An Opportunity To Grow
Dale Denham, MAS+, constantly reminds himself that, in matters of both business and life, it’s all about perspective. No two people will ever see a situation in the exact same way, he says, and therefore, it’s all a matter of how you choose to, or are able to, receive it.
In his 30 years of experience, Denham has learned the importance of not resting on his laurels but to stretch, grow and evolve as needed—even if it’s uncomfortable. Entering into this high-profile leadership role after key positions with major industry companies, most recently as senior vice president and chief information officer of Lewiston, Maine, distributor Geiger, Denham sees his new journey with PPAI as a way to continue to drive “meaningful change.”
“Good leaders are constantly looking at the environment around us and where it is going to lead, and while you don’t have a clear roadmap, the more you are listening to experts, both in and out of the industry, the more prepared you are for the need to change, either when that time comes or before it,” he says. “So, the way I’m preparing right now is a lot of reading, listening and observing, and trying to understand where the market will go and what people need from us. This is the job of a leader. The problems and the challenges have changed, but the role of the president and CEO is to be constantly looking to where we need to go and to prepare the team to execute on that.”
Denham wasn’t looking for a change when he was approached about the top leadership spot at PPAI. He was content in his position at Geiger, where he’d been for more than a decade. But in considering the role with PPAI, he realized that the rich experiences and skillset he had honed while working with one of the industry’s largest distributors had also prepared him for the role.
“I’ve been in multiple businesses in the industry, and at each one I’ve been able to drive meaningful change,” he says, adding that Geiger, which focuses on giving back to its community and reinvesting in the business, shares cultural similarities to PPAI. “It’s been an established company since 1878; so much like PPAI, it has been around for a long time and is well-respected, also much like PPAI is. One of the benefits of working at Geiger is that I have been in the role and seen the day-to-day of what the majority of our members go through. Even as large as Geiger is, the company is made up of 400-plus salespeople and all the individuals and systems that support them.”
Geiger is considered a large distributor, but Denham says that it deals with the same challenges as most other PPAI member companies, including vendor relations, sales and technology challenges. “Since I was responsible for vendor relations, my work at Geiger gave me real insight on what to look for when working with suppliers. It also gave me a whole new respect for the importance and value of each person’s role in the supply chain,” he says.
Denham’s area of expertise is leveraging technology to solve business problems and he enjoys exploring the potential that innovative solutions can bring to the promo space. After graduating from University of South Florida, Denham became a partner and director of a consulting group, and later was general manager of a large semiconductor and electronic component distributor. He entered the promotional products industry in 1995 as president of Impact, a small Florida-based firm that provided numerous resources to the industry, before joining Advertising Specialty Institute in 2000, where he was senior vice president.
Over the years, Denham has been an active volunteer for his regional association, many industry groups and PPAI. He was chair of PPAI’s Technology Committee from 2013-2015, served four years on the PPAI Board of Directors, and was board chair in 2018-2019—all experiences that, although he was unaware at the time, helped prepare him even more for his new, internal role with PPAI.
“It’s a huge head start for me,” he says of his volunteerism with PPAI, “even though being on the board you don’t know as much about the day-to-day operations. I’ve had the opportunity to have relationships with most of the staff and look forward to developing those relationships further in the years ahead. Becoming a board member and seeing things from a board perspective, and then going back to becoming a PPAI member only, really helps too, to know how differently you view things when you’re on the inside of an organization versus on the outside. Having both perspectives is immensely useful.”
But it wasn’t only industry-related scenarios that guided Denham on how to serve as an effective and thoughtful leader. As a lover of world travel, a few years ago, he visited the Ryan-ji Temple Rock Garden in Kyoto, Japan. The majestic garden belonging to the Zen temple features 15 boulders, which visitors observe as they take in their surroundings. However, no matter where a visitor stands in the garden, it’s only possible to see 14 of the 15 boulders at once, and tradition says that it’s only possible to see all 15 after reaching enlightenment. “Whoever made this garden, part of their thinking, they say, is for you to realize that no person is perfect because we all have limited perspective,” he says.
From this, Denham gathers that no matter how much experience you may have, or where you are standing (both physically and mentally), there is always something left to learn, someone left to understand and another way to grow.
“I would say that being on the board helped me see more ‘rocks,’ and being on the inside has helped me see even more. And by being able to see the rocks from different perspectives, I’ll be able to adjust and say, ‘from this perspective it looks this way and we can do this,’ and vice versa. Our suppliers and distributors face this same choice, because what looks good to one of our members may not look as good from the other perspective.”
Outside of the industry, Denham keeps busy (and keeps his perspective) as the father of four—two sons, ages 18 and 17, and twin daughters, age 12. Married to his high school sweetheart, their clan also includes a five-year-old Goldendoodle.
As someone who has commuted and traveled for his job more than 50 percent of the time since the mid-’90s, Denham relies on a tightknit network of family and friends to lend a hand if needed. “I had already figured out that work-life balance, giving my family what they need and getting enough family time, and being able to invest in them and them in me when I’m around.” But the coronavirus pandemic, and the slowdown it required, he says, allowed him and his family time to spend together that was truly cherished. “We have a great sort of tradition where, if we’re home, our dinners are a lot of fun, and out of all the things we’re going to miss, it’s having as many dinners as we had during the past year and a half.”
Moving forward, Denham says his focus over the next six months will be on “listening and engaging with the PPAI team, the active volunteers and greater membership.” He says, “While I like moving quickly to add value, I’m not going to move too quickly overall because, again, I need perspective. So, internally it’s important to figure out what’s really going on and where I can contribute, while also understanding the team we have and need, and what our members need in the long-term. What we needed five years ago or even two years ago isn’t what we need today,” he says. “Beyond that, I think I’ll know more around day 90 or 100 about what we’ll be doing in the next year and beyond.”
Danielle Renda is associate editor of PPB.