The Association for Corporate Growth’s Wisconsin chapter is increasing membership, fine-tuning its programming and introducing new events for members.
ACG is a global organization for professionals involved in mergers and acquisitions and corporate growth and development. The 21-year-old Wisconsin chapter has about 160 members and a strong corporate focus, which has limited the number of service providers – M&A dealmakers, private equity investors, lawyers and other deal-related service providers – who were allowed to join.
Under ACG-Wisconsin’s old membership guidelines, only two people from a service-providing organization such as an M&A broker, law firm or accounting firm, were allowed to be members. That restriction has been lifted. However, service providers looking to become members still need to bring at least one corporate member with them if they are to join. There is no such requirement for perspective corporate members.
The corporate focus has contributed to the chapter’s success, said Linda Mertz, president of ACG-Wisconsin, because corporate members feel comfortable there. Mertz is also owner and managing director of Mertz Associates Inc.
However, at the same time, there was a feeling that certain people who were otherwise suited for membership might be left out, she said.
“I felt like I knew a lot of members that loved the organization and I also knew a lot of people that wanted to become members,” Mertz said. “I felt like we needed to have more of the capable people we have in Wisconsin in that room.”
Many other ACG chapters haven’t chosen the corporate focus that the Wisconsin chapter has, said Ron Miller, managing director with Cleary Gull Inc., and chairman of ACG-Wisconsin’s programming committee.
“In Chicago, they relaxed their membership, and now they have 800 to 1,000 members,” he said. “They’re almost all service providers. It’s a different flavor, more networking amongst the deal community. In Wisconsin, we’re different and proud of it.”
Although ACG-Wisconsin is expanding membership, the chapter will work to preserve its corporate focus. To that end, ACG-Wisconsin has already identified several potential new members, both service providers and potential corporate members, Mertz said.
“It’s about quality,” Mertz said. “We’re opening it up to the right people.”
Expanding the chapter’s membership is going to take time, Mertz said.
“We’re not pressuring ourselves to build Rome in a day,” she said.
ACG-Wisconsin is involving more members in the decision-making process through newly created programming, membership and communications committees, Mertz said. Each committee has 10 to 12 members and is making some decisions that were formerly made by the group’s board of directors.
The new committees will help deepen members’ ties to the volunteer organization, Mertz said, and help develop a new crop of leaders.
“If we keep the committees going, we will develop more ideas,” Mertz said. “I envision it becoming a seeding (program) to serving on the board. And I envision our board being even more active than it has been in the past.”
Programming is increasing as well, from nine events to 14 this year. ACG-Wisconsin’s nine educational seminars, held on Fridays from September through May, will continue, said Ron Miller. The seminars are held during either the breakfast or lunch hour and are split between CEO success stories and panel discussions.
The group will hold three social events this fiscal year – two networking receptions in the fall and spring and a golf outing held last week.
ACG-Wisconsin is also offering a new type of programming for its corporate members this year, Miller said – a new corporate development series in October and February, focusing on integration and due diligence.
While ACG-Wisconsin wants to increase its membership and offer more programming, the strong corporate focus isn’t changing, both Mertz and Miller said.
“We want to be the premiere M&A organization at a high level in Wisconsin,” Miller said. “And we want to have high-quality content. If we do that, we will have high membership.”
The Wisconsin chapter’s membership is about 50 percent corporate, Miller said, a ratio it wants to keep.
The Wisconsin ACG chapter was focused on having a high percentage of corporate members from its beginnings, said William Killian, one of the founding members of the chapter. Killian moved to Milwaukee to work for Johnson Controls Inc. in the early 1980s from Detroit, where he was involved in the ACG chapter there.
“We tried to steer it to have mostly corporate people because we had heard from other chapters that it can get out of control if you have too many service people,” Killian said. “It turned out to be a great place for business people to get to know each other, to get ideas on how things are done. It’s a great place where people can talk openly, not to spill secrets, but to help each other.”
Killian was eventually named vice president of corporate development and strategy with Johnson Controls. He also served as the first president of the Wisconsin ACG chapter. He was later selected chairman of the global organization in the 1990s. Since then, two other members of ACG-Wisconsin have been named chairman of the global organization – Peter Coffey and Paul Stewart.
Stewart, a partner in Milwaukee-based PS Capital Partners LLC, currently serves as ACG chairman. He has also been active in the Wisconsin ACG chapter for many years and said the efforts to expand membership and programming within the local chapter are similar to changes in other chapters across the world.
“Every chapter has its own nuances,” Stewart said. “But what ACG-Wisconsin is doing is no different than any group of folks – as the market has evolved, we need to continually be looking and reaching out to this segment that has the expertise, whether they’re a lawyer, accountant or CEO or CFO, to make sure we are reaching out to these people for knowledge or if they’d be a good fit to be a member of our organization. We should never be satisfied that we have our membership profile complete.”
Miller agreed, and said while the chapter is increasing membership, it’s not going to dilute quality.
“Locally, we’ve maintained a high quality membership,” he said. “We’re trying to expand and take programming and leadership to the next level.”