In Praise Of An Extraordinary Team
If you ever have the privilege of serving on the PPAI Board, you will begin your term with a two-day orientation at PPAI headquarters in Dallas. For me it was a time to learn in-depth about our Association and how it operates. But more than anything else, my most significant takeaway from those meetings four years ago was the quality of the 80 or so staff members who make the magic that we call PPAI. “Very strong team,” I thought to myself, as one by one each PPAI director presented to the four of us newbie directors the raison d’être of their department, their short- and long-term objectives, their resources, their action plans, and an understanding of how each of their programs was tied to a goal in PPAI’s overall strategic plan. I’ve been a CEO for more than 40 years—in companies with as many as 1,600 employees—so I don’t impress easily when it comes to evaluating management. But this team was special. And now, four years later, as I near the end of my term and complete my year as chair of this great Association, I can confirm for you that my initial impressions were just the tip of the iceberg.
PPAI is one of your strongest competitive advantages because of the 80 professionals who comprise its management and staff. Through their vision, their skills and their collective efforts, they have cemented PPAI’s stature everywhere I have traveled—to conferences and regionals all across this country, in Canada, Europe and China. Everywhere I go in the promotional products world, PPAI is considered the gold standard. You may already know this through the outstanding member services and excellent programs PPAI provides. And you certainly know our exceptional senior leadership: Paul Bellantone, CEO, who leads the Association with his vision, intellect, passion and wisdom; and Bob McLean, executive vice president, who works tirelessly behind the scenes to ensure that the trains run on time and that the entire team is working effectively. But you might not know about the rest of the people who make it happen. This month I’d like to tell you some of their stories.
The PPB magazine you’re reading is just one of the award-winning family of publications produced by Tina Berres Filipski and her team of James Khattak, Jen Alexander and Julie Richie. Last summer Tina celebrated her 20th anniversary at PPAI. During her two decades, Tina has overseen the growth of PPAI publications from a single title, PPB, to the current lineup which includes the twice-weekly PPB Newslink, daily PCT, Expo Daily and Expo East Daily. This year in PPB alone, this team has delivered more than 1,000 pages of editorial content and generated more than 21,000 monthly page views on its website.
We’re lucky to have Carol Gauger, MAS, back at PPAI after a stint in the industry as a supplier. Carol is a familiar face to most of the industry through her extensive work supporting our 27 regional associations. In addition, Carol directs our member engagement initiatives which includes working with our many volunteers and committees. Aside from their stellar work, longevity is the keyword on Carol’s team of accomplished professionals including Lisa Beck, an avid NASCAR fan, at 29 years; Valerie Schenewerk, a sci-fi expert, at nine years and Melissa Weber, the woman with a perpetual smile for everyone, at seven years.
Keith Vincent and his team of professionals are responsible for all PPAI marketing, research, public relations and buyer outreach. You see their work in the award-winning graphic design, branding, signage and marketing for PPAI and its programs everywhere. Keith says that a photo of his department would resemble the United Nations because of their diverse backgrounds but that what really stands out is how well they work together. And as you would expect from committed and capable leaders, they give back to the community. As just a few examples, team member Gretchen Demke founded a neighborhood alliance to provide a voice for the community at her local city hall, and Marketing Manager Deetria Horne serves as an Ambassador of Hope for the Dallas Fort Worth chapter of the American Cancer Society.
If you’ve been to one of PPAI’s Product Safety Summits, attended its L.E.A.D. event in Washington D.C., or participated in a Product Safety Aware webinar, you’ve seen firsthand the impactful work of Anne Stone and her public affairs team. Together with Seth Barnett, Tim Brown, MAS, and Veronica Kelley, this team leads PPAI’s highly successful product responsibility and legislative affairs programs. They have earned kudos from government regulators, legislators and from you—our PPAI members. Their work includes overseeing two of our most effective volunteer groups: the Product Responsibility Action Group (PRAG) and the Government Relations Action Group (GRAC). Highly experienced as a compliance expert in the industry, Tim joined PPAI from his vendor management position at PPAI distributor member Cintas Corporation. Seth had a unique honor outside of work this year. While taking a college course at a nearby university, Seth was selected by the University of Oxford to travel to London and participate in an ongoing research program that studied the effects of behavioral economics on the global supply chain. Great people, great team, great results.
Rachel Robichaud has worked in professional development since 2010 and was promoted as the department’s director in October 2012. Together with her team—Julie Levay, Jody Mello, William Poole and Stacy Riddler—they are responsible for the educational programs at PPAI’s trade shows and many of its webinars and live educational conferences, including PPAI’s well-respected North American Leadership Conference. They also oversee PPAI’s highly successful certification program. Julie has worked hard this year on an update to the certification program which the team plans to launch in 2016. In addition to her role providing education to PPAI members, Jody provides Red Cross first aid training for Association staff members.
PPAI’s flagship event, the industry-leading PPAI Expo, is in the very capable hands of trade-show expert Darel Cook and his able team. This coming August, Darel will celebrate his 15th year at PPAI. Darel’s leadership has propelled our PPAI Expo—originally held in Dallas and now in Las Vegas—to rank among the top 100 trade shows in the nation every year. During my board term, the Expo department took on an additional show when it acquired Promotions East from the Specialty Advertising Association of Greater New York and rebranded it as Expo East. Darel works with a high-performing team that provides operational support for its trade shows. Tol Kincaid, senior manager, who started his career as a clapboard snapper for the movie Necessary Roughness—filmed at his alma mater, University of North Texas—has 19 years of trade-show experience. He heads up the operations team, which not only manages the show floor, but also handles registration, housing, room assignments, special event production, food and beverage, and the set up and tear down for each show. Khris Harris, Expo manager, has been active with the Texas Scottish Rite Hospital for Children and for several years has helped organize staff to make whimsical cast covers and paracord bracelets for the kids. Diane Shearer, who is responsible for the shows’ registration, is a passionate animal lover. Each year, she organizes events to support a local animal shelter. As you will read later, several staff members have fallen under the influence of pleading “puppy eyes” encountered while working at the shelter.
Information technology is the lifeblood of every successful enterprise. Luckily for PPAI, it is entrusted to the capable management of fellow guitarist and all-around good guy Paul Elfstrom. Paul leads a team that includes IT professionals Doug Andreasen, Doug Sterns and Vicki Sypien. Their responsibility includes all the technology in the building—management of all the websites, the network, the accounting system and the phone system—and keeping it operational 24/7. Their expertise is critically valuable to the Association, like the time earlier this year when malware activated on the network and secretly encrypted thousands of files. Working around the clock for several days, literally, the team solved the problem and recovered the files. A special thank you goes to Doug A. for his efforts. Aside from their über-geek skills, and not to be outdone by their colleagues, this is a pretty charitable group. Doug S. adopts dogs from shelters to save them from being put down, Vicki has been PTA president for three years and runs fundraisers for the school, and Paul put his musical connections to work getting his bandmates to help him organize a five-band music festival to benefit prostate cancer research.
Our newest director is AJ Hunter, who joined PPAI in April 2014 as director of finance and administration. AJ is known for his gregarious personality, his endless enthusiasm and beloved TCU Horned Frogs. At PPAI, he manages a team of seven finance professionals including Dennis Cormany, who celebrated his 36th year of employment with PPAI this year. Congratulations, Dennis! AJ’s team made a great contribution to PPAI management this year by implementing a new budgeting and forecasting system. It was a huge help in driving results and reducing the time to develop our annual business plans. This year, after volunteering for PPAI at a nearby animal shelter, AJ decided to follow Doug S.’s lead by adopting his own rescue puppy just one hour before the pup was to be euthanized. Good save, AJ.
Finally, our business development team of Natalie Clark, manager of membership services, and Ellen Tucker, manager of business development, have been great additions to the PPAI team since their arrival in 2013. Natalie has extensive experience managing an international call center, which has served her well as manager of the “fishbowl,” as the PPAI call center is affectionately called. Natalie also manages PPAI’s affinity programs. Ellen has an advertising sales background which has enabled her to have a strong impact on publication revenues in her two years at PPAI. Outside of work, Ellen is an avid soccer fan and plays in several indoor and outdoor leagues in the Dallas-Fort Worth area. Dara Cormany, a business development analyst and daughter of PPAI Controller Dennis Cormany, is a former SMU athletic trainer for their football team. She attended several bowl games (including one in Hawaii) and has the rings to prove it. Connie Brazil, business development account manager, heads up the Association’s wellness committee. Her attempts to whip the staff into shape include organizing an after-hours yoga class in the office, bringing in a trainer to conduct a health and wellness education series, organizing blood drives and coordinating several other health and wellness challenges through the Association’s beBetter Wellness program.
These are just a few examples of the exemplary PPAI staff members—if space had permitted I could have easily praised every staff member by name.
So now you know a little more of what I know, and what all of our board members know: that this Association is the gold standard in the promotional products world because of our people. I told you about some of them. I wish space afforded me the opportunity to tell you about all of them. But more importantly than telling you, I had the opportunity to tell them—in person. In November, it was my honor to attend the PPAI Annual Awards Luncheon on behalf of the board and the Executive Committee and tell all 80 staffers what I just told you. They are the best and we are all the very lucky beneficiaries of their extraordinary work.