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Posted 5.16.07

Weatherheadlines recently sat down with Eric Lutzo, MBA '00, to learn more about the companies he founded, his pivotal role in Plexus, his community support.

Q: What is your current title and position?
I am the founder of two companies: Forward Thought LLC and SoTre Properties LLC. I am the principal consultant with Forward Thought and the lead developer with SoTre Properties.

Q: What does your current job entail?
Forward Thought is a coaching and leadership development practice that specializes in developing leadership skills for the individual as well as teams within organizations. Forward Thought's target markets are the manufacturing and financial institutions as well as a variety of nonprofit and start-up organizations.

SoTre Properties is a real estate development firm that specializes in property development in the south Tremont. SoTre provides a quality living space while engaging in the rebuilding of a community.

Q: What degree did you receive from the Weatherhead School and in what year?
I received an M.B.A. with concentrations in organizational behavior and information science in 2000.

Q: Do you remain active in the Weatherhead School community as an alumnus?
I am a board member of the Alumni Association and have sat and chaired the career development committee. I currently sit on the board development committee.

Q: I understand you were instrumental in bringing Plexus into existence. Would you please tell us a bit about Plexus?
As an organization, Plexus, the chamber of commerce for the Lesbian Gay Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) community and allies serving northeast Ohio, exists to provide business development services for the LGBT community and its allies and to serve as an advocate for LGBT business and employment issues.

We provide this service to our members in two ways. First, we are an advocate for workplace equality and second, we are an agent for business development. By analyzing national statistics we estimate that there are over 200,000 LGBT citizens in northeastern Ohio with a purchasing power of over $800,000 million a year. We work with organizations who want to target the LGBT market segment as well as buy from it through our national supplier diversity initiative. Studies show that the LGBT consumer is highly brand loyal and even more supportive of organizations who champion LGBT workplace equality. As consumers we are choosing where we want to do buy our products and do our banking.

To help organizations become more inclusive and supportive of LGBT professionals, we consult around changes in non-discrimination policy, health care benefits for partners, LGBT employee resource groups and offer member organizations marketing opportunities target this audience. To all our members we offer educational opportunities, mentorship, coaching and networking opportunities.

Q: Would you please tell us a bit about the genesis of Plexus?
In January of 2006, David Ream, another Case alumni, and I gathered a steering committee to discuss creating a chamber of commerce for the LGBT community in northeast Ohio. This chamber was going to be an expansion of Network Metro Cleveland, a monthly networking event for professionals in the LGBT community. After several months of planning and some travel to national conferences, Plexus was incorporated as a 501c6 in June of 2006. The name Plexus was chosen after incorporation as a way to build a brand and create an inspiring identity. Our branding was done with support from a Weatherhead School alumnus.

In the following four months the steering committee met regularly to identify angle investors, potential board members and connectors. By October a board was formed and an angel campaign launched to raise funds to move the organization to the next level. In December of 2006 the Plexus board underwent an intense strategic planning process lead by Leslie Yerkes, a Plexus board member, as well as another Weatherhead School alumnus.

In addition to the strategic planning process Plexus applied for and was selected to present to the Civic Innovation Lab. After a compelling presentation and description of the state of workplace equality and business development opportunities for the LGBT community in northeast Ohio, the Civic Innovation Lab awarded Plexus a $30,000 grant to move the organization forward. The lab felt that a Chamber of Commerce for the LGBT community was a critical organization for the economic vitality of northeast Ohio and Plexus under the leadership of Eric was the right model to make this chamber happen. At the same time as the Civic Innovation Lab process was being conducted, the Plexus board formed a straw man committee to design a business model with membership structures and an implementation timeline. In addition to these items, a value proposition has been developed and a Web site put in place.

The straw man committee also found time to conduct a survey of the Plexus e-mail subscribers.

Survey research about Plexus conducted in April 2007 and fielded primarily in the LGBT community provided some interesting data, such as:

  • More than 75 percent of respondents thought Plexus should provide advocacy work in companies, marketing opportunities and a business directory;
  • More than two-thirds thought Plexus should offer business development services and business resources;
  • Sixty eight percent of respondents said they or their companies would be willing to provide a trainer or a speaker; 58 percent expressed interest in being a vendor at a business expo;
  • Ninety three percent of respondents were interested in membership in Plexus;
  • Sixty seven percent of those interested in joining Plexus said they would join immediately or within the next three months.

Q: How can professionals, organizations, small businesses or corporations join Plexus? 
Our membership drive is launching on June 16 at Cleveland PRIDE. Interested participants can go to the thinkplexus.org Web site, show up to PRIDE, Voinovich Park, or give us a call at 888-PLEXUS9.

Q: What do you like to do in your spare time?
In my spare time I am restoring a 100-year old Victorian home in Tremont, I lead the Tremont Gardeners, I am a huge community supporter and love to entertain. I am also the proud parent of two great dogs named Baxter and Max and I spend as much time as I can with my boyfriend Sean.

Q: Do you have a motto or tagline by which you live your life?
I believe in humankind's true potential.

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