Making His Own Kind Of Music

On June 30, Gary Haley, president of supplier Beacon Promotions, tapped out the final note on a remarkable 43-year career in the promotional products industry and began playing a new tune called “Retirement Here I Come.”

A native of St. Paul, Minnesota, Haley began his career at local distributor Brown & Bigelow in 1974 as part of a management trainee initiative to bring new people into the company. He was one of five people hired at once but he stayed the longest, moving to various positions over 11 years to finish there as marketing manager for proprietary products. “The B & B experience was wonderful and exposed me to some of the most creative and brightest people I’ve ever met—Ray Brand, Jim Feiler, Kent Morton, Don Benson,” remembers Haley.

His next move was to the supplier side of the industry with Advertising Unlimited, Inc. in Sleepy Eye, where he was senior vice president-sales and marketing. The company produced calendars and decorated traditional promotional products out of two Minnesota plants under the trade names Triumph, Good Value Line and Pillowline. When the company was acquired by Norwood Promotional Products in 1999, Haley became senior vice president, marketing and moved to Norwood’s headquarters in Austin, Texas. At the time, Norwood was a $350 million promotional products supplier with manufacturing plants in six states.

In 2003, he decided it was time to make his own kind of music. Together with a group of 10 partners, Beacon was launched with the acquisition of supplier companies Frontier Line and Crowd Specialties and the new supplier opened for business in 2004. “We created our calendar line from scratch and added seven more acquisitions and product partnerships in our first nine years in business,” he says. “We weathered lawsuits, economic downturns, sickness and even death. We watched our employees’ families grow while growing the business. PPAI Supplier Star awards validated our success. Each day we gave thanks for the customers who provided us with orders.”

As the company expanded so did the opportunities to grow even larger. Late last year, Beacon agreed to an acquisition deal with Hub Pen Company, one of the largest writing instrument suppliers in the U.S. and a winner of multiple PPAI Supplier Star awards, a move aimed at helping both companies serve the market with a broader portfolio of products and services. Haley retained his role as president of Beacon until his retirement announcement this past April.

Proving true the old adage that if you want something done, give it to the busiest person, Haley is a longtime volunteer for PPAI where he taught education classes starting in the early 1990s, and served on the PPB Editorial Advisory Committee, Leadership Advisory Group and Product Responsibility Action Group and chaired the Suppliers Committee. “I was proud to be a part of the first group of PRAG volunteers and help put some energy into product safety and especially the Product Responsibility Summit,” he says.

He’s also shared his industry expertise with countless audiences by writing for PPB and PPAI’s Trusted newsletter, serving as a panelist for various PPAI education programs and providing volunteer leadership for his regional association, Upper Midwest Association of Promotional Professionals, where he has served on its board of directors and various committees. In 2016, the regional association awarded him its UMAPP Lifetime Achievement Award and, in 2017, its Volunteer of the Year award.

Not only has Haley name for himself through his impeccable reputation and smart business alliances, but he found an unexpected outlet for his musical talent by teaming up with industry colleagues Michael Woody, MAS; Rick Brenner, MAS+; and Joe Scott in the industry band Midnight Soul Patrol. Over recent years Haley has played the melodica in the group that has performed at numerous industry trade shows and events, including The PPAI Expo.

From his dapper bowtie to his rock star music making, Haley is a quintessential professional in all he does—skilled leader of multimillion-dollar businesses,  a superstar sales pro, generous volunteer and a talented performer, all rolled in one. He’s also husband to Mary, to whom he’s been married for 38 years  (“Many people in the industry have met her and understand why I consider myself to be such a lucky man.”), and father to a grown son and daughter whom he calls “wonderful adults and professional storytellers in their own right.”

What’s next on his agenda? “The historical look at things is one aspect of who I am but I’m focused more on the future than the past,” he says. “And while I don’t have everything laid out with grand plans, I have a number of interests outside of work that I plan to pursue. Playing music is among them and I’ll do a lot more of that for sure.”

As is his style, Haley ends this 43-year gig on a sweet note. “A lifetime of achievement is really about being around talented people who share the same dreams you do,” he says. “This business attracts a unique mix of creative, smart and social people. Once you find them, don’t ever let them go.”