PPB Rising Stars - 12 Irresistible Young Leaders
Energetic. Innovative. Inspiring. These 12 PPB Rising Stars join 73 unstoppable overachievers who have been named to our list over the past six years. They’re igniting the industry with their positive energy and bright ideas.
This year’s dozen are exceptionally quick studies who are taking career risks, driving their businesses in new directions and parenting young children while shattering the status quo in companies across the industry. Where they are leading, everyone will want to follow.
Esmeralda Anaya moved with her family to the U.S. from her native Mexico at age 15, leaving behind her home and friends, and entered high school in California with no knowledge of the language or American culture. It was the most difficult time in her life, she says, but her parents wouldn’t let her give up. “My parents have been a guiding hand that has followed me through every step of the way. They taught me that if you persevere you will achieve everything you set your mind to,” says the 24-year-old, who went on to finish high school and earn an associate of arts degree in accounting at San Diego Mesa College before moving on to San Diego State University, where she graduated with a B.S. in business administration marketing. She also earned a specialization in integrated marketing communications. After interning with an online gift retailer and the Aztec Business Consulting Center where she was a business consultant for local companies, she joined supplier Terry Town in San Diego, California, a year ago.
She says the job has allowed her to learn a lot in a short period of time. Among Anaya’s responsibilities are developing new marketing strategies and expanding the company’s exposure in different channels of communication, along with creating a strong social media presence. She says she gets a great deal of satisfaction from creating new ideas for the company and strategies to strengthen the brand. Among the lessons she’s learned at Terry Town is that in order to grow, you can never stop learning. “You need to move along with the growth of the company in order to keep going forward,” she says.
She passes along her experience about continual learning to her little sister with this piece of advice: “Only dead fish go with the flow. Take the opportunities that life gives you; don’t be afraid of taking risks. There is no such thing as luck. If you work hard, and take opportunities that life presents, you will be able to succeed in whatever you set your mind to.”
Her attitude and work ethic quickly caught the attention of Ray Adams, a sales executive at Terry Town, who nominated her as a Rising Star.
“Esmeralda has been a breath of fresh air from the moment she started with Terry Town,” he says. “She has worked tirelessly to not only understand Terry Town’s products but the promotional products industry in general.” In just a few months, he says, she has transformed the company website and increased views by more than 300 percent and overhauled e-blasts to make them more relevant to distributors, which increased views and clicks by 200 percent and led directly to increases in requests for quotes and orders. She’s also added video to the site to help sales reps and distributors better understand and promote the products. In addition, she has produced new end-user videos that distributors can send to their customers to better show how the products make sense for their events and she’s increased traffic on the company Facebook, Twitter and other social media sites.
“For Terry Town, this has been more than what we expected,” he admits. Not only has Adams been impressed with Anaya’s progress at work, but he’s also moved by her work with the national Seal of Biliteracy program at nearby middle schools. “She helps the teachers spread the importance of speaking two languages and teaches how it can help one succeed in the workplace and in life,” says Adams. “She encourages people to be proud of their heritage and to use it as an advantage.”
In her spare time, Anaya likes discovering new places in her adopted hometown. She also hikes to help her relax and enjoys spending time with her family. “It’s a way for me to recharge and get motivated to keep going,” she says.
Her parents. “They overcame so many obstacles and have succeeded in every single one, against all odds, while always helping me to construct my future. The best I can do is take advantage of all the opportunities they have worked so hard to give me.”
THE INDUSTRY IN FIVE YEARS
She wants to see the industry modernize itself—specifically, for distributors and suppliers to communicate more through social media. “Social media partnerships would allow constant and open communication between one another.”
ON HER TO-DO LIST NOW
Storyboard for an upcoming video series; update and post to social media platforms; check Google Analytics; prepare marketing materials for upcoming trade shows and ideas for next year’s catalog.
DIRECTOR OF FINANCE
After earning his undergraduate degree in accounting and finance from the University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh in 2004, Beau Ashton was still ready to learn. In 2009, he went on to earn his MBA at the same university, yet that didn’t satisfy him. He still wanted more so he set his sights on passing the CPA exam. It would prove to be his biggest challenge yet. The exam is actually four exams taken over 18 months, and earning it required hours of studying every day. “I found it really became a personal challenge,” he remembers. “I didn’t want to look back in 10 years and wish I had completed it, so I stuck with it—and passed!”
Three years ago, while working for a multi-channel merchandising company, he saw a video about distributor AIA Corporation describing it as a great place to work. “I was so impressed with the video and the employees’ attitudes that I knew I had to apply for the position as controller,” says the 35-year-old Wisconsin native, who had previously worked for a defense contractor.
He says his coworkers are his favorite part of the job. “Everyone at AIA is truly supportive of each other and it is one big family.”
Even within families, leaders rise to the top, and that was the case with Ashton, who caught the attention of IT Director Paul Weller, who nominated him as a Rising Star. “During Beau’s quick three-year tenure with AIA, he has accomplished many great things with his strong and effective leadership over our accounting team. With his personal support, we as a team accomplished an accounting software package upgrade in 2015 that was eight years overdue. He also stepped up and delivered exceptional service and accounting leadership when our CFO left the company last year.
“I consider Beau a rising star in the promotional products industry because he is making a difference at AIA and in our industry by challenging the way we look at and engage with finance, sales and the entire business supply chain,” Weller says. “He is a key part of our leadership team, and he is constantly pushing us to go further than we have before on projects and goals.”
Weller adds that Ashton continues to build new and strong business partnerships with all of AIA’s distributor partners and its top industry suppliers. “He is very involved in a number of strategic projects that are internal and external to our business and that are aimed to help AIA grow sales and become a better solutions provider,” he says, citing examples that include streamlined web store payments, ecommerce platform solutions, UPS freight billing and auditing solutions, and an improved supplier payment process with top suppliers.
Weller also calls Ashton an exceptional listener as well as a leader. “With his previous work experiences he is able to share and apply sound advice and positive feedback on a multitude of topics,” he says. “I really appreciate that Beau takes a personal ownership in his work and he has done a lot to learn more about our industry, our distributors and working with our top suppliers.”
For Ashton, the most important lesson he’s learned in business is to ask questions and keep asking them. “One of the tools in Six Sigma Certification is the five why’s, which focus on finding the root cause of a problem. I have never found a solution to a problem that could be solved with only the first question.”
With all of his AIA responsibilities and a new baby on the way as this issue went to press, Ashton finds an easy way to relax and recharge. “I enjoy playing with my three-year-old son,” he says. “It’s amazing how easy it is to forget about work when you are digging in the sandbox.”
“I like to be proud of the work I’m responsible for. If my name is associated with a deliverable, I want to feel a sense of pride that I was a part of that.”
THE INDUSTRY IN FIVE YEARS
“I see the industry becoming more integrated between suppliers, distributors and customers. This is going to happen through the growth of ecommerce and how customers purchase products, as well as the continued systems integrations between distributors and suppliers.”
ON HIS TO-DO LIST NOW
Personally, he’s preparing for the arrival of the couple’s second child. Professionally, he’s about to start the 2017 budget process.
Dan Webb, CAS
At age 18, Dan Webb started working as receptionist at his family’s supplier company, answering phones and filing paperwork. That was just the first step. By the time he moved into his current position he had worked in every department and subsequently learned the company from the inside out.
Now, at 31 and the company president, he’s working to continue shaping the company his father built and creating a legacy his two children will want to become part of one day. He says he was born into the business and is lucky that he loves it. Webb most enjoys the sales aspect and engaging with customers, but he’s naturally an introvert. “I used to stay far away from sales but the more you do it, the more fun it becomes, and now I thrive on it,” he says.
The most difficult challenge he’s had to overcome at Webb Company is that of driving continued growth during economic downturns, combined with online direct sellers and customers going direct. Even so, Webb Company has grown nearly 300 percent in the past four years. What the challenge has taught him is to stay focused. “You can’t please everyone and not everyone’s business model is a fit for your business to equal a profitable venture,” he explains. “Stay focused on your path and target the customers that you enjoy working with.”
For other young business owners, he offers this advice: “The only thing you can control is yourself,” he says. “Don’t chase money and don’t chase people. When you focus on yourself, these things chase you.”
To relax, he gets away with his daughter, Hayden and son, Roman, and also plays golf and runs. “Running is a great tool I use to free my mind and reenergize as well,” he says.
Nominator Patty Batalden, who recently retired as sales and marketing manager for the Webb Company, is impressed with Webb for a number of reasons, starting with the fact that he’s an amazing listener. “He never responds until the person is done speaking. He cares about what the distributor, employee or fellow supplier is saying—and when he responds, his answer is well thought out.”
Batalden worked for the Eagan, Minnesota, supplier for 10 years, the past six under Dan’s leadership, and calls him one of the nicest people she’s ever met. She shares these examples: “He treats everyone equally and values all the relationships he forges. When he meets a distributor at a show, gives them his card and says call me anytime, he means it. When he says his door is always open, that is true too. On a personal note, the fact that he is much younger than me, doesn’t affect me at all as I have learned so much from him. To be able to work for a person who talks the talk and walks the walk is a great thing.”
She also describes Webb as someone who is truly dialed in to what is happening within the industry and what the trends are, and he’s glad to share the information with employees so they can answer customer questions. He’s also recently brought in several new product lines, including a line of lip balm manufactured on-site.
“Our industry is lucky to have such a rising star looking after it,” adds Batalden. “When Dan and I are out on the road together, I am often asked if he’s my son. I thank them and tell them he is not but I consider it a compliment as he is such a great man.”
His father, Alan, and his two children. “My father built the Webb Company from our basement. I’ve watched it grow from nothing to massive and back to almost nothing again. I’ve learned a lot from him and I strive every day to continue growing the company bigger and better than before—not to show him up, but to show him off. I wouldn’t be here without him and I also wouldn’t be here without my children. I want them to grow up seeing what hard work looks like. I don’t think I’d be as driven as I am Dan Webb, CAS without them. They are such a driving force for me and the best things in my life.”
THE INDUSTRY IN FIVE YEARS
He sees more consolidations, buyouts and mergers. “All of it, and a lot of it. I see a lot more suppliers working together than ever before as well. This can be scary for companies that are unsure of their future, but Webb has no doubt they are here to stay and grow. The future is quite exciting.”
ON HIS TO-DO LIST NOW
Work on implementing new cloud-based ERP/CRM system, hire additional sales staff, increase support staff to handle the growth.
Keith Lofton, CAS
NATIONAL ACCOUNTS MANAGER/SPORTS MARKETING COORDINATOR
In 2005, Keith Lofton, CAS, was working at a Utah restaurant when he noticed the logoed pens, polo shirts, beer steins and other items being used to promote the restaurant to patrons. There’s something to this type of marketing, he thought. Not long afterward, he took a job at an industry supplier company in the samples department, sorting lanyards and shipping samples to clients. He credits that exposure and responsibility with helping him learn how to become an expert in the product line he sells today. “I was always trying to find ways to help distributors sell the items I was sending, too, and suggesting another item. That’s how I found my way into sales.”
Five years ago he accepted a position with Pro Towels and made the cross-country move from Utah to Atlanta, Georgia. He calls the relocation his most difficult challenge yet. “Only knowing a couple of people here, moving my family and ‘farm’ animals, learning a new culture, having a new sales territory, a new job and learning how to be a dad all at the same time has been challenging but also extremely rewarding,” he says. Lofton, 31, is the kind of guy who looks on the bright side and always finds a way to have fun. “Whether in this industry or another, if you don’t enjoy what you do, it shows and will wear you out before you know it,” he says.
What Lofton likes best about his position at Pro Towels is that every day is different—whether it’s a new project to manage or a new challenge to solve. “I can never get bored doing what I’m doing. I also absolutely love seeing our product being used.” Recently, at the mall, a beach towel in a store window display caught his eye. He immediately knew it was a Pro Towels product and it made him smile.
Lofton’s pure enthusiasm for the industry is what has endeared him to his co-workers and industry peers alike. “Keith and I have worked together for over four years, and day in and day out he has proved to me just how good he is at what he does, and how valuable he is to the organization,” says nominator Brian Porter, vice president of North American sales at Pro Towels. “He’s on the clock 24/7, people enjoy working with him, he goes above and beyond to ensure that not only do people get what they need and he’s also made many friends beyond the daily scope of his work.”
Nominator Janet McMaster, regional sales vice president at Geiger, knows Lofton from trade shows, sales meetings and customer-focused events, and has worked with him on regional association events. “Keith infuses energy and enthusiasm into every segment of his business and relationships, from clients to fellow board members to fellow supplier reps, keeping us all fresh and innovative,” she says. “He has a genuine desire to build lasting partnerships with his distributor clients and not be just a ‘one hit wonder’ who sells towels.”
Despite his busy workload and a full family life, Lofton is also currently serving as president of the Georgia Association of Promotional Products Professionals, and it was in that role that nominator Lisa Bibb, MAS, executive director of GAPPP, saw his leadership abilities in action. “Keith has proven himself to be a very dedicated board member, even with his hectic schedule,”
she says. “He always wants to attend every conference and meeting in order to learn more, connect with his peers and be the best ambassador for GAPPP. His passion for taking the association to the next step is truly inspiring.”
He cites those he has worked with—Charley Johnson, Dana Zezzo and Brian Porter—saying all have taught him so much about what it takes to succeed in business and in his personal life. “I’ve been able to surround myself with some great people and these are three who have helped shape my business mind and approach. I wouldn’t even be doing what I’m doing today if it weren’t for them.”
THE INDUSTRY IN FIVE YEARS
“I would like to see the industry get younger and get that next wave of marketers, game-changers and leaders coming into the industry. I’ve always been one of the younger people in our industry and I’ve been around almost 10 years. Now I
feel like it’s my turn to show some younger people the ins and outs of what we do—like my mentors have done for me.”
ON HIS TO-DO LIST NOW
Prepare for business trips, clean out inbox, ship trade-show booth.
Mercury Promotions & Fulfillment
“It’s a beautiful thing when a career and a passion come together,” says Sarah Merrill, who combines her loves of marketing and merchandising in her role with Sterling Heights, Michigan-based distributor Mercury Promotions & Fulfillment. Although she grew up in the state and attended college at Northwood University in Midland, Michigan, Merrill moved south to Atlanta, Georgia, to take her first job with distributor Quest Promotions. There she learned the complete scope of the business from sourcing products to accounting. When it was time to come back home nine years ago, she chose Mercury Promotions & Fulfillment.
Merrill, 34, loves the fact that she can use her education (a degree in business with a dual major in fashion marketing and merchandising management) and her work experience to craft creative solutions for her clients—and no two days are ever the same. “Each day I’m presented with new challenges and situations, which keeps me excited and focused,” she says. “I am encouraged to think outside of the box and am trusted to get things done. I am able to do what I love, for a company I love, and I am building amazing relationships in the process. It doesn’t get much better than that!”
While Merrill manages a pretty full plate most days, she makes time to serve the industry through her regional association, Michigan Promotional Professionals Association (MiPPA) where she is board secretary, serves on the executive committee and is chair of MiPPA’s TOM Show and co-chair of the spring tabletop show, Ideas in Bloom. Her effervescence and energy as a volunteer caught the eye of MiPPA Executive Director Paul A. Kiewiet, MAS+, who nominated her as a Rising Star.
“Sarah demonstrates an uncommon level of both leadership and organizational skills,” says the former PPAI Board chair and PPAI Hall of Fame inductee. “She is able to grasp the big picture, focus on the end objective and keep all of the details, pieces and people moving in the right direction.”
He also says Merrill has an energy level that matches her high level of commitment to the association. “The result is that she gets things done, and her attention to detail ensures that she gets things done right. Amazingly, she is able to balance this with a sense of humor and a sense of perspective, never acting as if she is overwhelmed. She commands respect and is a capable and inspirational leader.”
A former distributor himself, Kiewiet admires Merrill’s solid reputation for working nimbly and skillfully with industry partners. “Sarah is widely respected for her treatment of suppliers and reps,” he notes. “She develops partnerships that help her company grow and gets the best work from suppliers.” He calls her a consummate professional who also serves as a mentor to new employees at Mercury and adds that she is always willing to share her knowledge and her network with others.
Always on the go, Merrill says her most difficult challenge is learning to delegate and say “No.”
“I have the tendency to try to be everything to everyone,” she admits. “Juggling everything becomes exhausting over time but building a team with the right people and learning to trust them and delegate tasks is essential. The bigger the dream, the more important the team.”
In just a little over a decade in business, she’s also learned an important lesson: “Respect your time and talents; both are invaluable. Always surround yourself with people who agree with this.” She adds that it’s okay to say “No.”
Her advice to others looking to find balance and full satisfaction in their lives and careers is to get involved. “Don’t be afraid to ask questions or to learn a new way of doing something. To be successful, know what you are doing, love what you are doing and believe in what you are doing. Finally, take care of your relationships and the rest will take care of itself.”
When it’s time to relax, Merrill favors long weekends, especially during the summer and spends time boating, entertaining friends and family, and reading magazines (everything from InStyle to Forbes).
“My dad always encouraged me to follow my dreams, try my hardest and be the best I can be. His work ethic inspired me to become a hard-working person and his positive outlook on life is contagious. He taught me to always look on the bright side and face any challenges in life with a positive attitude.”
THE INDUSTRY IN FIVE YEARS
She believes in a need for increased awareness of the industry in colleges and among young workers. “Attracting, engaging, developing and retaining the next generation is vital right now. I would love to see our industry develop an ongoing strategy for college outreach and recruitment. Recruiting students to volunteer at industry events and shows would be a great way to introduce our world to the next generation.”
ON HER TO-DO LIST NOW
Format e-mail campaign, update showroom with new apparel samples, book Pensacola flight, get ice for BBQ.
VICE PRESIDENT OF SALES
Kenny Ved joined San Diego-based supplier Goldstar in April 2001 and was still getting acclimated when terrorists struck the U.S. that September. Along with all the losses the country endured, businesses were hard hit nationwide as sales slowed for a time in reaction to the devastation and aftermath that ensued.
The tragedy of 9/11 wasn’t the only disaster Ved has had to circumvent. For years Goldstar had a huge presence in the pharmaceutical industry with its pens making their way into doctors' waiting rooms and hospital pharmacies nationwide. He came to Goldstar with connections
to the heathcare industry from his previous employer, supplier Belding Sports, and he expected to build that piece of business. But when PhRMA was enacted in January 2009, the voluntary code discouraged its healthcare members from giving away non-educational promotional products. It was the first step to a devastating loss of business in that sector for the promotional products industry.
With PhRMA, “the writing was on the wall but our organization didn’t believe it,” remembers Ved, “and one day the faucet just shut off and sales stopped. The company took a major hit. We had to rebound quickly.”
Understanding the marketplace and where Goldstar would fit in was a big challenge, and Ved wasted no time taking it on. He immediately started knocking on doors, pitching the company’s capabilities, working with multi-line reps and rebalancing how Goldstar marketed itself. “It was tough but it made us stronger,” he says.
Sixteen years later Ved’s passion about the job is still rock solid and, at 40, he continues to make a memorable impression on everyone he meets. “Kenny is really a hard guy to miss,” says nominator RJ Hagel, marketing manager at Goldstar. “He is outgoing, friendly and quite honestly fairly flamboyant when it comes to his dress at trade shows. If it isn’t hot-pink pants, you might find Kenny with
a stars and stripes suit or a ‘pen jacket’ that he custom tailored to showcase the line of Goldstar pens he sells. He is always coming up with something new and thinking outside the box. If you spend enough time with Kenny, you start to build anticipation for ‘What is Kenny going to do next?’”
Hagel also calls Ved a hustler—but only in the most positive way. “He works hard and he keeps his head up. When challenges arise, he works them through and keeps moving. He is exactly the type of supplier salesperson that we need more of in the industry,” says Hagel. “He is passionate about the products he sells and he is equally passionate about helping people solve their challenges.”
During a time when suppliers and distributors are struggling to find opportunities to grow together, Ved leads by finding common ground to help distributors add value to the supply chain, says Hagel. “To be honest, this nomination is way overdue for Kenny; he has been a rising star for quite some time now.” During his years with Goldstar, Ved has seen the company grow 500 to 600 percent. He regularly travels across the U.S. and Canada meeting with clients and supporting his sales staff, sometimes for four weeks at a time. Still, he clears his schedule to give back to his industry as a board member for Promotional Marketing Association of Northern California (PMANC) and has worked to partner with a number other key industry suppliers to find synergies and opportunities to offer more value to distributors and the industry as a whole.
For Ved, the lessons he’s learned in his career have been the best teachers. “Take risks,” he advises. “Calculated risks and decisions tend to lead to the biggest awards.” He also believes in giving respect to others and love to friends and family. “Everyone wants to be loved. Respecting everyone you cross paths with will make you a stronger person.”
Away from work he spends time with his two children, Jay and Alyssa, and enjoys playing, coaching and watching sports, especially basketball, and recharges by taking short vacations. “Sometimes all you need is some fun in the sun,” he says.
His parents. “My mom is the most patient and caring person, and my father taught me the foundation for sales success. I find my balance in life with their upbringing."
THE INDUSTRY IN FIVE YEARS
He wants to see more education geared towards the industry and more young talent to add value to the traditional distributor model—especially for innovative and creative ideas for end clients.
ON HIS TO-DO LIST NOW
Continue strong double-digit growth and make 2016 a banner year.
SENIOR ACCOUNT EXECUTIVE
Image Source, Inc.
Remy Kawaguchi was in college at the University of Redlands when she was firstexposed to the world of promotional products. As a summer intern at Image Source, Inc., in Kirkland, Washington, she got a taste of the freebies in the sample room and then, following graduation, went to work at the company as a receptionist. After what she calls a whirlwind stint as an account coordinator, she took the plunge into the world of sales and has no regrets. “Each role I filled taught me something different about the business and the industry, and has shaped where I am in my career today,” she says.
Asked about her favorite part of the job, Kawaguchi chooses to back into the answer by talking about her least favorite part of the job first. “I’m not a sales-y salesperson and my elevator pitch is not well-rehearsed, but I put trust in performance and results (and I know my clients do too),” she says. “I am a believer in ‘give us a try,’ and then knock it out of the ballpark. My favorite part of the job is hearing clients say, ‘You made me look good!’”
At only 28, she has been a multi-million-dollar annual producer at Image Source for the past three years, but is still discovering the ins and outs of sales. “I’m learning that it’s okay to not be the right partner for every potential client,” she says. “Being goal-oriented as I am, it was hard to shake the feeling of failure if I wasn’t able to secure every prospect or grow the business with target accounts. It was actually guidance from my executive team, the ones whom I thought I was letting down, who showed me it was okay to focus my attention on the right opportunities for me. They continually put trust in my evaluation (and reevaluation) of prospects and support me unconditionally.”
Not only do her teammates support her, they rave about her. Fifteen members of the Image Source team nominated her as a Rising Star along with nominations from her reps at suppliers SanMar, Cutter & Buck and Hawkins Embroidery. Nominator and co-worker Janelle Gradinaru describes Kawaguchi as always positive, creative and witty. “When you think that every idea for a project has been thought of, she comes up with 10 more great ones! She constantly goes above and beyond for her clients and is great at on-the-spot problem solving.”
Nominator Lori Horand adds, “I am always impressed at the creative, outside-the-box thinking Remy displays.” Another nominator, Arian Weatherman, says, “Remy initially caught my attention with the speed at which she moved through the company. She’s got a serious side coupled with a creative side that makes for a great AE to have in your corner. Remy is constantly thinking about her clients and teammates, and ideas and forethought are natural to her. Her client list has been impressive given her initial experience level, and now I’ve watched her become a leader in the company. She’s someone from whom I expect greatness.”
For Kawaguchi, winning at business is a lot like excelling at sports. “Just about anyone can be on the field, but you have to separate yourself if you want to make a difference,” she says. “Know your team as well as your opponent, play to your strengths, be anticipating scenarios so you are prepared, and most importantly, celebrate your successes as much as you learn from your failures.”
Her best advice is to be flexible. “I describe my role as a utility player. I love finding out in what areas my clients need help and filling those voids. I enjoy that my role varies from team to team but when I find that sweet spot, I really feel like a valuable contributor to their cause—and when you partner with a client, be passionate about their brand.”
When Kawaguchi’s enthusiasm occasionally wanes, she takes time out with her boyfriend, Josh, whom she calls her biggest supporter and partner in crime, whether it’s eating Thai takeout on the couch in sweatpants or planning the next stamp on their passports. “We joke that I make it easy for him, though, given that I hate flowers and chocolate but I love poker and golf.”
Competition. Kawaguchi grew up very involved in athletics and played softball and golf at the collegiate level. Post-grad (and lacking a ball to hit), she found a renewed competitive spark at Image Source with its team-focused culture. “Being in sales keeps a fire lit under me,” she says.
THE INDUSTRY IN FIVE YEARS
She believes that second to money, time is the greatest currency. “If we can save our clients time, then we can add value. As a whole, retail consumers are getting smarter and more savvy in the way that they buy. They are more resourceful and have higher expectations. To remain
relevant and thrive, our industry needs the continual push for resources, and particularly the technology to stay a couple of steps ahead and ensure that we continue to add value.’”
ON HER TO-DO LIST NOW
Spend more time with clients, continue targeting prospects/ industries and hit a single digit handicap on the links.
DISTRIBUTOR SALES MANAGER
Ryan Hanchey was somewhat familiar with the promotional products industry
before he stopped in at the Dallas offices of industry technology services company SAGE to return a book to his cousin, who worked there. Hanchey had a good job selling technology staffing and wasn’t looking to make a change. Once inside, though, his thoughts began to churn. “I met everyone, exchanged stories and decided if they ever had an opening, I wanted to go for it,” says the 33- year-old, who ended up joining the SAGE team in 2010.
With a degree in emergency management from the University of North Texas, Hanchey was trained to keep a cool head while quickly handling multiple problems. At SAGE, he put that preparation to good use in assisting distributor clients to get the most out of SAGE products and programs. But his biggest challenge wasn’t keeping up with the work, it was being promoted from team lead to sales manager. “There is a transition period there that can go one of two ways and you’re certainly tested,” says Hanchey. “I had to quickly ramp up my managerial skills, but luckily I have amazing mentors who helped me make the transition and they continue to give me advice.
One important lesson he learned is to listen more and talk less. “Listen to your customers’ needs, complaints, suggestions, praises, but also listen to your teammates.” He quotes financial author and radio host Dave Ramsey who, he says, talks about having a servant mentality by putting your team and customers first and establishing that you are all in this together.
Hanchey truly admires his coworkers and they admire him. One of his nominators, Bille Walchek, SAGE’s director of marketing, says two characteristics that instantly come to mind when she thinks of Hanchey are commitment and attitude. “If you expect your team to work hard and produce, you need to lead by example and that is exactly what Ryan does,” she says. “Ryan works alongside everyone else on his team and there is no greater motivation. He has proven to his team that he is not only committed to SAGE but more importantly he is committed to them. He truly cares about their success and is willing to do anything to help them succeed on a day-to-day basis. When one of his team members succeeds I think sometimes he is even more excited than they are. Ryan is one of the most passionate leaders I know, which is such a hard trait to find. And with this passion is a strong desire to better himself personally and professionally.”
SAGE Director of Sales Blake Bozeman, MAS, who also nominated Hanchey, says his attitude inspires everyone around him to elevate to the next level. “He is consistently positive and excited day after day for what the next achievement is, or the next great idea. This positivity keeps his team motivated and keeps their energy level up. Ryan has quickly gained a vast understanding of the industry overall and is a natural behind the camera, and delivers our messages in videos with precision and enthusiasm. He is a tremendous asset to represent our company, our passion and our professionalism.”
Hanchey says his favorite part of the job is seeing his team tackle goals and then celebrate their success. Since he joined SAGE, he has won a number of awards including Rookie of the Year during his first year at the company, Top Sales Producer when he was an account executive and the All Star Award during his first year as a manager.
When called on from time to time to share advice, the words come easy. “If something makes you miserable and there is no light at the end of the tunnel, get rid of it,” he says. “It’s not good for you or anyone around you. However, if there is a light at the end of the tunnel it’s probably worth it. My dad always said, ‘You’ve got to spend time in the gutter, son.’ I don’t know where that came from, but spending time in a gutter doesn’t sound fun so I guess it makes sense. On the other side of the coin, don’t take for granted the great things you have in your life. They might not always be there.”
When he needs to relax and recharge, Hanchey gets energized by spending time outdoors—sitting on the porch, backpacking in the woods or cruising around in his old Bronco. Just the same, he confesses to being a spreadsheet nerd. “I love looking at numbers.”
Hanchey admits he’s inspired by a long list of heroes. “My wife inspires me to be a good person, appreciate my family, to be caring for others and to work hard. My mother’s work ethic inspires me to suck it up on tough days and work hard. My dad inspired me to be myself. My sister is the most solid, grounded person I know and definitely inspires me to do the right thing. My brother is a successful entrepreneur who is always challenging himself physically and mentally. Many of my team members inspire me with their work ethic, constant brainstorming and excitement for their jobs. And, of course, there’s Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson.”
THE INDUSTRY IN FIVE YEARS
I want to see more young entrepreneurs enter our industry and challenge the status quo; find new products that I’ve never seen before; see distributors building entire marketing campaigns not just fulfilling orders; and realize the value in information being shared live across the distribution channel. I also want to strike ‘trinkets and trash’ from everyone’s vocabulary.
ON HIS TO-DO LIST NOW
Record how-to videos, implement the SAGE Web 2.0 rollout strategy and wrap up The Speed of Trust by Stephen M.R. Covey.
NATIONAL ACCOUNT DIRECTOR
Stephanie Lyndon-Wheeler bought promotional products in her first job right out of college as a brand manager. She left the company to take another job and when it didn’t work out, she called her promotional products distributor, with whom she had a strong relationship, and asked her to put out some feelers for another opportunity. “I told her, ‘I think I want to do sales.’ She said they were expanding and that I should come to work with her.” Lyndon-Wheeler jumped at the chance and worked hard to quickly learn the sales side of the business. Eight years later she was ready for her next challenge.
A sales career wasn’t necessarily on the drawing board for Lyndon-Wheeler, who studied communications with an emphasis in public relations at San Diego State University. “Since age three I would tell my mom and dad, “Hey, I’ve got an idea!” Always creative, in college she put those skills to work whenever her sorority ordered promotional products, usually t-shirts and bags, for its events. After college, her role as a brand manager was an opportunity to continue using her imagination and resourcefulness.
Now 34 and expecting her first child as this issue went to press, Lyndon-Wheeler still calls the creative part of her job her favorite. “Creativity is a daily requirement, whether it’s creative challenge solving (never a problem, just a challenge), new ideas needed or creative marketing initiatives, there’s so much fun in the creative process of branded merchandise.”
Lyndon-Wheeler’s talents as a savvy innovator and sales dynamo have made her a double asset within the Boundless team, and influenced Pat Barry, senior VP of sales, to nominate her as a Rising Star. “Stephanie is passionate about the promotional products industry—she’s a professional driven by creating solutions and delivering results,” he says. “She has seen substantial growth and has doubled her business consistently throughout the past few years. What makes this even more impressive is the fact that she has done this with half a dozen accounts that are working with her and doing significant volumes—and is well on her way to a multi-million-dollar year, having qualified for multiple incentive trips within the company.” Barry also describes Lyndon-Wheeler as incredibly versatile.
“She adapts herself to different buyers, aligning with their goals and working styles as well as understanding their approach so she can create a custom promotion that ensures her clients get the most out of it.” He also notes that she has mastered the fundamentals of the business—creativity, providing excellent service, partnering with clients and sourcing. She tailors her approach to each client, whether they are younger buyers or more senior managers and, in this way, earns their trust. As a result, clients bring her in during the early stages of marketing campaigns. He’s amazed at the phenomenal relationships she’s able to build with her clients.
“She is quick to leverage new technology to ease the process and offer creative solutions, and is always willing to lend a helping hand to peers, but is also aware of when she may need help and is unafraid to reach out,” he adds. “These traits have primed her for continued success.”
Self-confidence comes easy for Lyndon-Wheeler now, but that wasn’t always the case. In 2008, she developed severe allergies that made her face swell. “I couldn’t wear makeup for a full year while doctors tried to figure out what was wrong with me,” she says. “When you’re in outside client-facing sales meetings and sales calls wearing no makeup—it was a scary thing for me to do. But I had no choice, I had to pay bills so I kept pushing on.” Not surprisingly, her clients were supportive and many appreciated her vulnerability. “Sharing my story took some of our relationships a bit deeper and my clients often related the adversities they had struggled with. That year became my best sales year to date back then,” she says.
For others wanting to follow Lyndon-Wheeler’s success, she offers simple advice: “Just go for it. There are a lot of skeptical people in this industry who are fighting change and the ‘Millennial takeover’ but I say just get up, put on a good outfit and a good attitude, and work at your to-do list. There is so much opportunity out there.”
Lyndon-Wheeler says she has always been self-motivated to achieve personal success. “I’ve got this inner drive and voice that motivates me to design a life I love. I’ve had plenty of life challenges but I just keep at it and feel blessed to do a job I enjoy and I work hard at not sweating the small stuff. That said, my husband and daughter are huge new motivators for me.”
THE INDUSTRY IN FIVE YEARS
She wants printed catalogs eliminated and to see suppliers spend the money on personal visits and samples. “I also want to see a path to get more young blood thriving in our industry and see more long-standing industry programs established to support the growth of young, creative minds.” She also believes in the importance of transparency for supply lines and channels. “I applaud our CEO Henrik Johansson in his efforts and am excited to see what kind of programs we begin to offer our clients.”
ON HER TO-DO LIST NOW
With a baby on the way, she’s searching for a traveling nanny.
DIRECTOR, PRIVATE LABEL
DESIGN & MERCHANDISING alphabroder
If Elson Yeung had followed his mind instead of his heart he would probably be a banking executive figuring out rates of return instead of designing fashion-forward garments for the industry’s largest apparel supplier.
While he always had a passion for fashion and followed major fashion brands such as Versace, he began to study economics in college because his parents both had careers in banking. But during his freshman year, he learned that while his mind was willing to pursue economics, his heart was not. He says the challenge became overwhelming with dividing opinions from family and friends, and while now he’s sure he made the right decision, at the time it was not as clear. What helped him decide was talking through it with those close to him, and remembering what his mother had always told him: No matter what you do, do what you can to be the best at it.
Yeung, who grew up in Hong Kong and emigrated to Canada at 12, went on to fashion design school to learn more about the craft, and then joined a national retail company as a graphic artist creating technical drawings for footwear, home furnishings and packaging. He then landed at Ash City as a technical coordinator in the technical design department. In January 2014, the company was acquired by Trevose, Pennsylvania-based supplier alphabroder.
Yeung, now 34, says his favorite part of his job is the opportunity to be creative, constantly looking for new ways to improve on designs and quality of products. “It’s an exciting process to be in an environment with so many moving parts; it goes beyond just designs from paper to garment,” he says. “The ability to be ahead of the curve, introduce new trends and create products that consumers are excited about is really exhilarating.” He also enjoys being involved in transforming and articulating what designs are best aligned with his customers’ needs through marketing, photography, illustrations and presentations. “It makes what we do really come to life. I get true satisfaction in knowing that my designs are well received; to see someone on the street wearing the actual garment I designed will never get old.”
Nominator Andrea Lara Routzahn, senior vice president, portfolio and supplier management at alphabroder, says she met Yeung in 2013 just prior to the acquisition and was immediately impressed with his poise and intelligence. “During the process of integrating the Ash City and alphabroder product teams, Elson quickly distinguished himself as a bright, creative and driven young man. In the nearly three years since Elson has been part of my team, he continues
to grow and prosper at alphabroder. I can count on one hand the number of people with whom I have had the privilege to mentor in my career that are of the caliber of Elson Yeung.” She says he has an insatiable thirst for knowledge and for using that knowledge to make the company more successful. “Elson has a passion to deliver quality products to the marketplace and spends countless hours analyzing past success and failure to drive continual improvement.”
She describes the award-winning designer as possessing a unique combination of creative talent balanced with real business acumen. With a keen understanding of the practical needs of the customers, he has developed analytical tools that evaluate the industry landscape and identify opportunities. In addition, he’s one of the best apparel presenters you will ever see, she adds. “Not only is he high energy and with a contagious positive attitude, he understands practical use and clearly demonstrates how his products translate to our customers and the end users. He’s a true rising star.”
One of the most important lessons he’s learned in business is that to be successful, “you have to trust your gut, sharpen your instincts, be open minded and then support it with data. In the field of design, you have to find the balance between art and science.”
He’s also learned to never assume. “Even if you think you know the answer, still have the conversation. This is critical to better team work, ownership of responsibilities and to eliminate unnecessary wasting of time,” he says.
In his downtime he likes spontaneity that fits his mood, whether it’s relaxing at home with his wife, Amanda, and their cat, Tatlim; scrolling through Netflix; discovering new music or cruising on his bike.
“People inspire me. I thoroughly enjoy meeting new people, learning about their lives and interests. In a generation where information is so easily accessible and mediums typically lack human interaction, I enjoy everyday conversations with colleagues, friends, strangers, etc. I love to talk things out and sometimes debate and learn from others’ perspectives.”
THE INDUSTRY IN FIVE YEARS
He says industry buyers and consumers are starting to request more of what they’d buy at retail themselves, so the gap between retail and our industry is shrinking rapidly. He’d also like to see fewer disposable purchases and increased demand from consumers for quality products.
ON HIS TO-DO LIST NOW
Look at new ways and things to offer to customers: new designs, new technology; communicate with the sales team on what’s working and what’s not. Find time to take a vacation.
Tim Hennessy, Jr.
DIRECTOR OF SALES AND MARKETING
Concepts & Associates, Inc.
For years Tim Hennessy, Jr. worked summers and holidays at his family’s distributor company in Birmingham, Alabama, before officially joining the company following graduation from Auburn University in December 2001. “I saw how my parents worked and their passion for what they did,” he says. “It was infectious. Working here was never a question.”
While a career at Concepts was clearly in Hennessy’s plans, he had to overcome the misconceptions about his youth when he was eventually promoted to director. He says that even though he had worked in virtually every department in the company, he was considerably younger than most of his industry counterparts when he took on his current role and not everyone took him seriously. “I really had to work twice as hard to prove I knew the business and demonstrate that I could deliver results for our clients,” he says.
Although Hennessy has a degree in business administration with a double major in management information systems and logistics, his favorite part of the job is the creative side. “Without question, it’s The Big Idea,” says the 37-year-old. “We love coming up with an idea that’s memorable, reinforces the brand and, most importantly, provides value and return on investment for our clients.”
His creativity hasn’t gone unnoticed. Hennessy has won five PPAI Pyramid Awards for promotions he’s created for clients. He’s also snagged a PPAI Image Award for the company.
On the sales side, Hennessy’s passion for the business has resulted a staggering track record. His sales have increased more than 57 percent in the past five years, and from 2011 to 2014 this go-getter boasted sales of well over $1 million year after year, says his nominator, Concepts Accounting Manager Sonya Holcomb. Last year, he set a personal goal to hit $2 million in sales, which he met and exceeded, she adds. “Tim has done nothing short of trailblazing for the success of the company by expanding business opportunities with clients throughout the country, keeping customers satisfied from project to project, and meeting and exceeding the goals he sets for himself. With successes like these, he’s turning heads.”
Outside the office, Hennessy spends time with his three children, is involved in his church and serves on the boards of several local philanthropic groups. “Being able to balance all of these tasks while performing at such a high level during business hours exemplifies that Tim truly is a rising star,” Holcomb says. For Hennessy, spending time with his wife and children puts everything in perspective.
His best advice to others wanting to make serious headway in their business is to remember: your word and your reputation are everything. “If you say you are going to do something, do it without fail,” he says. “It is the cornerstone of a solid business relationship.”
I learned to emulate their work ethic, and am so thankful for the impact they have made on my life.”
Hennessy’s parents, Tim, Sr. and Lynne, have been his biggest influencers from both a personal and business standpoint. “They are not only my bosses, mentors and parents but also my best friends.
THE INDUSTRY IN FIVE YEARS
“I have enjoyed seeing the continued improvement of technology from decoration techniques to all kinds of textiles in all facets of our industry. It’s a constant process that will continue to evolve and I can’t wait to see what comes out next.”
ON HIS TO-DO LIST NOW
Schedule site visits, read more books on sales, religion and creativity, take a family trip and enroll in a master’s degree program.
Kevin Mullaney loves seeing someone wearing a branded polo—so much so that he’ll often say, “Hey, I like your shirt!” That always gets the person talking about where they got it and why it’s their favorite. “I love seeing our shirts worn around town,” says Mullaney, who is vice president/partner for distributor Brandito in Henrico, Virginia, a Richmond suburb. “I feel they are brand ambassadors for their company, and in turn, ours as well.”
Originally from Westfield, New Jersey, Mullaney earned a B.S. in communications and a minor in media studies from Radford University in 2006, then went to work for a local tech company, Snagajob, selling software. He loved it, but in 2011 the company was going through significant changes and Mullaney thought it was a good time to explore new opportunities. “I reached out to Brandito’s CEO Michael Lovern because I had been following his company and knew they were doing great work and developing a strong reputation in the city,” he says. “And I’m a sucker for a fresh polo so I knew selling swag had some perks.”
Mullaney, 32, became the company’s first employee that year and fell in love with the industry. Since then the company has carved a niche business for itself by developing innovative solutions and working to be their clients’ most valued partner. Toward that goal, Mullaney has also established himself as a critical link with his suppliers and their reps.
“Kevin is literally the definition of a go-getter,” says his nominator Amanda Delaney, sales associate at supplier SanMar. “He not only goes after business with a fiery energy, he’s quite possibly one of the most positive people I’ve met in my 14 years in the industry. His energy level and willingness to learn and adapt to what his customers need is contagious—you can’t walk into a room and not simply be drawn to him.”
Mullaney hasn’t always seen himself that way, and he wasn’t always so confident either. Earlier in his career he felt challenged by his own insecurities and self-doubt. Through the years though, he learned to make the difficulty work for him. “I’ve been blessed with attention deficit disorder, so I’ve had to learn how to manage those symptoms in the professional world and channel that energy into something positive,” he explains.
He’s also found success by under-promising and over-delivering. “It’s about being transparent with your customers,” he says. “That’s how you earn their trust, and in turn, their business.”
Not only does Mullaney make a good impression on his clients, suppliers who work with him find him unforgettable. “First is the bow tie,” says nominator Mark Chipchase, owner of Mac Marketing, a multi-line rep firm in nearby Norfolk. “He always comes prepared for his client meetings wearing a bowtie and with more energy than a Starbuck’s cafe. Kevin and Brandito are bucking the old sales style of dropping off catalogs. He and his team are true consultants that start taking in information about a client as soon as they walk in the door. They also take a consultative approach to understanding a company’s mission, values and obviously their corporate colors to make sure that every product he pitches is going to be something that people use again and again.”
Chipchase shares an example of Mullaney’s creativity developed for a Brandito client show two years ago. Instead of using a ballroom, Mullaney arranged the show at a brewery client’s facility, with suppliers displaying products in the back while Mullaney and his team schmoozed attendees by the bar. “It was one of the most successful shows I’ve ever been too,” Chipchase remembers.
Mullaney also had a hand in naming the company, which was originally called Shockoe Marketing Group. “He helped rebrand the company to Brandito to give it a unique and more national perspective,” explains Chipchase.
In addition to his energy and creativity, Mullaney brings a great deal of passion to his position. “This kid gets fired up about sales,” says Chipchase. “It really shows when he is in front of his clients and also when he’s working with suppliers.”
In his first six months at Brandito in 2011, he sold $150,000. By 2015 he had developed an impressive $1.5 million book of business. “Kevin listens to what is trending and shares these trends with his client base. He has a refreshing energetic vibe about him and pumps up every meeting that I attend with him and his sales team,” says Chipchase.
To others wanting to make a difference in their companies, he advises them to just be themselves. “My boss always tells me, ‘Just be yourself; that is why I hired you.’ If you can be yourself, and do something you are passionate about, nothing can stand in your way.”
He says he’s inspired by entrepreneurs who put their time, sweat, money and passion into their dream, such as Shawn Boyer, the founder of his previous employer, Snagajob, and his current boss at Brandito, Michael Lovern. “It has been an honor and privilege to follow behind such great leaders.”
THE INDUSTRY IN FIVE YEARS
He hopes suppliers continue to mirror retail trends and focus on developing products geared towards tech companies. He’s also looking forward to five years from now when the 10-day turnaround is a thing of the past, and catalogs are digital instead of printed.
ON HIS TO-DO LIST NOW
Increase client base in Northern Virginia, step up social media presence, get better at golf and sell, sell more and keep selling!
PPB Rising Stars
Since the program’s inception in 2010, PPB has spotlighted 73 individuals as Rising Stars.
Derek Adams Andrea Jaeckles, CAS Shamini Peter
Jill Albers Christopher Jenkin Rosanne Riddle
Sarabeth Anderson Ray Jimenez Jill Rogers
Greg Armstrong Mark Johnston Sasha Pirrie
Rhea Aslin Michelle Kajan Andrew Sawczenko
Nate Bailey Matt Kaspari CJ Schmidt
Lori Bauer Evan Krofchick, MAS+ Jeff Schmitt, MAS
Tim Brown, MAS Michael Legel Jim Socci, CAS
Amanda Clay, MAS Jennifer Mamajek Brandon Stewart
Jamie Cohen, CAS Michael Marias Adam Taylor
Brittany David, CAS Nikki Maucere Tiffany Tarr
Rich Corvalan Ashley McCune Adam Thornton
Kamil Dys Allison McLain Brian Towne
Anita Emoff Chris McKee, MAS Tessa Trumble
Michael Fields Russ Mogell Zachary Tyler
Mark Gardyn Kathleen Milbier Bryan Vaughn, MAS
Jessica Gibbons-Rauch, CAS Carol Moore Jim Walrod
Matt Gonzales Kari Moravec Rosanne Webster
Mark Graham Amanda Nannini Seth Weiner, MAS
Kirby Hasseman Kimberly Newell Brad White
Marc Held Jon Norris Dave Willis
Jamon Heller Ben Norris Bryony Zasman
Glen Hersh Sean Ono Megan Zezzo
Jessica Hiner Sarah Parsons
Jessica Hutwelker, MAS Brittany Pawlikowski
During the PPB Rising Stars presentation at the PPAI North American Leadership Conference in San Francisco in August, each recipient was presented with a commemorative gift—a personalized Spower Bluetooth speaker and power bank, generously donated by PPAI supplier member Hirsch Gift, Inc. (UPIC: HIRGIFT).