By Stevie Kernick, owner emeritus and account manager
What does it take for an Association Management Company (AMC) to reach its 30-year anniversary?
Persistence | Enthusiasm | Resolution | Stubbornness | Endurance | Veracity | Energy | Respect | Allegiance | Necessity | Commitment | Excellence
All of these adjectives, and more, consumed my life during the 18 years I owned IMI Association Executives Inc. (IMI). But it started long before that.
In 1986, the late Barbara W. Short had a vision. She wanted to be the sole owner of a marketing communications firm that also served association clients. Having been a minor partner in another marketing firm, she stepped out on her own without a single client to support the new company. There were five employees and I was one of them, primarily based on our friendship and my experience working with several small state-based trade associations.
I witnessed just the tip of the iceberg of the start-up process and was spared the 12-hour days that spanned many months, the constant number-crunching, pleading with suppliers to lend credit, the thrice daily scan of the bank account fearful that payroll would not be met and bills wouldn’t be paid. All this while using her personal bank account to fund the start-up costs.
The company grew for the next 10 years, with new clients coming and others going while the association clients endured and were the backbone, if not the cash cow, of the firm.
At the 10-year mark, I was tapped to take ownership of the company. Eagerness, uncertainty, excitement, optimism.
I inherited with the purchase a staff of eight energetic and enthusiastic employees. The association clients didn’t balk at the change in ownership and the marketing clients were transitioned to other area firms which could effectively meet their needs. It was 1996 and I was in the Association Management business!
Goal #1…Meet payroll and pay all suppliers on time. Sounds simple enough, but it wasn’t. It took six months to build cash reserves enough for me to sleep at night.
But all the while I, along with the staff, had one single mission – listen to and understand the clients. They don’t necessarily come right out and tell you what they need or want, but if you listen you’ll hear it.
Goal #2 was at least one new client during the first year of ownership. Check! But by only a few days.
Goal #3…A national or international client. This one took a bit longer, but by the end of the third year we had secured our coveted national membership client and we didn’t look back. For a period of three years, each new association client we brought into the fold linked back, in some way, to that first client.
Suddenly, the staff, which had grown to 13, was consumed with the myriad of day-to-day activities required to serve 14 trade and professional associations.
There were successes and failures during the next 18 years, fortunately more of the former than the later. I made my share of mistakes with clients and, certainly, with employees. I hope I learned from them.
I was never a bottom-line-first oriented owner. Of course, the bottom line was important, it just wasn’t the first thing. What was number one was listening to the clients, understanding their needs and providing them with what was most important to them. That concept has served the company well for the past 30 years. Yes, we’ve had clients and employees leave for a “better, more sophisticated,” AMC but we’ve also had clients and employees come back when they realized that what really mattered was working with people who care about the job they do.
First things first – listen and understand the clients and the employees.
When I sold IMI in January 2014 to a trusted, 23-year employee, Linda C. Owens, CAE, I did so with full confidence that the values of IMI would endure into the future. No regrets. No grieving. Only satisfaction in knowing that the future of IMI is in good hands.
IMI turned 30 in May!