Setting Change In Motion

 

Todd Pottebaum, MAS+, has been around the world and back again—in both his travel adventures and in his professional experiences. He’s been to more than 25 countries and counting, with a goal of visiting 50, and together with his family—wife Sheri, daughter Savannah, and sons Jax and Jaeger—they enjoy the outdoors and action-packed sports and activities like boating, biking, wake surfing, skiing and snowmobiling. But as the president of Quality Resource Group (QRG), a Plymouth, Minnesota, distributor, Pottebaum has also gained a world of knowledge this year about how to evolve as a leader during a global pandemic, and guide his team and the promotional products industry as effectively as possible—an experience he calls unparalleled, but also invaluable.

Pottebaum has been with QRG, a family-owned distributorship, for more than 20 years, and has served as its president for nearly six. The company was founded in 1964 by a group of professionals looking to provide better solutions to their clients’ printing needs. Pottebaum was introduced to the industry early on by his father, Dennis, who had a long career with the company and retired in 2018. Pottebaum went to work for the company a few years after graduating from the University of Northern Colorado with a bachelor’s degree in international trade and relations with an emphasis in economics. “It was an incredible experience to learn sales acumen, business management and leadership techniques from an amazing man, who has since retired,” he says. Today the distributorship spans eight locations across the Midwest and operates as a commercial printer and full-service branded merchandising agency.


Todd and Sheri Pottebaum with their children, Jax (second from left), Savannah and Jaeger.

In addition to heading up QRG, Pottebaum has also served in several volunteer roles for various industry associations and groups. He is  incoming chair of the PPAI Board of Directors, and will assume the role after the 2021 PPAI Expo Direct-2-You, PPAI’s first-ever virtual Expo experience. He has served on the board since 2018 and is in his third year of a four-year term. He also served as president of Upper Midwest Association of Promotional Products from 2014-2015, and as chair of the PPAI Marketing Information and Research Committee that same year.

Philanthropy is a concept that’s not only important to Pottebaum, but it’s a value he supports in his personal life and reinforces in the values of QRG. The company has a program called BrandGood, adapted from their affiliation with the industry group Reciprocity Road, that’s founded on three pillars: DoGood, supporting philanthropy and service; FeelGood, supporting employee wellness, and LiveGood, supporting fun, social activities. Through DoGood, the company focuses on supporting two nonprofits, Children’s Miracle Network Hospitals and the Promotional Products Education Foundation, and QRG’s employees have donated their time and services to more than 200 nonprofit organizations. Pottebaum, who has a special needs child, is also a big advocate for the disabled community and has an important message to share. He urges others that when they meet a person with a disability, to say hello or strike up a conversation. Simple gestures like this, he says, “can be rewarding for you, and the recipient will feel recognized instead of invisible, which is how they commonly feel.” He adds, “You’ll both be happy that you did.”

A self-described “family man,” Pottebaum is also committed to supporting his employees and their needs. At the start of the pandemic, he applied his familial values to the company, enforcing a “families first” policy; something he’s committed to continuing. The policy involves putting a particular focus on relationships, both company-wide and with clients, with an awareness of the challenges the pandemic has posed for people and their families. The families-first focus has also made him more open-minded to the continuing prospect of remote work. “Great company culture is critical and I’ve long-held the belief that culture is fostered within our physical office spaces,” Pottebaum says. “For this reason, I fought the notion of remote work prior to the pandemic. Today, more than half of our workforce has been working remotely since March. They’re doing great and many are loving it. Ultimately, this shift has changed the way I think about our leases and how we provide a better work-life balance for our teams.”

On the operations side, Pottebaum says the pandemic accelerated the development of various projects, both structurally and directionally. “Directionally, we amped up our acquisitions strategy and we tripled down on our outbound digital marketing tactics,” he says. “Structurally, we have built and staffed a full-time fulfillment and distribution center to meet the demands of drop-ship kits directly to remote workers while also managing the growing needs for our enterprise stores and clients,” he says. QRG also established an inside sales department, offering new ways for its employees to grow professionally and better allocating responsibilities between the business development and account management teams.

As a PPAI board member and incoming chair, Pottebaum has been overseeing the planning of Expo Direct-2-You from a board perspective; an event designed to provide attendees with the experience of the PPAI Expo while best ensuring the health, safety and social distancing of attendees. “We’ve worked diligently to redirect, prepare and plan programming to meet our members where they are, which has been perpetually evolving since the beginning of the pandemic. These efforts will be on display during this live, four-day virtual event with content to help our members address critical business needs at a time they need it most.”

Pottebaum believes that the past year has certainly affected his perspective of what it means to be a company leader, especially during and in the aftermath of a global pandemic. “Leaders set the tone amidst any crisis,” he says. “The most effective leaders must exhibit a wide variety of qualities to lead teams through the danger while also capitalizing on opportunities.” When asked what he believes are the most important leadership qualities today, he says: “The leader’s ability to remain calm, steadfast and cope with uncertainty” to “make decisions with the best information they have, and be willing to own mistakes and quickly redirect” and that “teams will rally behind leaders who communicate frequently, transparently and with empathy.”

The promotional products industry, which has demonstrated resilience in its ability to recover and thrive, will continue to evolve, and Pottebaum is confident that “we will persevere,” although he anticipates more consolidation and insolvency. His greatest concern, he says, “is the speed by which we return to pre-pandemic levels,” and he believes the industry will not fully recover until 2023. Moving forward, in 2021 he’ll continue to lead QRG toward a goal of reaching $75 million in sales, with plans to grow organically and through acquisitions. 

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Danielle Renda is associate editor of PPB.

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