Making His Mark
Living in Clearwater, Florida, David A. Klatt, Jr. and his family find plenty of opportunities to enjoy the outdoors. He and his wife, Sophie, relish time with their six-year-old son, Trey, and their two puppies, Aioli and Bailey. They are a busy family—Sophie runs a successful business and Trey is highly involved with school, friends and sports. When he has down time, Klatt plays golf with Trey and his father, grills on his Big Green Egg and spends time out on the family boat. But these days, Klatt is having to work a bit harder to carve out that all-important family time in his packed schedule.
In February, Klatt joined Tampa-based supplier BIC Graphic USA as its new CEO, and he has ambitious goals for himself and the company. “I want our customers to hold up BIC Graphic USA as their best-in-class supplier,” explains Klatt. “Superior service, cost, speed, flexibility and innovation are how I would like us to be defined. Sales and profit dollars are obviously part of measuring one’s success, but to me it’s more about leaving a great legacy with the business and in the industry.”
With his illustrious career and personal drive, Klatt is well positioned to do just that. In fact, in the 1990s Klatt was part of the DEWALT team that built the power tool business from scratch to over $1 billion in sales. The successful launch of the DEWALT brand—one of the highlights of his career to this day—gave him appreciation for the power of promotional products as a key component of successful marketing.
As a teenager, Klatt’s expertise was in pizza making, not marketing. His mother owned an Italian restaurant in his hometown outside of Buffalo, New York, and Klatt and his three brothers spent weekends and summers spinning pizzas. He attended LeMoyne College in Syracuse while working full-time for the large farm co-op Agway. While deciding on a course of study, he weighed his options.
“Being a banker like my dad seemed too boring, and running my mom’s restaurant would have been way too hard,” he laughs. “I thought sales and marketing would be a good match for my skills.”
After graduation, Klatt accepted a position with Black & Decker, where his day-to-day duties included calling on independent hardware stores. “That is when I learned the value of mom-and-pop shops and how doing a good job for them makes you part of the family,” he says. As his responsibilities expanded, he went on to pursue his MBA at Georgetown University.
Klatt’s career progressed quickly, which was both exciting and challenging. “At a young age, I had people reporting to me who were older and more knowledgeable about the business,” he says. “At first I approached them with the attitude of, ‘This is my title and this is why you have to do what I say,’ but of course that didn’t work. I had great mentors who put me in my place and taught me how important it is to earn respect and to deservedly shift credit to the team,” Klatt says. “Basically, I had to learn to lead versus manage.”
Klatt went on to serve in key leadership positions at Black & Decker, and then joined Newell Brands in 2001. He held a variety of senior management roles across multiple businesses, including Rubbermaid and Graco, before he was promoted to global president of the writing segment and specialty brands. His sphere of responsibility included household brands such as Sharpie, Paper Mate and uni-ball. Most recently, Klatt served as CEO of AAMP Global, a manufacturer of consumer-focused vehicle aftermarket and OEM technology.
Making the move to BIC Graphic USA was an easy decision, says Klatt. “Promotional products is a huge, highly fragmented market, so the potential for acquisitions, partnerships and winning over customers organically is exciting,” he says. “I’m energized to play in that kind of business.”
Since taking the helm in February, Klatt has been impressed with the depth of talent and potential that he sees, as well as the flow of innovation in new products. “The strength of our sales, marketing and operations teams have prompted some of the best-known brands in the world to come to us to take their message forward,” he says. “Even in the short time I’ve been here, we’ve started negotiations with three more huge brands.”
Klatt’s goal is to build on the supplier’s success to help take it to the next level. “Priority No. 1,” he says, “is increasing our level of customer service. Our customer relations process is being enhanced, and two company veterans have been promoted to lead the teams. We are already seeing improvements.”
In addition, the company is in the process of integrating operations and work flow with its top customers. Two major integrations are complete, with 27 more in the works. Klatt plans to steer the corporate culture toward becoming more cohesive and forward-focused, and he recently hired a new VP of human resources to lead the effort.
Klatt enthusiastically describes BIC Graphic USA’s partnership with private equity owners H.I.G. Capital as highly supportive, noting proactive investments in automation, order flow and new products. He notes that they are all on the same page, with a desire to be in front of trends and prepared for the inevitable market shifts.
“What I’m hearing so far is that end users and customers want to buy from one source,” he says. “This sets up well for us because of our broad range of products and brands. Our well-known proprietary and premium partner brands are well positioned to meet the demand for better value and high-quality products.”
Eventually, Klatt says, he will judge his own success by the personal and professional development of those around him. “I’m most proud when I see people who work with me go on to do great things, knowing I had a hand in their career or personal development,” he says.
Four months in, it’s clear that Klatt has hit the ground running with no intention of slowing down. “As far as I’m concerned,” he says, “the sky is the limit, and it’s up to us how we write the next chapter.”
Terry Ramsay is associate editor of PPB.