-connect with colleagues they know, first-time attendees are encouraged to "jump in and connect," urges ACG Global chairman Charles Morton (pictured).
His tips for InterGrowth newbies include: "Don't be intimidated by the size of the crowd or the apparent relationships that already exist. But do take a few minutes to review the attendee list. If there are people you are particularly eager to meet, try to arrange a get-together via email. If you meet someone in passing with whom you're eager to follow up, try to arrange something post-conference. InterGrowth doesn't end at InterGrowth."
The conference also provides a good opportunity to "take the pulse of the dealmaking community," points out Morton. "In 2009, it felt like a funeral, but in 2010, it felt like the patient had been resurrected."
InterGrowth also offers a chance for a little R&R, including yoga (new this year). The organizers strive to make the overall experience both memorable and fun. Says LaBranche, "The economy has delivered a few rough years, and now we can do a little stress relief, a little centering. We deserve a little fun."
For a look at ACG chapters in Florida, see reporter Allison Collins' sidebar "Focus on Florida."