An investor group that includes Svoboda, Collins LLC, Mesirow Financial Inc., and Henry S. Givray has acquired the full ownership of Smith, Bucklin & Associates, the country's largest association management firm, with offices in Chicago, St. Louis, and Washington, D.C. What's behind the deal?
Givray, who was named SBA president and CEO at the time of the acquisition, left Smith, Bucklin in 1996 after managing associations of all stripes for the company for 13 years. He spent the interim six years running technology startups, most recently serving as chairman, president, and CEO of CourtLink Corp., a legal industry online services company that was bought earlier this year by the LexisNexis Group.
“It's ironic that in many ways my journey over the past six years is what brought me back to SBA in a new role,” says Givray. CourtLink was sold earlier this year, about the same time William Blair Capital Partners, which had invested in SBA since 1998, began considering transferring ownership of the association management company. “So I got in touch with CourtLink's third largest investor, Chicago-based Mesirow Financial, which I had worked with for four and a half years,” Givray explains. “They said they'd be willing to look into it if I'd be interested in running the company. I said, ‘You know, I think I would.’” Svoboda, Collins, another Chicago-based investor, got involved, and the acquisition became a done deal in late August.
While association management isn't known as a high-growth field, the investors saw a number of positives in the 50-year-old firm. “SBA's a market leader with a proven business mode. It's financially stable and has a diverse and prestigious client base. But the biggest challenge for an incoming investor is the management team,” says Givray. “Given that I had a relationship and a proven track record with Mesirow, and that I had worked with SBA for 13 years, my agreeing to come on board also helped allow the decision to move forward.”
The transition from investor William Blair and Steve Fitzer, SBA's president and CEO for the past four years, to the new president and ownership was a smooth one, says Givray; the firm's 70-plus association clients will see no immediate impact in terms of day-to-day operations. “What they will see over time is the raising of the bar in terms of quality and the comprehensiveness of service offerings,” says Givray. Smith, Bucklin plans to continue to expand its current client base in the trade, health care, and technology fields.
“It's about taking the lessons learned from running a business to serving and managing associations,” he says. “There are some great opportunities around the corner. Our job is to be able to implement and manage these ideas for our clients in a cost-effective way. Business and associations both have to balance what they've done well in the past with making incremental, or even radical, changes based on your members current and evolving needs. That's where our focus is going to be.”
Sue Pelletier is executive editor of firstname.lastname@example.org.; contact her at
In late August, the International Association of Association Management Companies announced that five association Management companies had been accredited by IAAMC:
Able Management Solutions Inc., Columbus, Ohio
Association Headquarters Inc., Mt. Laurel, N.J.
Association Management Resources Inc., Lexington, Ky.
CM Services Inc., Glen Ellyn, Ill.
Fernley Fernley Inc., Philadelphia
For more information on IAAMC's Accreditation Program or membership, contact www.IAAMC.org or call (630) 655-1669.