A Behind-The-Scenes Lifetime Staff Member
Photo above: Dennis Cormany with his daughters: Dara Cormany, left, PPAI's marketing coordiantor, who just celebrated her seventh year with the organization; and Darcy Cormany, a college student in nursing school.
When you ask the PPAI staff what they love about the promotional products industry and working for the Association, many will say it’s the people they meet and work with. Dennis Cormany is one of the “people” they speak of.
This year, Cormany celebrates 40 years with PPAI in its accounting department, currently as its controller. He was involved in the headquarters’ relocation from Chicago, Illinois, to Irving, Texas, in the late ‘70s, and after the move, he worked six days a week to help the late H. Ted Olson, PPAI president emeritus—for which the H. Ted Olson Humanitarian Award is named—re-staff the organization. Together with Olson, he even interviewed potential candidates in their cars in the parking lot while the headquarters was under construction. For 16 years, he worked closely with Olson, assisting with the rebranding from the Specialty Advertising Association to Promotional Products Association International, and helping move the Association into the age of technology.
Cormany says his role with PPAI has been, and remains today, one of stewardship. “I’m responsible for the stewardship of members’ investments in the Association. Stewardship is the oversight of business systems, business practices relating to financial reporting, budgets supporting the strategic initiatives, and to assure there are adequate funding and resources to do so.” His motto, after all, is, “Your honesty will never be questioned; just constantly verify.” But when reflecting recently on his early days with PPAI, its relocation and rebranding, he smiled and simply said, “It was fun. We had fun.”
A selfless soul with a palpable appreciation for the volunteers, committees and taskforces, Cormany attributes the Association’s initiatives, and his own professional growth, to the individuals who generously donate their time and resources to help PPAI grow. “The volunteers stand out to me,” he says. “I can’t say enough that there’s been a lot of good people who have come through the doors.” It was the membership, in fact, that helped the Association pay, in full, for the land and building of its current Irving headquarters, freeing up debt and permitting focus on growing other initiatives, he recalls.
Cormany has always been a team player. Growing up in Akron, Ohio, Cormany was a member of the Boy Scouts of America and played high school sports. Before he was born, his mother often traveled to visit his father, who was in the Marine Corps and stationed at Eagle Mountain Lake outside of Fort Worth. As a result, Cormany’s father encouraged him to consider Texas for college, and taking his dad’s advice, he attended Abilene Christian University in Abilene, where he pursued a dual major and graduated with a bachelor’s in accounting and marketing in 1972. He played sports throughout college, earning the nickname “killer” for his skills. And while there, Cormany met six lifelong friends who continue their tradition of a fly-fishing trip in Colorado almost every August or September. This year, the group made their 40th trip together.
And like a true team-player, Cormany sums up his contributions to PPAI this way: “It wasn’t all me. It was with a lot of support from volunteers, help from a lot of people in the industry and staff over the years, 16 years with Ted Olson as president and CEO, followed by Steve Slagle, and currently eight years with President and CEO Paul Bellantone, CAE, and the executive team, for refinement and improvement of everything so we could keep building for the future.”
PPB sat down with Cormany to ask him a few questions about his experience—and uncover some fun facts.
What was it like when you started at PPAI?
I was hired in September 1979 and one of my first activities was to go to Chicago and sit with the then-bookkeeper and, more importantly, meet with the accounting firm that handled the financial activities for the Board of Directors. It was the week the movers were packing up and moving the office from Chicago to Irving. At the end of the week, I came to Irving and said, “Wow, what have I gotten myself into?” It turns out the building wasn’t complete yet, and only five of the original staff moved to Texas, so Ted Olson was really challenged with re-staffing the organization. I was interviewed in a construction trailer until we moved into the building. I was the first financial person the Association ever hired.
What did you do before joining PPAI?
My first job out of school was working for a family-owned business: an auto parts wholesaler. I was the office manager and stayed there for two years. Then, I was approached by the Texas Credit Union League (now Cornerstone Credit Union League). Having had a taste of the office management side, I wanted to get back into accounting, so I interviewed and was hired as an accountant there, which exposed me to nonprofit accounting and those processes. In 1979, after working there for about five years, I was tired of the corporate environment and went on sabbatical for nine months and had a great time playing tennis, golf and fly fishing with friends. Ted Olson was hired in January of 1979 and PPAI was building in Irving, and being a charter member of Meeting Planners International, Ted attended meetings in the Dallas area when in town. In May of 1979, the meeting planner from the credit union started calling me on a monthly basis, saying Ted was in town and looking to hire a financial person, and if I would be interested in talking to him, and I’d say no. By September, the seed had been planted and I interviewed—and that’s how I came here.
What are some of your most standout memories working here?
My position is not a forward-facing position to the membership. I’ve been more of a back-office member. I worked with people who were on the Board of Directors in the capacity of the Executive Committee, Budget and Finance Committees; professionals holding senior-level positions in companies, which allowed me to get to know these volunteers very well. I could count most of them as good, close friends. I’ve watched some of them obtain Hall of Fame status for their exceptional work and commitment to the promotional products industry and their communities.
What are your hobbies?
I’m a history buff. I like to read about history; mainly I study the Civil War. I attend battle reenactments. I visit military parks, such as Vicksburg and Gettysburg. I researched my family history back to those activities. I used to collect steins from Germany, but I ran out of cabinet space, so my wife said, ‘No more.’ I’ve got about 200 Civil War books in my collection at home and probably as many steins. I also like sporting clays with one or more of my daughters, and I’m a big fan of Game of Thrones, Lord of the Rings, the 1989 TV mini-series Lonesome Dove, and Yellowstone with Kevin Costner.
“One thing has always been certain about a visit to the PPAI headquarters: you will be warmly welcomed by Dennis Cormany. He’ll be glad to see you; his sincerity is without a doubt. With a widening smile that goes up to and through his eyes, Dennis will make you feel like you’ve just come home. With 40 years of experience, his knowledge of PPAI history and the backstory to issues and events is extensive. He’s a go-to source and pillar of competence. Dennis, thank you. Thank you for your passion for PPAI and this industry, and for the people in it. You make this industry special and you make it a better place to work and be associated with.”
Paul A. Kiewiet, MAS+
Michigan Promotional Products Association
Former PPAI Board Chair
“Forty years, wow! There are only a few of us who go back to the beginning and have traveled together with you over four decades. When we first met, I was on the Governance and Legal Affairs Committee, then on the Board. I remember sitting through grinding Budget and Finance Committee meetings with the unflappable you, as we reviewed the numbers line by line. The $300,000 education budget would fly through, but we’d spend 20 minutes talking about the $100 (or whatever) annual maintenance agreement on the breakroom refrigerator. And you would patiently listen, giving no indication of how you really felt about the redundant questions and often questionable decisions. Of course, you and Ted had the formality orchestrated so that we could not do much damage.
Dennis, you’ve been such a rock for PPAI. You are a fine man. I am honored to know you.”
Gene Geiger, MAS+
Former PPAI Board Member
Danielle Renda is associate editor of PPB.