An organization formed in 1978 by a dozen salesmen who wanted to teach their profession to younger members has been forced to expand its focus during the past five years.
The Association of Investment Management Sales Executives is holding its 21st Annual Marketing and Sales Conference this week in Palm Beach, Fla. Frank Russell Co. organized the first AIMSE conference in 1977, then helped finance the start of the organization in 1978. The association now has about 1,400 members nationwide.
Although golf, sea and sand will be on the menu, attendees also will consider such sobering subjects as repositioning firms for takeover or acquisition, and new bases of competition in the 401(k) market.
Change in the investment industry in recent years has made the sales, marketing and client service business more complex than it was 20 years ago. While the conferences continue to be arenas to meet, socialize and exchange techniques, educational sessions in recent years have reached far beyond traditional selling and marketing.
"The nature of the job has changed," said John Seiter, one of the group's founders and executive vice president of Capital Guardian Trust Co., Los Angeles.
"You aren't strictly sales people anymore. Many are in a consultant-like capacity with a client and prospective clients and you have to have a good working knowledge of many technical aspects of modern portfolio theory."
Consolidation, which has led to larger and more diverse product groups, is among the industry changes that have affected sales jobs. Many investment firms now are involved in a larger variety of asset types, such as real estate, private equity, hedge funds and timber. In addition, defined contribution plans have become far more important, eclipsing defined benefit plans for some clients and requiring new marketing approaches.
The marketer's role was further expanded by the need of investment firms to develop relationships with industry consultants.
The AIMSE/Wharton Investment Institute was initiated several years ago at the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania. It provides AIMSE members with weeklong sessions in finance education taught by Wharton business professionals.
Richard Lothrop, who has since died, was the driving force behind the creation of AIMSE, according to Charlie Thomas, AIMSE's first president, who's now semiretired and living in Maine.
"I was just the guy that organized it and gave it a name. Dick was the father of the whole thing," he said. "At that time, there was no forum for people in sales and marketing to meet and network. We were all competitors."
Mr. Seiter said, "The investment community was smaller then. You knew who the outstanding professionals were, about 15 or so, that you looked up to. Dick wanted to teach and mentor to the younger people coming into the business. Education was the primary purpose, and it hasn't changed over the years."
Mr. Lothrop was in sales at Frank Russell Co. when he began to pull the group together in 1977. Russell sponsored the first gatherings for marketing professionals until the AIMSE group had organized. The first independent AIMSE conference, after the official formation of the group, was held in Chicago in 1980. Mr. Lothrop died of cancer about four years later.
"Our original conferences were more spartan than they are now, usually downtown or in some urban setting," Mr. Thomas recalled. He was then marketing director for Loomis, Sayles & Co., Boston. "In later years, we decided to go to the resort-type settings because many people wanted to get the heck out of town. Attendance probably doubled."
Golf became a recreational component of the conference, but the educational emphasis remains, said Norbert Kraich, AIMSE's current executive director.
"We are not a social organization," he said. "But we are sales people and we are gregarious when we get together."
Mr. Thomas said formation of the group gave investment management sales people personal contact with their counterparts at other companies for the first time.
"It was really the first time, as an industry, we got to know each other. We were competitors and we became quite friendly. You get to meet people and become friends and you share information, although not competitive secrets. But you build strong relationships over time," he said.
AIMSE's outgoing president, Neal Howe, said AIMSE's contribution to the industry has been to "better prepare the individuals representing the companies in the marketplace."
According to AIMSE leadership, AIMSE is the only organization that focuses exclusively on marketing, sales and client service in the institutional investment arena.