When the Great Recession blindsided employees who had been brimming with corporate-instilled self-confidence, the results, as witnessed by Luis Moreno and Darcy Douglas, often weren’t pretty.

Those laid off or downsized often declined to acknowledge their new reality, insisting they were doing great and maybe saying they were simply going on sabbatical.

“In very large companies, you’re trained to be a champion, a winner — ‘You’re the best!’ ’’ said Moreno, who works in marketing and strategy. “What you’re not trained to do is be vulnerable when things don’t go your way. But you’re still the same talented, goodhearted person with good intentions even when things aren’t going well.”

To deliver that message and equip those looking for work to find jobs, onetime colleagues Douglas and Moreno and his pal Tomas Perez formed the Twin Cities Business Peer Network (TCBPN). The nonprofit organization, founded in the dark days of 2008, brings together a diverse group of businesspeople from varying levels and a variety of industries and students from a number of institutions who commit to help members grow personally and professionally.

The group reached a milestone when it celebrated its fifth anniversary on July 18. Gov. Mark Dayton declared the day Twin Cities Business Peer Network Day, recognizing the group’s work to “support students and professionals in their lives and careers by building meaningful connections and organizing networking opportunities.”

Douglas, a director of account solutions at Kantar Media, said the group’s motivation is that “we care about people.”

“We want to help those within our network become stronger and more connected,” she said. “The focus is making sure we’re meeting their needs, delivering creative opportunities and doing unique events.”

At TCBPN’s quarterly gatherings, which often are attended by recruiters, network members make new connections, explore educational and career opportunities and hear from expert speakers — all at no charge. The founders pay all expenses out of their own pockets, with presenters waiving their usual fees and members donating services and helping to pay for refreshments.

‘Career transformations’

The group’s next event, examining “career transformations,” is Oct. 22 at the International Spanish Language Academy in Hopkins. It is open to members and guests. Those interested in attending must register for a free ticket. Find details on the group’s Facebook page (https://www.face book.com/TCBPN).

The group has grown from a couple of dozen folks to more than 1,300 registered members, 10 to 15 percent of whom typically attend the quarterly presentations. TCBPN, emphasizing depth of connections over quantity, isn’t actively recruiting.

“We want to have individuals who share the same values that we see within our group,” Perez said. “We don’t want someone who’s going to say, ‘I belong to 20 different networking groups, I’m going to join you guys now so I can be part of 21.’ We want someone that can leave their footprint within the group.”

That means longtime members like Liza Etienne, a product manager at management and technology consulting firm Digineer. She has volunteered her time to help plan presentations for a number of gatherings, including this month’s program.

“It’s the leadership and their level of integrity and sincerity in really helping others, that’s for me a personal draw,” Etienne said. “It’s a hidden gem that a lot of people don’t know about but it’s an amazing resource.”

Founders’ credibility

Public relations veteran Rose McKin­ney of brand-reputation management firm PineappleRM, a TCBPN member who has spoken at and sponsored group events, attributes its success to the credibility of its founders.

“I’ve rarely witnessed or been part of an organization that is as authentically engaged and that lives its own brand the way TCBPN does,” she said. “When they say, ‘How can I help you?’ they mean it. When they say they’ll do something, they do it. They’ve created this unwritten expectation. It’s amazing how, when you model this, people will respond likewise.”

Some people, Moreno said, tell him he’s crazy to spend his time and money on the network without pay.

“Not all currency is coins and bills,” Moreno said. “We have our compensation in having people come back and say, ‘I found this job, I thank you.’ ”

The expert says: Alan Benson, an assistant professor in the work and organizations group at the University of Minnesota’s Carlson School of Management, and his wife attended the TCBPN’s fifth-anniversary event.

“We were struck by how helpful people were and also how genuinely and sincerely interested people there were in making connections that we thought were appropriate,” said Benson, who was viewing the group from a professional perspective while his wife was looking for insights into the labor market after their move to the Twin Cities over the summer.


Todd Nelson is a freelance writer in Woodbury. His e-mail address is todd_nelson@mac.com.