Fast growth for Greater Philadelphia Senior Executive Group

Can’t stand to read another word about social networking sites on the Web?

Me, too. Sure, LinkedIn and Facebook are pervasive, instant, and often powerful. But they can also can be intrusive, insistent, and strangely impersonal.

For those who like networking of the face-to-face kind, there are all sorts of professional organizations that have regular meetings, mixers, and business-card exchanges.

Then there is the nonprofit group started by Temple University entrepreneurship professor Chris Pavlides in May 2002. The Greater Philadelphia Senior Executive Group sounds exclusive, and it is.

Membership is limited to those who are or were “C-level” executives, make at least $150,000, and have 20 years of experience. Applicants must be sponsored by a current member. About 10 percent of applications are not accepted, Pavlides said.

(C-level isn’t a comment on their competency, but shorthand for the many chiefs in a business - chief executive officer, chief financial officer, chief operating officer, and so on.)

Pavlides started his group as a way to help senior executives who were “in transition.” That’s a nice way of saying “between jobs.”

Given all the cost-cutting that’s gone on in corporate America, one place to slash that can save big money is in those C-level ranks, Pavlides said. Those who make big money are tempting targets for, say, your chief restructuring officer to trim.

Thus, there’s quite a bit of nervousness in the executive ranks, especially among those whose steady advancement over the years has bred a complacency about keeping their contacts current.

That helps explain how a group that’s grown simply by word of mouth accepted its 1,000th member last month. The Greater Philadelphia Senior Executive Group increased its ranks by nearly 350 in 13 months, at a time when other organizations are seeing declining membership.

Besides holding events around Center City, it has expanded to Princeton, the Lehigh Valley, and South Jersey. As former members have seen their careers take them away from Philadelphia, Pavlides said, he’s gotten inquiries about starting chapters in California, Texas, and even Alaska.

Pavlides believes the group’s growth is a reflection of the value it places on face-to-face networking. Its motto is “networking for life,” and he said that’s how we need to approach our careers. “It’s your best defense now.”

For many who have joined, the realization that they could be fired in the next round of belt-tightening was their epiphany. “We put all of our lives into a company, and it could go away tomorrow,” he said.

If you’re not reaching out to help or be helped by friends, colleagues, former bosses, customers and suppliers, you’re not building a network. That means networking is a two-way street. You must give as much as you get, Pavlides said.

Attrition from the group is quite small, perhaps 5 percent a year.

“Once you’ve been burned once, people don’t trust that it can’t happen again. The world is very finicky,” Pavlides said. “What stays with you is your network.”

That’s true even for those of us far below C-level.