Marlis is an innovator and entrepreneur whose background is primarily in the retail sector. Her first foray into business was in 1985 with Giorgina’s Italian Kitchen, a startup pizzeria on Capitol Hill in Seattle. Always interested in technology, the business plan she submitted to Rainier National Bank was the first SBA small business loan submitted using computer software – Lotus 1,2,3 and Microsoft Word 1.0. Sold after 10 years, Marlis spent another decade opening and operating Emery’s Garden, a six-acre garden center in Lynnwood, Washington.
In January, 2007, Marlis purchased SBI Association Management with partner Harriet Burger. She spent three years restructuring and modernizing the company – moving away from the traditional silo business model to a highly systemized platform infrastructure. Website, database management and financial fees to clients were stabilized and SBI’s client associations survived the recession and are flourishing today under stable costs and current social media and infrastructure technologies.
Marlis tripled the company’s client base, and the company continues to experience steady year-over-year growth. In 2014 SBI acquired a smaller competitor firm. When Marlis purchased the company in 2007, its clients were primarily local/regional nonprofits, but today SBI competes with national players in the health care, fundraising/development, sciences, education, and business sectors. In fact, SBI has added four national associations in the last few years – beating out several large national association management companies to secure large national contracts.
In recent years, Marlis has focused more of her attention on the development of new services and technologies for SBI clients – staying ahead of clients’ needs assures the maintenance of long-term relationships and healthy, sustainable nonprofit organizations.
Since she purchased the business 14 years ago, Marlis has always known that one day she would pass SBI on, ready for its next journey. In 2021, after 14 years of growing the business, broadening services, and building a strong team for continued innovation in the nonprofit management industry, she found the right partner in Collegium, an innovative partnership of outstanding professional service firms focused on the nonprofit sector. After SBI’s acquisition, Marlis continues to stay involved in her leadership role, advising and consulting with SBI’s executive leadership team and providing high-level counsel to association members and transitioning clients.
She also looks forward to spending more time reading too many recipes, cooking too many meals, and walking Northwest trails with her dog and family.
Over the past three decades, Marlis has served on a variety of nonprofit boards in the following capacities:
- Capitol Hill Chamber of Commerce, Board of Directors, 1989-1995
- Seattle Women’s Ensemble, Board of Directors, 1990-1995
- Wintonia Housing Association, Board of Directors, 1990-1992
- 15th Avenue Merchants, President, 1988-1994
- Plant Amnesty, Board of Directors, 2004-2013
- NW Nursery Buyers Association, 1998-2006
- Washington Society of Association Executives, various committees, 2012-present