Exceptional Industry Leaders Honored During PPAI Chair’s Leadership Dinner
PPAI presented its highest honors to five individuals on Monday evening during the PPAI Chair’s Leadership Dinner at The PPAI Expo in Las Vegas. The honorees were recognized for their accomplishments and longtime contributions to the Association and the promotional products industry.
The elegant evening was the centerpiece of PPAI’s annual awards program, drawing industry icons, luminaries and leaders, past and present, to join in the tribute to this year’s honorees.
“This is a people industry and that’s why this is one of my favorite nights of the year … a night when we can come together and celebrate the best of us,” said Brittany David, MAS, PPAI board chair, who emceed the event along with PPAI President and CEO Paul Bellantone, CAE. “Our trailblazers, our philanthropists, our mentors and our industry icons. These remarkable people have each contributed to making our industry what it is today,” she said.
PPAI’s highest award, recognizing exceptional contributions to PPAI and the promotional products industry, was bestowed on Carl Gerlach, MAS, retired director of marketing at Gill Studios, Inc., and Roni Wright, MAS, vice president at The Book Company. The pair became the 87th and 88th individuals inducted into the PPAI Hall of Fame since its inception in 1977.
Former work and volunteer colleague and friend Paul Lage, MAS, president of IMAGEN Brands, presented the honors to Gerlach recalling their long friendship and his admiration for Gerlach. “Carl always wants to make a difference. It’s not about the titles and awards. In fact, he would choose to save them for others on the team. He is a politician, but he prefers to be known as a public servant.”
In accepting the award, Gerlach thanked his former board family, his Gill family and his immediate family, noting how important they all have been in his journey. “For me, everything is about teamwork,” he said. “Everything I’ve accomplished in this industry and my life has been because of the teams I’ve been a part of. … There are countless people in this industry and in my life who taught me and directed me along my journey. Thank you for leaving footprints on my heart. I’ll never forget tonight.”
Wayne Greenberg, MAS, president of SWAG Krewe, a division of Geiger, and a former board colleague, presented Wright’s Hall of Fame induction. “Extraordinary people do these things, not because they seek the limelight, but because of what’s in their heart,” he said. “In Roni’s case, I’ve always been amazed that such a big heart can fit into such a small frame.”
Wright accepted the award by acknowledging the many experiences that have influenced her and thanked friends and colleagues from all segments of her life. “My story has many chapters. Some are complete. Some are being rewritten. And others have yet to be revealed. I’m happy and sad looking back and excited to look forward and ponder what happens next.” She wrapped up with a reference to her dedication and love for yoga. “The teachings transcend the mat and help us to navigate when off the mat—patience, non‐attachment, non‐judgement, acceptance and deep love for yourself and everyone. The light in me sees the light in each one of you. I am so grateful today. Thank you.”
Rick Brenner, MAS, president of RFBrenner LLC, and Kippie Helzel, MAS, senior vice president at CPS/Keystone Line, were honored with the PPAI Distinguished Service Award in tribute for consistently contributing their skills and expertise toward the betterment of the Association.
Volunteer colleague and longtime friend Gene Geiger, MAS+, chairman of Geiger, introduced Brenner by recalling his numerous accomplishments and significant leadership in the area of product responsibility. “There is no person more responsible for our safety and compliance record than Rick,” he said. “Frankly, few people have ever given more of themselves or have accomplished something of greater significance for our industry. Rick Brenner is one of the finest persons I know.”
For Brenner, the words and recognition were especially meaningful. “I am being recognized tonight but it is really a grand collaboration of passionate people working together that moves mountains, and that has defined our success at PPAI. Volunteerism is the heart of our culture at PPAI—sharing our expertise with our colleagues, mentoring the next generation and paying it forward.”
PPAI also awarded Rod Brown, CAS, founder of MadeToOrder, with its H. Ted Olson Humanitarian Award to recognize his unwavering commitment toward improving the quality of life, offering hope and bringing about change for those in need in Malawi, Africa, and Tijuana, Mexico. Brown was introduced by Rex Shoemake, vice president of sales at MadeToOrder, who shed light on the scope of Brown’s humanitarian efforts over the past 10 years. “God has blessed Rod Brown in so many ways, through PPAI, MadeToOrder and all the individuals that make up these organizations,” he said. “The world is a better place for people he sees every day at the office and those far away that are clothed and sheltered.”
As he stepped to the stage, Brown explained his purpose for choosing to make a difference. “To whom much is given much is required. My mom used to tell me, ‘If you can… you must.’ Her point was, if you have the ability to do so, you have an obligation. Today, I hope my Mom would be at least modestly proud that I took a small portion of her lessons to heart.” Brown accented his acceptance speech with videos showing the people in Mexico and Malawi who are benefiting from the projects to which he contributes his time.
Six member companies were also recognized with the PPAI Milestone Award in appreciation for reaching a milestone anniversary as members of PPAI. Among those recognized were Thornhill Sales Company with 75 years as a member, and American Display Graphics, BIC Graphic USA, Jimco, Numo and Spartan Promotional Group with 50 years as a member.
PPAI’s Promotional Pioneers program celebrates the Association’s rich history and serves as an opportunity to recognize the vision and innovation responsible for the industry’s growth. Those honored Monday night as Promotional Pioneers included Benjamin T. Babbitt, who, in 1851, first manufactured and marketed individually wrapped bars of soap and later launched the premium incentive industry and Goes Lithographic whose innovation kicked off the offset revolution in the lithographic industry. Also honored was Richard A. Waldinger for product design. His numerous patents for writing instruments transformed the industry beyond functionality to showcase a company’s message or logo.
Read the full stories about PPAI’s top award winners in PPB’s January issue.