The Thanksgiving holiday is a great opportunity to remember the things we are all thankful for. Often around this time, it is helpful to look to the past in order to fully appreciate where we’ve been and where we are going.
When I began working with Survey & Ballot Systems this year, I entered a company that was going on 25 years of running successful member elections. Early on, it was clear to see how the election landscape has changed since 1990 – web and mobile voting did not yet exist, nor did many of the state-of-the-art technologies we use today. But as I learned more about the history of SBS, it became apparent that much of our mission and values throughout the years have remained the same.
To learn more, I took some time to speak with founders Jon and Peter Westerhaus.
The Survey & Ballot Systems story begins 25 years ago.
A quarter century ago, brothers Jon and Peter Westerhaus began with a vision to help member organizations in their governance process through running elections and surveys. Back then, the Westerhaus brothers received big tapes from clients containing databases filled with information. They then converted that information into mailings and sent them using peel-and-stick labels.
Today, the tactics are different, but the mission is the same.
Balloting is still at the core of SBS’ business, but today we are even more grounded in customer service as a trusted advisor in the election space.
“The speed and immediacy of our relationships has increased 100-fold,” said Peter Westerhaus, SBS vice president. “People expect a response and service as quickly and easily as possible. It’s also become more of a challenge to get the attention of the members.”
But, just as it was 25 years ago, our clients crave participation – it endorses the organization and speaks volumes that their systems and interactions with members are working. SBS finds creative ways to make that happen in the most secure manner possible.
In the very beginning, it started with a personal promise from Jon and Peter that they would take care of their clients. With each and every association, cooperative, credit union and member organization that promise was delivered upon and it became the core of what SBS is today.
“We still have one of our first clients – a large association,” said Jon Westerhaus. “They trust us with their process. Their very first election using the web was in 1997. It had four candidates for president, but ended in a two-way tie. We had to tell them we couldn’t reveal who won until they decided how to handle a tie. They didn’t have any bad intentions, but sometimes people just react to stressful situations. Our job is to say, ‘Think it out, consider the perception,’ and they thanked us for keeping them from their worst vices.”
Through our 25 years in business, we have cultivated organizational depth, an experienced staff and the highest degree of security. We host professionals from across the country to see how we’ve set up our industry-leading security systems, to understand our process and see the physical infrastructure. We’ve gone to great lengths to build member participation, to tangibly prove how we will reach out and get members engaged to vote. A lot has changed in 25 years, but we’re still leading the way in getting in front of members and staying in front of them long enough to engage them and get them to vote.
So what can you expect in the next 25 years from SBS?
Organizations and their membership are now global and we continue to expand around the country and around the world. Every day our ability to reach voters on behalf of our clients improves. If there is a human behavior connected with engaging the members of our clients, we will bring state-of-the-art technology to enable successful interactions and maintain our person-to-person trust. We will provide the best technological answer for our clients.
“We’re here to stay, we’re here as a resource and we’re very grateful,” Jon said.
The SBS vision is to be the leader in technology, the leader in integrity and to build confidence and trust. Our security is top notch – that takes more than just a claim or a certification – we spend the time to put physical security in place, utilize the latest technology, establish checks and balances and ensure security in every step of the process.
“Even now, when we’re in the digital space, that people element is still there from when we began,” Peter said. “That’s only going to accelerate.”
It’s the people – the staff, clients, voters, members and vendors – who have helped us achieve 25 years and will help us achieve 25 years more.