A Leader With A Glow
More than four decades ago, Paula Shulman, CAS, made the move from bustling Manhattan to bucolic Fairfield County. As a newlywed and young mother living in New York City, she had started working as a professional model, but after moving to Connecticut she decided to settle into her new suburban lifestyle and find work closer to home. As a Bridgeport University graduate with a degree in early childhood education, Shulman came upon an ad in the newspaper for a secretary at a nearby distributor, and was offered the position. It was through this role—and as is so characteristic of an industry where relationships are key—she became acquainted with Bob Lederer, who founded supplier Prime Line, then in Stamford, in 1980. A few years later, Lederer offered her a job at Prime Line as a receptionist—and she stayed there for 36 years, working her way up to vice president of sales before retiring in 2018.
At a time when women were largely underrepresented in the industry, Shulman’s presence as one of the first females to climb the ladder at a Top 40 supplier opened doors. “When I first started, you could count on one hand, maybe, the women who were in the industry, and it has slowly evolved,” she says. “I think it’s sped up in the past few years, but it’s been a hard-fought battle to recognize women, not just in our industry, but probably in many others as well. To break down the barriers of the good ol’ boys’ club was not easy, but once I did, that’s when it sort of felt like I had arrived, that I had equal say.”
Shulman has used her voice to advocate for, support and help develop the industry, having served on several boards, most recently as immediate past chair of the board of Premier Group from 2018-2019, and earlier on the Board of Trustees for the Promotional Products Education Foundation from 2015-2018. She also served on the board for the Specialty Advertising Association of Greater New York (SAAGNY) and was president from 2011-2012. And her dedication to the positions she served in was something special. As noted by her nominators—Kippie Helzel, MAS, of CPS/Keystone Line and Amanda Clay, MAS, of Walker-Clay, Inc.—Shulman has been an advocate for both PPEF and SAAGNY “before, during and after her service on the boards.”
Outside of the promotional products industry, Shulman has shown her commitment to bettering the local community by volunteering for faith-based organizations serving the Greater Fairfield County area. She’s been a longtime volunteer for the Elayne and James Schoke Jewish Family Service of Fairfield County, a Stamford-based nonprofit with a mission to help sustain families and individuals during challenging periods and work toward a stronger, healthier community. Shulman dedicates her time to volunteering for its Food Pantry and Meals on Wheels delivery program, where she helps organize and maintain the food pantry, and meets with homebound clients to provide home-delivered meals, along with weekly visits to alleviate their loneliness. She is also on the board of directors of Temple Beth El Sisterhood, where she helps to benefit the TBE community through religious, social and educational events, which includes being a member of the A Hope In Motion team during Stamford Hospital’s annual Walk & Run event to support Bennett Cancer Center; helping with High Holidays and Passover food sales, Sisterhood Shabbat, breakfast at the conclusion of Yom Kippur and working as a volunteer in Stamford Hospital’s gift shop. “A helping hand can make a life-changing difference for those in need,” she says.
A frequent and involved participant at PPAI’s Women’s Leadership Conference, Shulman has brought the expertise, knowledge, insights and wisdom she’s acquired, both in and out of the industry, and shared it openly and candidly with other female professionals at the conference who were looking to grow their careers and themselves. According to her nominators, she’s truly been a shining light to those with whom she’s connected. “If you take just one slice of Paula’s industry support and activity, her attendance at the Women’s Leadership Conference, you can see why so many women respect and value her. She never missed a conference that we know of, and she went with the most open mind to network, reach out, find out about new people and check in on old friends. With that, she was always honest, would tell you like it is, whatever your question, the advice you sought and the truth about how she handled things. Honesty and a lack of artifice are two of her most-valued qualities. On the surface, you might not have expected that, due to her beauty and her prominence. But she is the real deal—real to everybody who wants to connect with her.”
Shulman—who is the new owner of a six-month old pup, Bella—is now president of Bridgeport-based PMS Consulting, where she consults for the promotional products industry, primarily focusing on strategic guidance for trade shows, sales transition, industry events and new product development. Over the years she’s been recognized for her achievements, which includes being honored as a PPAI Fellow in 2016 and being named to ASI’s Power 50 list from 2011-2015 and as an ASI Woman of Distinction in 2008. But being named a PPAI Woman of Achievement holds a special place in her heart and career. “I’ve told people over the last couple of days that I feel like it’s the cap on my career. It’s the great way of sort of ‘going out.’”
With the cancellation of this year’s PPAI Women’s Leadership Conference from coronavirus-related precautions, Shulman was recognized with the award during a virtual announcement made following “The Power Of Mindfulness To Achieve Your Dreams” webinar, led by Sydra Newell of SnugZ USA, on June 24.
In nominating Shulman, Helzel and Clay, wrote: “When a woman is not only one of the top people many, many industry people respect, but is always the first one to be a mentor, a friend and take the time to help you, then that is a woman who is deserving to receive the PPAI Woman of Achievement award. Paula is all this and more. Paula set the standards for a whole lot of women—in her generation and younger and older. Leading by example with the most dedicated work to her company and to their customers, Paula has also shown her leadership as a mentor and friend to so many, regardless of whether that relationship would help her business or not. She has mentored, friended and helped distributors, suppliers, friends, foes. She would do anything for anybody, always with a ‘why not’ attitude. Paula has set herself as the ultimate example of a woman who believes that when one wins, we all win.”
Shulman adds, “I think all women are born with power, they just have to learn how to use it. You have to have a career path, and you have to want it and you have to go after it, and it’s going to be very hard—but it'll be worth achieving it.”
For more on Paula Shulman, CAS, and other industry pros, listen to “PPB Presents: Women of Achievement: A Conversation With Three Who’ve Inspired An Industry.” In this episode of the PPAI PromoTalks podcast, Tina Berres Filipski, PPAI’s director of publications and editor of PPB magazine, moderates a conversation with Shulman, along with Daryll Griffin, MAS, president and CEO of Accolades, Inc., and Roni Wright, MAS, vice president of The Book Company; three winners of PPAI’s Woman of Achievement award who, through their successes, have paved the way for the next generation of industry women. In the podcast, these powerhouse leaders give advice, discuss navigating failures and hurdles, and share how they’ve seen the industry evolve. Tune in to listen to this insightful and helpful 39-minute discussion available free on Spotify and Apple Podcasts at promotalks.buzzsprout.com.
Danielle Renda is associate editor of PPB.