Sales and marketing professionals aim to fill the gap created by the demise of SME

Last updated on May 13th, 2019 at 02:23 pm

The ashes of the former Sales & Marketing Executives (SME) of Milwaukee were barely cool when the phoenix of a new organization began stirring. That new group, an affiliate of Sales & Marketing Executives International, expects to have its first official meeting in February.
The move follows the November decision by SME’s board to file for Chapter 7 bankruptcy protection and cancel all programs.
"SME’s members were surprised by the board’s action," says Ann Devine, national executive director of Pi Sigma Epsilon, a collegiate marketing, sales management and selling fraternity, and the 1992-1993 SME-Milwaukee president. "Many of us are very passionate about the group. Phone calls and informal gatherings among peers began focusing on the need for a professional organization covering the broad sales and marketing fields."
A group began discussions with Sales & Marketing Executives International Inc. about forming an affiliate for the greater Milwaukee area. SME had earlier been affiliated with the international group but severed its relationship.
Devine is part of the organizing group for the international affiliate, which was slated to hold its first formal organizational meeting Jan. 6. Others are Dick Richards from The Country Inn Hotel and Conference Center; Bonnie Halvorsen, Quarles & Brady; Al Van Maren, Imperial Laundry Systems; Jim Weiss, Small Business Times; and Jim Zaffrann, Winter, Kloman, Motor & Repp.
"We will make it happen; there are more than 250 reasons to form SMEI of Greater Milwaukee," Devine said, "and that’s the people who formerly belonged to SME". Sales & Marketing Executives-Milwaukee at one time had as many as 500 members, but membership slide in the late 1990s, hurting the organizations’ finances.
In Devine’s position with Pi Sigma Epsilon, she has had close ties with SMEI leadership. "SMEI members were founders of our collegiate fraternity 50 years ago and the relationship continues," she explains. "I’ve been very impressed with SMEI’s new leadership. The organization has a turnkey system for starting a new affiliate and has pledged its support. It has some awesome programming available, too. The plan is to have our first official SMEI meeting in February and take off from there. Our core group, many of whom are former SME presidents and board members, has the passion and knowledge to see that it does happen."
Why the need for a new organization if the old one was having difficulties? Devine answers, "Those who were SME members feel a void. As one person told me, ‘I miss the excitement of seeing my peers, the networking opportunities, learning from one another and the programming. It’s always a fun and upbeat group.’"
The new organization is not intended to be a carbon copy of SME, however. "We’ll be totally separate and new. One big difference will be our affiliation with SMEI. We’ll reach the greater Milwaukee area and beyond," Devine says. "Sales and marketing positions have changed, and our new group will reflect the current business environment. We envision a more inclusive group and one that reaches out to other organizations to offer broader programming."
The new group will have a fee structure different from that of SME. Whether or not it would have a paid staff was still being considered.
Speaking about the new SMEI of Greater Milwaukee, Willis Turner, president of the SMEI in Sumas, Wash., notes, "It is ready to go due to the overwhelming response from sales and marketing executives in the greater Milwaukee area who want the interaction with other professionals. They understand that membership in a worldwide professional association is important to their career and business success."
SMEI has identified more than 300 potential members. "The most important aspect of this launch is what our organization can do to protect the integrity and professionalism of sales and marketing" says SMEI chairman Jeffrey Hayzlett.
According to the international group, the success of the venture will depend on two major factors:

  • The quality and professionalism of local volunteer leadership – Because SMEI is a nonprofit professional association, leadership of the organization both internationally and locally is responsible for membership growth, retention and local programming. One plus is the business leaders who have already banded together to form a SMEI leadership team in Greater Milwaukee;
  • Full adoption of the SMEI charter which includes a best-practices operations manual and leadership training.
    Sales & Marketing Executives International has more than 50 affiliate chapters around the world.
    Information on membership in the Milwaukee SMEI affiliate, when it is ready, can be obtained from Devine via e-mail at
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