Thoughts on Entering a Hall of Fame
How a dedication to serving others has paid professional dividends
Last week I accepted my induction into the Promotional Products Association of the Mid-South (PPAMS) Hall of Fame. While it was obviously a humbling honor, it also presented a conundrum: writing and delivering an acceptance speech. As much as I enjoy speaking on marketing, branding, and other topics, I loathe talking about myself as I always feel it comes across as pompous. So, as the ceremony approached, I wrote and rewrote my acceptance speech seemingly 372 times trying to strike the right tone. My goal for the speech, which is below, was to thank the people that are truly responsible for this honor while sharing why service has been so transformative to my career. To everyone who has been part of my journey in the promotional products industry so far, I thank you from the bottom of my heart.
I can think of three times in my life when I've been speechless:
When Sandy and I found out we were having twins
When David Lee Roth was fired from Van Halen (the first time)
When Javier LaFontaine called me a few weeks ago to let me know I'd be having dinner tonight at Maggiano's - oh, and the whole being inducted into the Hall of Fame thing.
Joking aside, it's truly an honor to be here this evening, an evening made even more special by sharing it with my fellow inductee, Paul Hart, my wife Sandy, my business partner Josh Robbins, and so many industry friends.
As I was preparing for tonight, I reflected on my career and how volunteerism – especially with PPAMS – has shaped it:
I started in the promotional products industry in 2000, and for the first ten years, I only experienced middling success. In other words, I was a J.A.G. - Just A Guy. In 2010, however, I was elected to serve on the PPAChicago board, which was my first taste functioning on any board. While I could only be on that board for two years due to my relocation to Nashville, it was my first real taste of serving the industry, and I was hungry for more.
In 2014, Matt Traverse invited me to serve on the PPAMS board, and I eagerly accepted. I enjoyed working with the board to make the association better for every member, but it went beyond that: it caused me to look at the industry - and my role in it - differently. I also started mentoring others through the PromoKitchen mentorship program.
In 2015, I was asked to become a chef in the PromoKitchen, which helped increase my confidence as I was able to help others through mentorship and education. Two years later, I became the President of PPAMS and jointly served on the Regional Association Council (RAC) board, which allowed me to work with others to enhance the value of the regional associations from a local and national perspective. At the same time, I became President of PromoCorner.
The following year I was elected as Chairman of the RAC board to work with Promotional Products Association International (PPAI) on the future of both the regional community and the structure of the RAC board itself. I rolled off the board in 2020, about one month before the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. However, that didn't stop me from volunteering. Over the next two years, I shared my time with many regional associations - including PPAMS - by delivering education sessions to distributors and end-users.
It was also during this time that brandivate was launched (2020) and, along with Josh Robbins, Promocations (2022) became a reality. Finally, in November of 2022, I was asked to serve a three-year term as a Trustee on the Promotional Products Education Foundation (PPEF) board.
There's a common thread throughout my career: I didn't start having success in business until I started volunteering my time - and serving on the board of PPAMS is at the core of this thread. To put it bluntly, the road to whatever success I've achieved has been paved with volunteerism and service.
While I may stand up here alone, there are so many people who deserve to be standing up here with me because, without them, I wouldn't be here.
To the current PPAMS board, thank you for this honor.
Thank you to Matt Traverse, who conned me into joining the board in 2014. Your leadership of the board during the time we served together was an excellent model for me.
Thank you to Javier LaFontaine for nominating me and teaching me how amazing coquito is.
Thank you to Summer Nichols, the outgoing PPAMS President, for inducting me tonight and giving me the opportunity to mentor you.
To Kimberly Stunkel - you always supported me as Vice President and knocked it out of the park as President of PPAMS.
To Mark Farrar and Rocky Moreno - you both always tolerated my grandiose ideas and need for accelerated change. Through you both, I learned to look at the larger picture before blindly moving forward.
Some people couldn't be here tonight, and I would be remiss not to recognize them.
Lisa Shayne from HIT Promotional Products - when I sat on the PPAChicago board, she was my mentor and taught me how to work inside the boardroom. I can't thank her enough.
To my podcast partner in crime, Kirby Hasseman, I owe a tremendous debt of gratitude. He's always been willing to support any crazy idea I have had, and I wouldn't be where I am professionally without him.
Danny Rosin from Brand Fuel has been a mentor to me, and through his words and deeds, I learned how to always see the goodness in others.
Through Harold Wood from Koozie Group, I learned grace in the boardroom when disagreeing with others. If you haven't met Harold, seek him out, as he's as lovely as a human being can be.
To Dana Geiger, the RAC board liaison during my year-long reign of terror as Chairman, thank you for listening and supporting me and my ideas - even when she didn't entirely agree. To have that type of faith given to you by someone like Dana is a gift I'll always be eternally grateful for.
There are two more people here tonight that I'd like to thank as well if you'll indulge me.
Josh Robbins is the first. I tried to hire him about ten years ago, and he turned me down. Instead, he started a badge company which, not surprisingly, became wildly successful. He's my business partner in brandivate and Promocations, so I finally got to work with him. Josh didn't teach me how to focus, but he did teach me WHERE to focus to build a thriving organization. Without his encouragement, guidance, and friendship, I wouldn't be where I am today. Josh, thank you. And, to truly express this gratitude, I want to say something directly to the camera: "Josh Robbins makes the best hamburger in Middle Tennessee."
Last and certainly not least, I'd like to thank my bride of 28 years, Sandy, who has steadfastly supported me:
During my first ten years in this industry, when I was figuring out my place, she was there.
When I moved her and our family from Dallas to New York to Chicago and, finally, Nashville, she was there
When I spent nights and weekends at work - volunteer and otherwise, she was there.
When I wanted to start not one but two companies during a global pandemic, she was there.
Through all the change, she has been the constant. So, Sandy, thank you for always being there for me. Without you and your support, I wouldn't be here tonight.
Service to others – beginning here at PPAMS – has shaped me into a complete person. Once I found this out, I made service part of my daily routine. For the past ten years, every time I end a call or conversation with someone, I ask, "is there anything I can do to help you?"
So, as I close this out, I challenge each of you to start ending conversations by asking, "is there anything I can do to help you?" It's a simple act, but it says so much:
It gives people permission to ask for help – especially when they may be reluctant to do so.
You offer your time and energy without anything expected in return which is rare in this world.
It's a selfless and honest moment of service to others that sets the stage to ensure that a rising tide indeed lifts all boats.
Through that offering of help, you'll find riches beyond your wildest dreams – I know I have. So thank you again for this honor – I'm beyond proud to be a permanent part of the PPAMS story.