2018 Best Bosses

If your boss shares credit when things go right, shoulders the blame when things go wrong, gives you the freedom and authority to do your work and even occasionally lets you make mistakes, count yourself lucky. You’ve got a great boss.


It’s a fact that people leave their bosses, not their jobs. A 2017 Gallup poll indicated that 75 percent of workers who voluntarily left their jobs did so because of problems with their boss. In today’s tight job market, smart companies must ensure that bosses know how to effectively manage others, including treating them with respect, standing up for them, coaching them when needed, celebrating their successes and being mindful of how they balance work with the other parts of their lives.


This summer PPB received more than 100 nominations in its annual search to find the best bosses in the promotional products industry. Read on to learn about the 15 selected and what they do to earn the admiration.


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BEN ADNER
President Inkcups
Direct reports: 6
Years managing others: 17


Ben Adner started the Danvers, Massachusetts-based supplier from his basement in 2001. He grew it to a 26,000-square-foot warehouse and then to a global company with six offices in North America and seven others around the world selling Tagless® pad printers, specialty inkjet systems and supplies within the apparel, promotional products, industrial and retail markets.

“Ben is adamant about not forgetting where we started,” says his nominator Jessica Makrinos, who has worked for the company for almost three years. She explains that even though Adner is the company owner, he makes a genuine effort to get to know every employee on a personal level by participating in all company activities—barbeques, yoga Tuesdays and even the gardening committee. He also makes himself as available as possible and never tries to separate himself from the rest of the team.

“He encourages us to speak to him about anything and takes a great interest in any ideas or problems we may have. Additionally, Ben has motivated me to go back to school for my master’s degree and has even included it in my yearly objectives. Overall, Ben is always looking at ways to help the company, but he always has us on his mind as well.”

What’s cool about Ben
Although he’s is the owner of a global company, he remains grounded, approachable and finds the humor in things. And, he rarely misses yoga Tuesdays.

His best boss
At [his previous employer] Autoroll I worked for Bill Karlyn, who was a quintessential entrepreneur. His leadership style was to lead by example. He worked hard, took risks and cared about his people. I like to think I adopted his style.

What managing others has taught him about himself
As a leader and manager, I need to be mindful about how I show up to work each day and interact with our people. They are looking to me for guidance. Regardless of what I have going on personally, I need to show up to work positive, confident and ready to go. That is the Inkcups way.

His best advice for other bosses
You need to be a positive person, enthusiastic about your work and provide an environment where your people are challenged, personally and professionally, and where they can take risks.

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CHRIS BARTON

Senior Director of Credit SanMar Corporation
Direct Reports: 3 (101 total in credit department)
Years Managing Others: 22

Chris Barton joined SanMar 31 years ago and considers himself fortunate to have made his career at the Issaquah, Washington-based supplier.

In turn, Bonnie Wells, who has worked in the credit department for 13 years and has reported directly to Barton for more than five years, says Barton has played a significant role not only in her career development but for everyone who works with him. “Chris promotes an environment of fun, laughter, hard work and forward, out-of-the-box thinking. [He provides] ongoing mentoring with the encouragement to not only succeed but also that it is okay to fail and learn along the way.” She says his management style is unique, he practices what he preaches, always wants to learn more and supports the entire team not only toward their professional goals but also for personal growth. “Chris is the type of manager whose office you don’t ever mind being called into because you always know that when you leave, you will have learned something or, at the very least, will have had a great laugh.”

Wells recalls two specific times when Barton’s management style made a major difference in her life. She had been with the company only about six months when her work hours caused her to miss her daughter’s soccer game. When Barton heard, he told her that her child’s events are important and shouldn’t be missed. He asked her not to miss one again because of work. She has never forgotten that kindness.
A few years ago, when she failed the test to earn the Certified International Credit Professional designation, he encouraged her to try again and spent several hours going over the test questions. She passed.

What’s cool about Chris
He can be serious when necessary, but he also remembers to have fun. He came to a meeting dressed up as rapper Flavor Flav to make everyone laugh. To raise money for a charity event he has dressed up as a super hero and also participated in a dunk tank in the rain while ice was being thrown in the tank. He sings happy birthday to everyone in the department, at times using funny accents.

His best boss
Marty Lott [SanMar’s owner/president]. Joining SanMar early in my career, and early in SanMar’s history, has been an incredible opportunity for me. Working with Marty to understand firsthand the importance of our customers, our people and culture has guided everything I have done over the years. Marty has always shared the importance of being nice and telling the truth. These principles have evolved over the years to become our SanMar Family Values, and they have been my guiding principle in my work with our customers and with my team.

What managing others has taught him about himself
That success and happiness in work and in life aren’t as complicated as I might have thought when I began my career. It really is as simple as being nice and telling the truth while supporting and allowing others to grow and to be successful. It’s about the we, not the me.

His best advice for other bosses
Be yourself, be genuine and have fun. Marty has shared with us over the years that we spend a lot of our time at work and we should enjoy what we do. I think we try to make sure we find the joy in what we’re doing every day, and that helps make us successful.

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SUSAN BENDEL-BRIDSON

Senior Director of Marketing ePromos Promotional Products, Inc.

Susan is empowering, yet very nurturing and kind," says nurturing and kind,” says Brittaney Benson-Townsend, one of four nominators, including Kim Laffer Nick, MAS; Jamie Hoelscher and Jason Zamft. Benson-Townsend moved from Las Vegas to the company’s headquarters in St. Cloud, Minnesota, about a year ago and her boss made Minnesota livable. “If Susan wasn’t in my work life, I probably would have moved back to the West Coast. I will drive to work in the snow for her. I will get up in the freezing cold for her. Moreover, I will bust my behind for her. Susan has been the best employer I have ever had. I am committed to our company because of her.”

Before joining distributor ePromos seven years ago, Bendel-Bridson most recently spent two years at distributor Deluxe Corporation. “Over my career, I have been fortunate to work for excellent managers,” she says. “I have tried to take the traits that resonated the most with me and incorporate them into my own management style.” That method has proven to bring out the best in those who report to her.
“She never dwells on mistakes but rather looks at the big picture,” says Nick, who has reported to Bendel-Bridson for over a year. “She’s said to me on multiple occasions, ‘Kim, it’s progress over perfection. No one can tell you that you didn’t try hard; now let’s move on to the next thing.’ It’s her equivalent of ‘shake it off’ and it quickly takes my mood from uncomfortable and upset to optimistic and motivated.”

What’s cool about Susan
She lets people fail. She wants the person to own their position and that comes with making mistakes and learning from them. Her motto is to act now and beg for forgiveness later. She is also a big proponent of effort vs. impact, which helps the team prioritize by comparing the effort it takes to do something and the impact it will make.

Her best boss
If I had to identify one best boss, it would be Sheila Johnshoy, the chief revenue officer at ePromos. Sheila is extremely supportive, motivating and empowering. 

What managing others has taught her about herself
I don’t need to have all the answers. My job is to trust the insights and experiences of others, along with giving them the tools and freedom they need to do their best work.

Her best advice for other bosses
Leading by example is the most effective way I have found to manage others. I know I need to show up every day displaying the positive behaviors I want to see in my team.

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BLAKE BOZEMAN, MAS

Director of Sales
SAGE Quick Technologies, Inc.
Direct Reports: 2
Years Managing Others: 22

Thriving companies operate between a steady hum and a full-on roar, but Blake Bozeman never lets the hubbub faze him. “Blake is the type of boss who always takes time to think before he responds,” says nominator Teri Cragle. “And, even better, he responds instead of reacting. He is even tempered and always has his employees’ best interest at heart.” Another nominator, Ryan Hanchey, appreciates the way Bozeman leads by example. “It’s the small things like showing up early and putting in hours that I know my team sees,” he says. “Also, he’s not afraid to get his hands dirty in the office or at a trade show. There is something to be said when a director wearing a suit is helping set up the booth.”

Before joining Dallas-based SAGE more than four years ago, Bozeman spent six years in sales with PPAI and eight years at supplier Identification Plates. With a total of 22 years of sales management experience, Bozeman has learned to keep his head in just about every situation. “One of his best characteristics is that he’s unbelievably even-keeled, levelheaded and calm,” says Hanchey. “I, on the other hand, can be a bit high strung and get overly excited, be it positively or negatively. Blake is always there to level me out.”

What’s cool about Blake
He’s cool as a cucumber when everyone else is freaking out. Maybe he’s freaking out inside, but on the outside, the world is perfect.

His best boss
The smart answer here is to say my current one—so it’s my current boss. I’ve learned the perfect balance of direction, with the liberties to orchestrate your plans, is the formula to drive success in achieving any projects or goals. A boss that can provide that balance is great!

What managing others has taught him about himself
I would have to say I’ve learned that achieving goals by being part of the team is much more rewarding. I believe any good boss knows their role. They understand that they are truly working for their team, as part of a team, versus the team working for the boss. There’s nothing more rewarding than assisting a team and individuals to reach their goals and potential.

His best advice for other bosses
I believe there are a few basic, but very important traits for great bosses. Try and lead by example when it comes to work ethic, always remember to show appreciation for their efforts, and give everyone the respect and consideration they deserve. We’re all in it together.

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TOMAS COHAN

Regional Vice President HALO Branded Solutions
Direct Reports: 130
Years Managing Others: 15

As the Denver-based regional vice president for Sterling, Illinois- based HALO Branded Solutions, Tomas Cohan manages 130 direct reports across multiple states. But despite the logistics, Cohan is renowned for putting his team’s needs first. “Tomas always thinks ‘people first,’” says Wayne Heus, one of Cohan’s of eight nominators. “He has built personal relationships with everyone in our region and goes out of his way to make sure everyone feels a part of the team.” Nominator Sandy Routzon says, “Tomas is there whenever I need him. He finds help when I need it, celebrates my successes and helps me reach level after level of success.”

Lisa Ekdahl, who has reported to him for almost three years, says he has helped her close deals, voluntarily made multiple visits to clients in remote locations, coached her on how she does business (which played a huge part in tripling her business) and helped her strategize on pricing, products and various other things for clients. “Tomas is an incredible mentor,” says Ekdahl. “He truly cares about everyone, wants to see everyone succeed and will help in any way he can. Going above and beyond is an understatement.”

Not only does Cohan make a difference to the people at HALO, he’s also improving the lives of those in Juarez, Mexico. Nominator Janette Petesch once traveled with him and three others from the Denver office to build a home for a family in need in the border town. “We all packed our cars with things they have a hard time getting there and drove down. He has done this many times with different members of his team.” Nominator Stacy Nelson joined the trip one year. “It is a rewarding way of life that he lives, and he encourages all of us to participate,” she says.

Caring about others is ingrained in Cohan’s character. For five years early in his career, he was a Denver firefighter. About halfway into it, he found time to start up distributor Logos Your Way. The company was acquired by HALO in 2011.

Cohan was also nominated for this year’s honor by Melanie Levans, April Rider and David Ekdahl.

What’s Cool About Tomas
Tomas can laugh with you and laugh about himself, but he never ever laughs at you. He always makes the other person feel good. He exemplifies a favorite saying, “People will forget what you said and forget what you did, but they will never forget how you made them feel.”

His best bosses
My parents. They taught me to work hard, treat people with respect, and that no job is above or below you.
What managing others has taught him about himself
As a manager, I need to realize I may not have all the answers. I should be comfortable relying on my co-workers and striving to build a strong team by drawing on each person’s strengths.

His best advice for other bosses
Start by showing up each day prepared to do your best. Take time to invest in and elevate others before yourself. Value each person for who they are and what individual goals they want to achieve. And always remember, at HALO, our people have always been our strength.

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JOSH EBRAHEMI

Vice President/Partner Jack Nadel International
Direct Reports: 5
Years Managing Others: 13

Josh Ebrahemi has worked at Los Angeles, California-based distributor Jack Nadel International (JNI) since graduating from the University of California - San Diego in 2002. During that time, he’s been the top salesperson for 11 years and earned a promotion to partner in 2006. In addition to carving out his own career opportunities, he’s also created a team environment where employees enjoy coming to work every day.
“Not only is he highly successful, but he humbly shares his success with every member of our team,” says nominator Carsen Welch. “He always finds ways to thank us and to encourage us to reach higher.”
“He goes out of his way every day to ensure we are all happy, collaborating, being effective and feeling appreciated,” says nominator Jessica Piche. For example, he noticed one employee who was covering for vacationing coworkers and hadn’t left her desk all day. “He immediately bought her food and encouraged her to take some time away from her desk,” remembers Rachel Lutsky. “Most bosses wouldn’t blink an eye at the kind of hard work she was doing because they expect you to be that dedicated. Josh recognizes the value in treating employees well and making sure they’re happy, which makes us all willing to work so hard for him.”

Nominator Anna Taylor says he does everything he can to ensure employees are challenged and given new tasks and responsibilities as they grow with the company. “Josh treats his team as an extension of himself and wants his employees to be happy at work and in life,” she says.

What’s cool about Josh
He’s big on organizing frequent team celebrations to mark meeting sales goals, landing big orders and to honor birthdays— and that means dinner at a restaurant, a movie or just hanging out together.

His best boss
Craig Nadel, CAS, [JNI’s CEO]t has been my best boss because he created a workplace that allows us to sell the way we want to and just be ourselves.

What managing others has taught him about himself
That there is no ceiling in sales as long as you have great people on your team.

His best advice for other bosses
It’s so important to never make it about yourself, but to always put your team first. You are only as strong as your weakest team member. I love to create experiences and memories for them. I treat my team just as I would treat my family and clients, because they are family to me.

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DON FORSELL

President
Show Your Logo, Inc.
Number of Direct Reports: 19
Years Managing Others: 20

Seventeen years ago, Don Forsell started distributor Show Your Logo, Inc. in a spare bedroom of his Oswego, Illinois, home, drawing on seven years of managerial experience at Star Printing and Promotions in nearby Naperville. Today the company employs more than 20 sales and customer service professionals; 12 of his direct reports nominated Forsell as a Best Boss. The common thread cited in almost all nominations was Forsell’s easy-going style and respect for people as individuals.

“He allows us to do what we do best in our role without micromanaging every step,” says Denise Knierim, who’s been reporting to Forsell for 11 years.
“We have the freedom to fit our clients’ needs.”

Steve Brungart, who has worked at the company for 17 years, says, “He is not a micromanager. He lets people do what they are good at.” Seventeen-year employee Becky Schulte appreciates that quality too. “I am able to run my department in the best way that suits our needs,” she says. “It has helped me personally in my own growth within the company and for that I will always be grateful.”

What’s cool about Don
He has a very laid-back approach and lets people run with thoughts and ideas. He is an actions-speak-louder-than-words kind of guy and he shows it by rolling up his sleeves and working right alongside us all the time.

His best boss
Chuck Kanney of Star Printing and Promotions, Ltd. He surrounded himself with people he could trust and made them feel personally invested. He was never afraid to take a chance and our mistakes taught me just as much as our successes.

What managing others has taught him about himself
I don’t know half as much as I think I know.

His best advice for other bosses
The right people simply need the opportunity, flexibility, tools and support to show what they can do, so let them. Everyone is different, so fit the job to the person, not the person to the job. Help them organize and function in ways that flow naturally for them as individuals. Even when it’s not “your way,” trust them, invest in them and watch them surprise you.

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GENE FU

Vice President of Sales and Marketing
KTI Networks / KTI Promo
Number Of Direct Reports: 20
Years Managing Others: 25

Twenty-eight years ago, Gene Fu left his job at Networking Integration Company to join KTI Networks / KTI Promo, a Houston-based supplier specializing in the development, production and marketing of high-quality, technology-oriented products. It was a perfect match for Fu’s passionate work ethic, tech-savvy interests and unexpected sense of humor.

“Gene is good at so many things,” says nominator Carlos Miller. “I really like how he coaches us, allows us to be creative and supports our efforts.”

Nominator Nadira Baker says, “He is one of the most supportive, challenging and understanding people I have ever come across. He motivates you in just the right way, providing the best kind of attitude that is contagious to the entire office.”

Joshua Pospisil, another nominator, is equally impressed with Fu’s unique approach. “Gene is a very laid-back person, and you would think he is the same in his management style, however this is just a cover,” says Pospisil. “While he seems laid back, he is really watching and paying attention. When he sees something going a little off, he is there as quick as can be to provide help, encouragement and suggestions without ever seeming like a helicopter boss.”

Nominator Colleen McKinney is quick to point out what makes Fu a standout boss. “He takes the extra time to help others understand the industry and always has a positive attitude about dealing with problems. This is a rare quality; he’s one of a kind.”

What’s cool about Gene
He always talks about “two tacos” when he needs a favor. He says, “I will pay you with two tacos.” One day a direct report bought him two tacos as a thank-you for something he did to help close a big project. He was humbled yet grateful and everyone got a laugh out of it.

What managing others has taught him about himself
Superman is just in the movies; winning is built on teamwork.

His best advice for other bosses
I am not sure the title of “Best Boss” fits me well. My advice, if there is any, is to follow what you have preached the same way as you want others to follow.

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ZAC FOWLER

President
INM Marketing Group
Number Of Direct Reports: 13
Years Managing Others: 5

Zac Fowler earned his management stripes in his first job as a regional sales manager in the Corporate Markets Division for supplier Fossil in 2000-2004 and refined them with regular practice as vice president, sales and operations, at Dallas-area distributor Ideas ’N Motion. Fourteen years later the company has changed names and Fowler is now president.

“He’s lighthearted, funny, unique in his personality, and is absolutely passionate about creating solutions for all of our clients and prospects,” says nominator Kelli Bernd. “He loves to motivate and stays on top of the current trends, not just in our industry but from an agency perspective as well.”
When Bernd originally applied for a data entry position with the company almost two years ago, Fowler saw far more potential based on her experience and created a position specifically for her. “Now I’m doing two things that I love—promotional products and design/marketing,” Bernd says. “He encourages me to use my passion for creativity to enhance our business.”

What’s cool about Zac
He offers a very strong work/life balance—even to salaried employees.

His best boss
Is it weird to say my dad? Actually, he was pretty great at showing me both what to do, and more importantly, what not to do—sometimes by accident. But he let me learn by making mistakes, which is the best way someone can grow. You hear horror stories of trying to work with family, but I can say the experience we’ve had over the last 13 years has been very gratifying, and enlightening. And entertaining. I’d also like to give a shout out to my boss at Fossil, Doug Smith. He was the first real boss I ever had, and he did a fantastic job of running a group of young, inexperienced knuckleheads, which I know is frustrating. But he took the time to teach me about the basics of customer service, respect in the office and Big 10 basketball.

What managing others has taught him about himself
That I have a lot to learn. Leading people is both the hardest, and most rewarding thing you can do. If you’re passionate about something as a leader, then it’s imperative you can share that passion in a way that others can understand, believe in and evangelize. No one truly wants
to be managed, they want to be led. And there is a huge difference between the two.

His best advice for other bosses
Take the time to get to know the people you’re working with. If I’m being honest, empathy doesn’t come naturally to me, but when I make an honest effort, which I know I can do more of, then it’s amazing the difference it makes. I truly believe that if you care about those around you, and they know you have their back, then they’ll break down walls for you.

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JENNIFER LAPIERRE

Owner
Cayenne Marketing
Number of Direct Reports: 6
Years Managing Others: 6+

“In my journey to joining the promotional products world I have had some great jobs, but horrible bosses,” says LaPierre’s nominator Lauren Morris, a three-year employee. “It has been such a blessing to have not only a job that I love, but a boss I wouldn’t trade. Jennifer is supportive, hilarious, understanding, helpful and is always making sure we all have what we need to be successful.”

LaPierre was director of media and public relations at Louisiana State University in Shreveport and an assistant recruiter in the Dallas area before joining the Cayenne Marketing team in 2011. A year later she purchased the Bossier City, Louisiana, distributor. Now as owner, her focus is on client satisfaction and the company’s growth, as well as making sure employees are happy and have what they need to excel.
“She has coached me from the beginning to know all the ins and
outs of this business, but she has also coached me through my own personal growth. As a result of our relationship, I’ve developed new leadership, communicative and business skills that have been priceless in meeting my goals,” adds Morris.

What’s cool about Jennifer
She operates a small company in terms of employees and, as a result, she wears many hats: owner, sales, marketing, accounting, etc. It would be easy for her to keep a lot of information and decisions to herself, but she is receptive to new ideas and discusses the growth and success of the company with employees.

Her best boss
My favorite boss of all time is Sean Patrick Kennedy, who supervised me in an intern position when I was in high school. He later hired me to be a producer in Dallas at the TV station he was working for. He never sugar-coated anything, and I always admired that because that’s not my strong suit.

What managing others has taught her about herself
Patience. I remember messing up a big order or not meeting the client’s in-hands date and I was so worried that my boss would yell at me or say hurtful things. Deep down, I’m a softie. So now in my role as owner, I remember that feeling of panic. At the end of the day, and I say this often when someone on our team messes up, it’s just pens.

Her best advice for other bosses
Listen to your team. Hear out their ideas. Support them in ways they are interested in pursuing for career or personal goals. A happy team is a successful team. Oh, and once or twice a year, surprise them with something fun out of the blue. A little gift in the mail, a bottle of champagne on their birthday or dinner with each of your team members individually. Everyone wants to feel special.

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DANON MIDDLETON

VP of Supplier and Client Relations Summit Group
Number of Direct Reports: 12
Years Managing Others: 30

Like her career, Danon Middleton’s management experience has evolved from her start with Nevins Marketing in 1988 to the launch of Tango Partners with Marsha Londe and Leigh Canavan to bringing gourmet retailer Harry & David into the promotional products industry, and then to joining Summit Group, a Silver Spring, Maryland-based distributor.

Middleton began managing others six months after joining Nevins as customer service manager. “I have had the pleasure of working with Danon for over 15 years,” says Carolyn Unger, one of Middleton’s seven nominators. “She is one of the most levelheaded, calm, cool and collected people I have ever met. She was born with the leadership gene. She has the ability to communicate with those she works with in a very friendly and straightforward manner, providing direction and guidance, always with a smile on her face and a can-do attitude.”

Nominator Amy Rabideau, who has reported to Middleton for eight years, says when she finds herself in tough situations she asks herself, “What would Danon do?” “The answer is easy,” says Rabideau. “Always the high road. Always the professional. Always let the other person have a sense of winning. Always let the other person have a chance to grow. This is the essence of Danon’s management style and who she is as a person.”

What’s cool about Danon
Danon is approachable. She talks to others like friends while at the same time remaining a respected leader.

Her best bosses
Janelle and Art Nevins. Janelle taught me about product, merchandising online stores and client facing presentation skills. Art taught me the operational elements of running a distributorship, including negotiating supplier rebates. Together they taught me the balance of sales and operations, how to be fair, levelheaded (calm in crisis mode) and to be respectful and appreciative of those (suppliers, associates and clients) you work with daily.

What managing others has taught her about herself
My mother and sister are both teachers, but I didn’t realize that I had inherited that gene until I read comments from my teammates provided via a review process. I personally like to understand how something ticks, why you put a “Y” for yes in a field for example. What is the purpose of the “Y”? I enjoy explaining that. When you educate an individual about the process, he or she gains an understanding of how that process really works, can appreciate the actions taken and understand that by not following processes, the desired outcome may not be achieved and possibly cause someone else to do extra work along the way. I love it when someone says, “Oh, I get it now!”

Her best advice for other bosses
Allow members on your team to grow, don’t micromanage them. You may need to micromanage the process or task as it relates to their job but eventually you have to let go. Let them own the work, and you be the safety net. If you micromanage people, they will never build the confidence they need to succeed in their position.

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AMANDA NOVELLINE

Vice President of Sales
Axis Promotions
Number of Direct Reports: 4
Years Managing Others: 15

Amanda Novelline has a unique way of turning mistakes into learning experiences, says her nominator Alexandra Alois, who has reported to Novelline for two years. “Starting out, I made my fair share of mistakes, some of which cost us money. Amanda has never once shown anger or frustration. Instead, she will always tell me to take a breath and that it’s ok. I admire her way of thinking and ability to communicate in such a positive way.”

Novelline found herself at the New York City-based distributor when the Boston-area company she was running, Advertising Concepts, Inc., merged with Axis in 2012. She was struggling to balance the complexities of growing sales and running the business with being a mother to her two young boys. The merger allowed her to focus her efforts on client service with the support of a creative, experienced and renowned company by her side. Today, she manages four Axis employees from her office in Burlington, Massachusetts.

What’s cool about Amanda She embraces new education, new technologies and out-of-the-box thinking and is willing to try different ways to make her team more efficient. She also challenges them with innovative projects and opportunities, and trusts her direct reports enough to know when to ask questions and when they’ve got things under control.

Her best boss
Lauren Goldstein at The Channel Company (tech publishing) was my boss, sales mentor, career and life coach. Lauren taught me strategic selling and navigating challenges during the tech bubble and subsequent burst in Silicon Valley. No one was buying, and rejection was the norm. We worked long hours on the road, and infused laughter and fun into every day. She pushed me out of my comfort zone, gave me confidence to make independent decisions and provided constructive feedback to help me improve. I learned that passion, teamwork, honesty and personal connections will build lifelong relationships and good will.

What managing others has taught her about herself
I have developed my own personal sales process and management style. It took me years to learn that does not translate for everyone. People and personalities respond differently to this style. I have learned to ask and be open as to how others prefer to communicate and be managed to
build mutual respect and partnership. It is important to develop your own style that highlights your individual personality and strengths.

Her best advice for other bosses
I may have more experience but may not know all the answers. Ask your team for input. Listen to their ideas. Be open to explore new resources and opportunities. Innovate in your own business which will translate to client satisfaction and ultimate loyalty.

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LUCY NYHAMMER

Director of Expanded Services/Remote Offices
American Solutions For Business
Number of Direct Reports: 30
Years Managing Others: 30

Lucy Nyhammer first learned the ins and outs of the people management business during the five years that she managed an Irish pub. From there, she took a job in customer service at Glenwood, Minnesota-based distributor American Solutions For Business and over the next 20 years was promoted through the ranks to her current position. Today, she manages five remote offices across the U.S., ensuring employees have the training, equipment and processes they need to be successful.
“Lucy is such a big-hearted and caring person,” says Lindsey Toenyan, one of five nominators.
“She is always willing to take the time to help you out or get something solved even if that means staying late at work. She understands life happens and is right there by your side to help you through it all.”
Nominator Kym Cihlar says, “Lucy is always there to help when a problem arises, she will also simply listen if that is what needed. I admire her ability to lead by example, admit when she can learn from others and tailor her management style for the best results.”

What’s cool about Lucy
Lucy is interested in how employees are both at work and at home, and takes time to acknowledge how their personal lives affect their work lives. She also trusts their ability to understand the workload and to prioritize the tasks required without micromanaging.

Her best boss
Connie Neuse. She was my first female boss and therefore I really looked up to her and paid close attention to how she managed. (Of course, this was a few years ago!) She had to be tough and smart, but she also really cared about the people she managed. She was encouraging and supportive, and talked to you, not at you.
What managing others has taught her about herself It has taught me to be a better listener.
Her best advice for other bosses I have found that people work harder on their shortcomings or weak areas when they are recognized for their accomplishments and strengths.

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ANNA ONDRACEK

Director, Sales Operations
Sunrise Identity Powered by HALO
Number of Direct Reports: 40
Years Managing Others: 6

Three years ago, Anna Ondracek joined Bellevue, Washington-based distributor Sunrise Identity Powered by HALO after owning an atelier, a custom apparel and tailoring business. Her experience in creating custom apparel was a perfect fit for her new audience: buyers looking for custom-logoed promotional products. Her management style also fit the job to a tee. Her nine nominators call her strong, creative, fair and a problem-solver. “She pushes me every day to solve new problems but is always there to coach me along the way,” says nominator Sarah Metzger. “I strive to be a leader like she is.”

“Anna is an amazing leader because she truly cares about our professional growth,” says nominator Eileen Rausch. “She constantly helps us set goals and communicates wins but also our areas of improvement. She manages through empowerment by treating everyone as adults and letting them take responsibility for their actions.”

What’s cool about Anna
She participates in work happy hours so that team members get to know her outside of work. They say it makes her less intimidating, so they are comfortable approaching her with anything.

Her best boss
One of the best bosses I’ve ever had is my current boss, Tom Economou, our VP of sales. We share an open communication style and I can’t overstate how important that is to me. Every employee needs a safety bubble—to speak frankly, bounce off ideas, talk through thoughts and assumptions, drop a few f-bombs, get excited or despondent, and so on. A good leader fosters that environment and helps to steer their employees through the ups and downs. I appreciate that Tom has done so for me and others at Sunrise.

What managing others has taught her about herself
Everyone has a strength and an asset that is unique to them—we have the best working relationship when I focus on and trumpet those individual qualities. This helps me to view people in a more positive light. I’ve learned how much I need that renewed perspective in my personal outlook on life.

Her best advice for other bosses
I couldn’t manage my team well if I was not tuned into their individual needs, goals, expectations and day-to-day business. Likewise, I couldn’t be any kind of a leader if I was clueless about the big picture and didn’t have an informed understanding of what’s happening with our company as a whole. This requires a lot of time and energy, and open communication on all levels is key. My advice to anyone in a position of leadership would be to not underestimate the effort this will take, and to count it as time very well spent.

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MICHAEL WENGER

Co-owner
Quality Logo Products, Inc.
Number of Direct Reports: 115
Years Managing Others:14+

With 44 nominations for PPB’s Best Boss, Michael Wenger at Aurora, Illinois-based distributor Quality Logo Products, Inc. is doing something right. As it turns out, those who work for him can’t say enough good things about him. He leads by example, is a great motivator, excellent listener and is always looking out for the people who work with him. He constantly strives for both personal and professional excellence and brings out the same in the people who work for him.

“Mike makes a point to meet with every employee at least once every 90 days. We have 115 employees,” says nominator Bret Bonnet, who is also president of the company. “These one-on-ones usually last 15 minutes to a half an hour and they range from work wellness and performance to personal development. Need help with your 401k? See Mike. Need help negotiating the best price possible on your home or new car? Mike can help. There is nothing he can’t do. It’s amazing.”

What’s cool about Michael
He allows employees to be who they are and express themselves freely. He’s not judgmental and is always there to help and lend a hand when needed.

His best boss
David C. Wenger, otherwise known to me as Dad. He is a Marine, an accomplished man in the logistics world and a serial entrepreneur. Dad taught me the brutally honest and harsh realities of the world that most children don’t figure out until much later in life. He had no filter and no time to paint rosy pictures; he taught me that life is hard, and success is earned, never given. More specifically, over the 10 years I worked with him, he taught me how to properly clean an 800,000-square-foot warehouse (including moats full of unmentionables), load and unload trailers, and pick and pack shoe orders. He also taught me other essential skills in customer service, human resources, accounting, collections, sales and marketing. That experience still guides (and haunts) me to this day.

What managing others has taught him about himself
There are no limits to your own ability or anyone else’s for that matter. I have learned that limits are imaginary speed bumps that fear has disguised as reason. Once you figure that out, you see opportunity in adversity and clarity in obscurity.

His best advice for other bosses
Look in the mirror when things go wrong, and out the window when things go right; obsess over customers—their needs and wants are far more important than your own; help is a privilege, not a right. Until you can afford good help, you have to do a lot yourself. And when you can afford
help, make sure to appreciate their efforts and never take them for granted.

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Tina Berres Filipski is editor of PPB.

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