I started WJ Weiser and Associates in 1988. Prior to that, I worked for Baxter Healthcare in their physical therapy (PT) division as their operations manager. I was in charge of the non-clinical areas (practice management) of more than 60 physical therapy centers owned by the company. I also worked in mergers and acquisitions. I had approximately 100 direct and indirect reports. Due to the success of the PT division, Baxter launched a new management services division where they would employ and provide all non-medical personnel to manage and administer medical practice business functions. Just prior to that, I too knew that my expertise could be translated to medical practices. Because I had reached a glass ceiling within the Baxter organization, I struck out on my own at 28 years old, originally as a medical practice management consultant.
My first association client was a national organization that was losing money and members. The association president asked me if I could figure out how to reverse that trend. As it turned out, some of the staff was engaging in some light embezzlement. The executive secretary (today, we call this role the executive director) resigned prior to my first onsite visit. I reported my findings to their board, and they liked my work enough to hire me on contract. My first task was to lay off the remaining staff, and move the operations to the suburb of Chicago where I resided.
From that first group, which is still a client today, my association management business grew through referrals. Board members from one organization who were on other association boards, or who had friends or colleagues on other association boards, or who knew of other organizations that needed help with management services, would recommend me. After about two years, I hired my first employee — a meeting planner, because my greatest need and the easiest service that could operate somewhat independently from the other service areas. I did everything else: working as the executive director for our clients, dues billing and accounting, publications and communications, designing and programming our association management software. You name it — I was doing it.
My mom said many times she thought I was going to kill myself through exhaustion, and begged me to slow down. I told her some people like to garden; I like to work.
Now, Weiser employs more than 50 people in eight departments: accreditation communications, accounting, executive director roles, design, government relations, industry relations and meeting planning, . Our business grew organically through client referrals — all of our clients have come to us through happy referrals! — and with more than 80 clients, we’re the association management company with the largest number of medical and healthcare association clients in the U.S.
Growing WJ Weiser has come with challenges. When I first wanted to rent office space, it took me a while find a place because landlords wouldn’t rent space to women. At that time, Sears was denying credit cards to women, too. Can you believe it?
Another challenge has been finding the right talent for our team. In our role as association managers, you must first be good business leaders, have exceptional business acumen and be very organized and responsive. You must have technical knowledge about association management and the healthcare industry, and be likable enough to enter association professionals’ circles of friendship to gain their trust.
In addition, it’s sometimes difficult to find the right pricing for our services. We need to keep our fee structure reasonable but also to be able to pay our employees well so that we can retain them, and not overwork them, so that we are able to provide quality and excellence in services. That balance of service and fees is tricky.
I think that because our business has come from referrals, we’ve been able to create strongholds in medical specialties like urology, rheumatology and more recently, endocrinology. We manage 13 endocrinology associations as of Jan. 1, 2019! We find that because we only manage healthcare organizations, we understand the business and professional education needs of physicians and other healthcare providers exceptionally and uniquely well. Weiser has become a company they can know and trust. We believe we’ve been able to change the landscape of these specialties by building strong professional organizations that provide growth in member programming and excellence in medical education. The power of these organizations help to shape healthcare regulations and legislation through advocacy and government relations helps doctors, healthcare professionals and ultimately, the patient.
Last year, we surveyed all our clients about their level of satisfaction with our services. Ninety-one percent responded. We had a net promoter score of 100 percent in professionalism, and 97 percent in having the knowledge and expertise to address any needs of the association, performance of Weiser staff, and satisfaction of Weiser as a business partner. I’m really proud that we’ve earned the prestigious and exclusive endorsement from the American Dental Association for association management services to its state and component societies. We’ve also won the preferred provider status from the American Pediatric Association for its chapters. Earning these distinctions came after a comprehensive and competitive due diligence process, so to be selected as their preferred provider of management services is like winning the Academy Award. Our client appraisals combined with the peer recognition of preferred provider relationships are validation of our hard work.
Naylor purchased the company in 2015, and we are proud to be part of the Naylor family of services, who share the same values and commitment to product and service excellence.
In the future, I’d like to continue making inroads into more medical specialties where there isn’t as much organization at the state or federal level, or to create new associations where established organizations have lost touch with members’ needs. Strengthening state organizations will continue to be a major company initiative because more and more healthcare laws and regulations are happening at the state level, and healthcare providers want more professional education that is close to home. We want to provide local, quality continuing medical education.
I’m really proud of every person on our team. We all play a role in supporting our clients, and we want every association member to have a positive experience with us. Even if they call us just once over the course of their membership to register for something or request a resource, we want that interaction to be good. I’m proud that everyone at every level of our organization strives to provide a good member experience.