'We Will Rise!'
Above photo: Debbie Abergel (second from left) with her husband Stuart Esner, Craig Nadel (far right), president of Jack Nadel International, and his wife Michelle Nadel.
Debbie Abergel leads by example, not only in matters of business, but also in the resilience, optimism and dedication she models to her clients and colleagues. As chief strategy officer of Los Angeles-based global distributor Jack Nadel International, Abergel has been with the company for 22 years, but last year’s unprecedented challenges demanded an immediate and radical shift, both in practice and in mindset. And adapt, she did.
“I wish our industry would stop operating in fear,” says Abergel. “If this pandemic taught us anything, it’s how strong we are, how much our services are needed. We, as an industry, I think, have done phenomenal.”
Almost immediately following the start of the pandemic, Abergel worked fervently on updating JNI’s services to reflect clients’ current needs, developing ways to educate clients on new products and packaging, with an emphasis on kitting, and guiding them on staying connected, she says. And all throughout, JNI also focused heavily on preserving the company’s infrastructure. During the pandemic, JNI laid off less than three percent of its employees, Abergal says.
To support the team, Abergel also helped create and launch Nadel U <remote>, a two-week virtual event featuring education, such as how to work from home effectively; partner presentations and awards, including the distributor’s annual JNI awards; and fun-filled networking, including happy hours, dance parties and fitness classes. “We were all home and it was just like, ‘How are we going to connect?’ she says. “It was just taking that stance that we’ve got to rally everybody. We’ve got to connect people, we’ve got to see faces, whether you’re in New York, Houston or LA, we’ve got to connect people.”
To bring the event into employees’ homes, JNI employee were sent at-home kits prior to the event, which included a jogger and tie-dye set, face mask, coffee drip kit, hat, t-shirt, necklace, rave stick, journal, mug, resistance bands and jump rope branded with the Nadel U <remote> logo. And to add a human touch component, Abergel, together with Craig Nadel, JNI’s president and CEO, and Craig Reese, JNI’s senior vice president and director, visited each JNI Award winner at their homes to hand-deliver the awards. “We wanted to make sure our people knew that we appreciate them,” says Abergel. “Our fiscal year ended March 31, 2020, and we had the best year in our company’s history had the pandemic not happened, and we were not going to let that affect it.”
Above left photo: Debbie Abergel (center) with her daughter Sadie Abergel and Sadie's fiancé's Jonathan Black. Above middle photo: Abergel and her daughter, Sadie. Above right photo: Abergel and her daughter, Sadie, enjoy traveling together.
Outside of the Nadel U <remote>, Abergel is focusing on other ways to connect and engage JNI’s employees, with a new experience every month. This past October, the company hosted a pumpkin carving event led by a professional pumpkin-carver, and in November, JNI drew inspiration from Netflix’s Nailed It!—a bake-off competition featuring amateur bakers who compete against each other—and all JNI employees were sent cake mix and frosting to concoct their own creations. JNI also operates a boost program for salespeople to share what they’ve done and to recognize their work with monthly awards.
“We’ve been working harder than ever to keep the culture alive. That’s what’s going to help us when we come out of this,” says Abergel. “Just because we’re not in the office, that doesn’t mean our culture has changed.” She adds, “The Maya Angelou quote, ‘ … People will never forget how you made them feel,’ I sent that out company-wide. Even if you can’t be there for yourself, be there for someone else, step up. We’re going to be there for each other, we’re going to share that positive energy and we’re going to rise out of this.”
To head up these changes, Abergel was armed with her unrelenting confidence in and love for the promotional products industry, its ability to create and enhance experiences and its unique role in the marketing world. “We’re the unicorns spreading joy. I feel like that’s what the industry is,” she says.
Abergel, who is originally from Morocco, was drawn to the industry out of a desire for change and through simple curiosity. With a master’s degree in public administration, Abergel was working in health care for the city of Inglewood, California, when she decided she wanted a break—and one day while driving, there it was. “I drove by this building, and I saw it said, ‘direct response,’ and I thought it was an alarm company, and I was curious as to what they did.” That building was JNI’s office, and after applying for a position there, Abergel was brought on as a part-time employee in the finance department. “I had no idea what they did at Jack Nadel, but I loved the energy,” she says.
Eager to learn, Abergel read all she could about the industry, starting with JNI’s archives dating back to 1953, when the family company was founded. After working in finance for about a year, she was asked to head the development of JNI’s online store, also one of the industry’s first online stores, working closely with JNI’s president and CEO, Craig Nadel, CAS, and consultants to do so. Fast forward to today and Abergel has served as JNI’s senior vice president of marketing for more than 18 years, and in her current position as chief strategy officer for nearly four years. “I’ve tried other things and I love being creative, I love merchandising and I love product,” says Abergel. “Beautifully designed product makes me happy.”
Danielle Renda is associate editor of PPB.