fireside-chatThose who attended Tuesday’s Keynote Luncheon were treated to a fireside chat between Mark Graham, founder of distributor RIGHTSLEEVE (PPAI 221036), chief platform officer of commonsku and chef at PromoKitchen, and Norm Hullinger, CAS, CEO of industry apparel supplier alphabroder (PPAI 156993), the industry’s first billion-dollar company.

Graham’s questions for Hullinger ranged from the personal to the professional, starting with values. He asked Hullinger what three values he felt were most important.

Hullinger answered, “Trust, honor and respect. Treating people well, whether that’s family or friends or coworkers. Whether it’s someone you just met or someone you’ve known forever. I think if you apply those things across the entire spectrum of your life you just can’t go wrong. At alphabroder we’ve created a culture that … requires those attributes and it’s a great place to be.”

Both Hullinger and Graham then turned the discussion to the professional, discussing how the real work at their companies gets done in informal “hallway conversations” rife with joking and ribbing, rather than the formal meetings that take place during the day.

“Some people call it fly-by management,” Hullinger said. “I don’t know what you call it, but the very quick, unstructured conversations are the ones that get us from A to B. We’re very lucky to have a management team that has that culture and we value it.”

Hullinger told Graham that he views his early morning arrival at work as key to his success. “Getting in very early and having an hour and a half of serenity [to plan your day is important] because once the interruptions start, your time is no longer your own. And if you try to create a collaborative environment, by definition people are allowed to—and should—walk into your office any time. We have no closed doors. We literally have an open-door policy.”

Graham brought up the topic of failure and asked Hullinger to share one of his biggest failures. Hullinger said his biggest one happened when he was four or five years into [being at alphabroder].

“We were trying to drive a new distribution center initiative and I just got impatient and I ran over some people and got some things done and didn’t listen as well as I should have. At the end of the day—it always comes around—it was a failure. What I learned then is that you have to listen and if people have legitimate concerns, you just can’t steamroll them. And sometimes you do that out of enthusiasm. I certainly hope I didn’t do it out of hubris or uncaringness, but you just get focused on a goal and you’re running toward it and you just say we’re going to get there no matter what. The reality is, you better stop and listen,” said Hullinger.