Blow Up the Existing Board: a story of how the SAE Atlanta Section reinvented itself

Like many organizations that require volunteers to be the lifeblood of its future, the SAE Atlanta Section had slowly drifted into obsolescence losing its energy, passion and direction over the past decade.  To be fair, the slow economy, lagging technology and overall shortage of excitement in the transportation industry made it difficult for the SAE Atlanta Section to thrive.  But times have changed and Atlanta is now the center of the southern automotive ecosystem with 14 OEM’s and 300,000 employees within a 500 mile radius.  Technological breakthroughs are at an all-time high as connectivity, drivetrains and lightweight materials are redefining the industry and creating real possibilities like autonomous vehicles. As a result, it was imperative for the SAE Atlanta Section to reinvent itself to provide a high quality of value and service to students, professionals and industry.

First things first:  “blow up the existing board!”  

Yes, that was my comment to the board chair after being asked to sit in on a board meeting.   The board meeting was like attending a funeral, except there wasn’t an agenda or any emotion – everyone was dead!  The breaking point was highlighted in a comment from an existing board member, “I have served my time, and therefore don’t assign me any action items.”  It was clear that a new board was needed, one in which the members are enthusiastic, active and connected to the industry and people that SAE serves.  

Since this meeting, the SAE Atlanta Section has added nine new board members and kept three from the prior board.  The board boasts representatives from Tesla, Kia, Porsche, DeltaWing Technologies, Lockheed Martin as well as service providers and Tier 1’s such as Dekra and Temel Gaskets. Passion is now a cornerstone of the board.

Second item on the “to do” list:  Develop a Vision that the board will embrace and aspire to achieve.  

The SAE International has a great Vision and Mission, and the Atlanta Section adopted the international mission statement.  However, the Vision statement needed to be personalized for Atlanta.  Therefore, “To be the premier aerospace, commercial vehicle and automotive society by providing educational value and networking opportunities” is now the vision and inspiration that drives each and every effort made by board members.  

Connecting with students and members via a strong social media network was step three.  Although I am a firm believer that face-to-face is still a great form of communication, it is impossible to be effective without a strong social media network that can accommodate schedules, large geographical locations and cultural generations.  The challenge was best achieved by recruiting a brilliant board member with great IT and social networking skills, and who also happened to be a millennial. Today this person serves as VC Communications and is responsible for the development of communication methods that are easy, flexible and informative to a broad base of approximately 400 members.   

“If there is value, then people will come” is our fourth key to success.  

Students and professionals have extremely busy schedules.  However, it all boils down to priorities and if the value isn’t there, neither will be a good turnout for events.  The SAE Atlanta Section has worked hard developing a model for success to host events that are attractive for students and professionals.  Here are some tips that have worked well.

  • Recruit dynamic keynote speakers that are current with industry trends and technology.

  • Offer an opportunity for students to meet and converse with industry professionals.

  • Stage technology to be showcased at an event.  

  • Utilize greeters and event workers to make sure things flow smoothly and that participants feel welcomed.

  • Have snacks and drinks available.

  • Offer door prizes.  Note: board members are great about having access to items that can be used for door prizes.

  • Communicate and advertise the event many times in advance within and outside of the SAE.  Non-SAE members attending are great candidates for future membership.

  • Partner with other organizations to increase attendance and networking opportunities

  • Utilize a sign-in sheet so that follow-ups and future announcements can be made.

  • Provide a suggestion box for attendees to submit ideas for future events, speakers and process improvements.

The SAE Atlanta Section is well on the path to a bright future and fulfilling the vision.  The attendance of major events has more than tripled!  The value that is now provided has enabled the section to solicit sponsorships, thus funding services and events that are free for students and attendees.

The SAE Atlanta Section’s success began with the formation of a board that is enthusiastic, active and connected to the people and industry that it serves.  Last but not least, it is now fun and rewarding to be a part of the SAE Atlanta Section.  


Contributed by Mike Stonecipher

Board Chair

SAE Atlanta Section