Company culture is an extremely hot topic in business circles these days—the increased interest perhaps fanned, in part, by a controversial post this summer by a Google employee that upended perceptions about the tech giant’s idyllic culture.

A company’s culture is represented in many ways, from how employees treat each other and clients, to how they dress and what actions they take when no one is watching. A company’s culture is most often defined at the top by the beliefs and practices of the top executives; it can be created organically or through careful planning and management.

For most employees, much of what they see and experience about their company’s culture comes through the actions of their boss. A boss who is poor at the job can not only be toxic but can undermine the good work of the team and damage the company’s culture. But a boss who is exceptional can help align the team with a culture that ensures success.

Culture aside, a recent report by Rand Corporation reveals a troubling trend among American workers: they are simply overworked. Findings show a majority have unpredictable schedules and not enough time to finish their work. Overall, roughly two thirds of respondents said their jobs forced them to work too quickly and under unrealistic deadlines, and nearly half said they take work home with them. On the plus side, most respondents said they tended to get along with their colleagues, had good work friends and had a supportive boss.

It’s true that a good boss can make the difference between a job that just pays the bills and one that adds a desirable and powerful dimension to life. Read on to learn about 14 of the industry’s most exceptional people managers who have been nominated by their team members and selected as the PPB 2017 Best Bosses.


Chris Arranaga
Gorilla Marketing Riverside, California
Number of direct reports: 23

Chris Arranaga went from being a student at UCLA to a business owner to becoming someone’s boss. For five years he ran his business solo; he hired his first employee and became a boss 33 years ago. And, apparently, he’s pretty good at it.

“Chris is by far one of the most fair, supportive, generous (with time and money), smart and balanced humans I know,” says nominator Rosslyn Forrester, who has reported to Arranaga for the past five years. “His mantra is that employees and clients should be treated like family members—with great care, love and fairness. He lives it every day. He is always ready to provide encouragement and support. He is the first to compliment, and often award when and where appropriate for a good sale, a new idea or a victory of any sort. For example, a gas card for every employee was an incentive to reach a milestone sales goal. When we just very narrowly missed it, he recognized that we all worked hard to get to where we were, and gave us the gas cards anyway!”

His best boss
Lane Grado, my manager at UCLA Recreation [a campus job he held during college]. He was always approachable and fair to everyone. He was busy but always had time to talk when I requested.

Chris’s cool factor
He often says, “We are building our empire.” Now that’s cool!

What managing others has taught him about himself
Honestly, that I have way more to learn every day. I don’t pretend to be an expert or the best but I want to be better tomorrow than I am today. I just am constantly reminded that sometimes my nonverbal communication speaks louder than what I actually say; it is not always positive and I need to constantly work on that.

His best advice for other bosses
I think you need to be a good listener and you need to be humble. You also need to be mindful that with the people you manage, you should hope that the role doesn’t define them. They have much more important titles they carry than their title at work, such as friend, sibling, parent, coach, etc. Enable those parts of their lives and their work title should be more enjoyable. Don’t pretend that their job title is the most important position in their life.


Steve Brown
General Manager
Ads On Magnets
Castle Rock, Colorado Number of direct reports: 5

Steve Brown runs a young and thriving supplier company that he launched in 2012. Coming from a previous career in county government and information technology, he’s managed others for about 15 years. Now that he has five employees, he strives to create an environment where employees are involved and engaged in the company’s future.

“Steve is a very down-to-earth boss who likes to keep a balance of work and fun daily,” says nominator Julia Moerman, office manager and sales coordinator at Ads On Magnets. “He always brings us in on what is going on in the company and the direction we are looking to take, and asks for suggestions on what we think and see for the company.” She also likes the fact that he’s interested in employees’ lives beyond the office, including asking about their families and pets. “He is also very flexible, so if we need a day off or something comes up unexpectedly, he works with us to make sure everything gets done,” she adds. Nominator Kayley Brown has worked at the company since it opened. She says, “Steve does weekly meetings in which he communicates what is going on in the company, both good and bad, and allows everyone to give their input on what is going well and not so well on their end. He also has stepped back from checking the sales email to allow employees to manage it. People are feeling more empowered because of it.”

His best boss
My best boss would be Rod Sinner, whom I worked with for about 10 years. He was really an ideal boss for me because he gave me the tools I needed but the freedom to run with new ideas. He supported me as needed and took interest in me as a person and not just as an employee. We worked hard, but he created a fun working environment where people didn’t mind the extra effort because the expectations were known by everyone. It was a team environment, which wasn’t common at that time at our company.

What managing others has taught him about himself
I have learned patience. Nobody works well under stress and more mistakes happen when there is too much pressure. When issues do pop up you realize you cannot change what happened but can correct issues so these events will not happen again.

His best advice for other bosses
No one management style is a perfect fit for everybody in the office. I try to quickly learn what each team member needs in order to feel comfortable in their jobs. It’s important to communicate with your staff what their job roles are and give each member an opportunity for growth. I believe employees like to see where their value is with the organization and where their set of skills could take them. If employees need to develop in certain areas of interest, help them put a plan in place to allow them an opportunity to enhance their potential. I really think you have to communicate with your staff a lot and make sure everyone gets the same message. If your team embraces the plan, success is much more likely to occur. We are a small company and I really like that we have a family feel to the office. I have a great staff and really look forward to helping them succeed wherever their careers take them.

Steve’s cool factor
He’s a manager and a friend; sometimes this combination can be difficult, but Steve does it very well.


Joel Freet
Cutter & Buck
Seattle, Washington Number of direct reports: 13

Joel Freet went to work for apparel supplier Cutter & Buck after graduation from the University of Washington, but getting in wasn’t easy. “I tried for three jobs at Cutter & Buck and was turned down before landing as a sales assistant in our tournament division,” he says. In the 18 years he’s been at the supplier, he’s held seven different jobs—some simultaneously. His first management role was in the international division 13 years ago. Working his way up through the company to CEO has given him a distinct appreciation for every job at every level.

“Joel is the most positive influence I have ever had in my professional career,” says nominator Brad Moxley, Cutter & Bucks’s corporate business development manager, who has reported to Freet for the past eight years. “I have never met someone in an executive position who truly cares about every single employee in their organization, from managers to the janitor. Joel stops and speaks with everyone, and it is not uncommon to find him sitting with the customer service team during lunch just to catch up with them.”

Moxley is impressed with the impact Freet’s management style has had on the business. “Joel has changed our company’s hiring philosophy to focus on hiring from within for all positions, proving that he values his own employees over others.” Moxley also likes the fact that his boss empowers the team to make their own decisions and stays out of day-to-day activities, unless asked to get involved. “When I have asked him to look at a specific customer issue, he reaches out and talks to the customer himself,” says Moxley.

His best boss
I love learning, and have loved every boss I have had because they have all taught me their own great methodologies for business. Torsten Janson, founder of New Wave Group [parent company of Cutter & Buck], taught me to vigorously apply common sense through the point of view of a customer. That has been a career defining lesson. The previous CEO of C&B, Jens Petersson, embedded in me the ability to go boldly into more risk taking; and the CEO before him, Ernie Johnson, taught me to do right by your people above all else. My boss in my first job at C&B, Greg Sweeten, inspired me to be enthusiastic and optimistic at all times. My boss in the international division, Shannon Messenger, taught me that the long-term health of the brand is paramount to all of our success. My boss at the Dawghouse [during college] taught me the famous practice of “You got time to lean, you got time to clean.” All of these lessons I apply constantly in my day-to-day and in our strategies—especially the cleaning part.

What managing others has taught him about himself
I need to take good care of my own family and my home life so I can give my best to my people. The same goes for my people; if they take good care of their own family then they can give their all to the business.

His best advice for other bosses
Leadership to me is creating positive change without authority. So, embrace the challenge of leading when you don’t have the authority and you will soon find yourself in management positions where you can support an entire team leading positive change.

Joel’s cool factor
Joel reaches out or stops in at even the smallest customers, just to introduce himself and ask them what the company can do to improve.


Aaron Gunderson
Senior Vice President of Sales
The Magnet Group
Washington, Missouri
Number of direct reports: 6

Nominator Cathy Cummings, director of strategic development, has known Aaron Gunderson for more than 12 years as both a customer and now her supervisor. She’s been reporting to him for almost two years. “Aaron is one of the hardest working individuals I’ve met,” she says. “Even though he was promoted last year and now oversees the daily activity of all sales efforts, he is selfless with his time.” She appreciates the way he leads by example. “He is part of the team and continues to be very involved in select key accounts, despite his new title and responsibilities.”
Gunderson joined The Magnet Group in 2015 after 15 years at Pro Towels, which was formerly owned by The Magnet Group.

For the past year, Jessica Hiner, vice president of key accounts, has also called him boss, friend and most importantly, she says, family. “He leads by example and provides examples you can learn from,” she says, explaining that when she’s made a mistake, he listens. “For example, a decision to handle a situation with a customer that he may not agree with, he listens to my reasoning behind my decision and asks questions. And if he doesn’t understand the reason behind the answer, he may ask another question. From there, he gives direction and guidance at a level he knows I will relate to. He never talks down to you, or at you—that is not his style.”

Cummings and Hiner both admire Gunderson’s depth of character and generosity. “He would rather see each one of us succeed over himself and absolutely loves to celebrate our successes,” says Cummings. Hiner adds, “Aaron will reduce his earnings to give others a raise. He has done just that because he feels the success and acknowledgement of others is much more important than his own success.”

His best boss
I have two—Bill Korowitz, my boss and owner/CEO of The Magnet Group, and Bob Tidwell, a former executive with The Magnet Group. Bill is more of a coach than a boss, coaching in business and the balance of family and business. Every phone conversation or meeting is a learning opportunity, if you pay attention. His charisma, experience and passion for greatness are invaluable. Bob helped me throughout my career with many business and life lessons that I still apply to this day. Both have been mentor leaders for me.

What managing others has taught him about himself
I have been fortunate to work with a lot of different types of people over the past 25-plus years. Over time you identify characteristics and traits that you admire and others you don’t. Simply, I know what type of person I don’t want to be. I am not perfect, and people and situations are not perfect; however, you can still find success where there is a lack of perfection.

His best advice for other bosses
Although I do not see myself as great—far from it—here are a few pieces of advice I feel passionate about. Lead by example and with direction. If you want people to follow you, they need something worth following. You can be a leader without being a “boss.” Teamwork, although an old cliché, [is important]. It truly does take a village. Celebrate your successes with compliments and accolades to your team. Lastly, have fun!

Aaron’s cool factor
He’s a compassionate, hardworking guy; truly a man of the people.


Laura Teter Holt, MAS
Regional Vice President
Scottsdale, Arizona
Number of direct reports: 50

The 12 glowing nominations received for Laura Teter Holt, MAS, are overwhelming evidence of a boss who is not only superb at managing and coaching others but someone who is also admired and respected by those who report to her. Holt has been managing others for about 42 years, including more than 17 years at Geiger and 14 years at distributor Holt Marketing Group, Ltd., the company she and her stepson, Tim Holt, owned.

“She is always my ‘go to.’ She takes a sincere interest in my success—helping me to be the best salesperson I can be,” says nominator Linda White, who has reported to Holt for 10 years. “She is available 24/7—whether I’m down and building my business back up, or doing $2 million and not sure how I’m going to get it all done—she is there for me.”

Nominator Joan Beck, who has also reported to Holt for 10 years, says, “Laura has a deep understanding of our industry and people. She is very professional yet visibly human; I love her sense of humor and humility. You will never hear her say a negative word about anyone or about a situation. Laura listens and then educates or suggest ways in which we can find the answers. She never says ‘never.’ We all are so grateful to be on her team.”

The team newbie, nominator Rebeccah Stains, admires Holt because of the positive reinforcement she offers. “She is a major celebrator of success and shares our success with the rest of our community,” says Stains. “Laura sends out emails to our region when someone places a large order or lands a new account. It is a small thing but makes a huge difference. It gives us all an opportunity to see what kind of business others are doing and congratulate them on a job well done.”

Jason Bergstrom; Vickie Metnick Block; Dawn Ruler, MAS; Dawn Shaver; Sarah Neikrug; Jill Adams; Rachel Valdez; Christy Kaiser; and Wendy Franklin also nominated Holt praising her qualities of being fair, honest, passionate, creative, knowledgeable and a wonderful motivator.

Her Best Boss
Earl Becker, because he had faith in me and encouraged me. When I was 20 years old he assigned me to manage a major conversion project and sent me to the Federal Home Loan Bank of Des Moines, Iowa, to learn how to do it. Now that’s faith.

What managing others has taught her about herself
It has taught me that I always need to be open to other viewpoints and that I truly enjoy witnessing other’s success.

Her best advice  for other bosses
Treat everyone with respect no matter their position. Also, never ask anyone to do something that you haven’t done or wouldn’t be willing to do.

Laura’s cool factor
She always has just the right promotional product to give to a bellhop, concierge, flight attendant, hotel housekeeper, server—you name it. She brings a good name to the industry.


Rachel Koenig
AP Specialties
San Clemente, California
Number of direct reports: 6

Rachel Koenig started supplier AP Specialties 16 years ago, and has grown it as a family business that employs nearly 150 people. With a background in retail, she says she enjoys working with people, so managing others seems to come naturally. “I like to see my employees grow and flourish, and I really enjoy our Southern California location,” she says.

Among those she manages is nominator Yasmin Gonzalez, who has been at the company for 14 years. “I’ve gotten the opportunity to work with Rachel almost since I started. It didn’t take long for me to realize that besides being a boss she is a friend to everyone around her,” says Gonzalez. “She truly cares for all her employees. In my case, she has given me the opportunity to grow professionally with the company, and I can say I’m not the only one.”

Another nominator, Cynthia Rodriguez, calls Koenig a great leader. “We learn how to do things by watching her do them. She shows people how to complete a task, not just gives them instructions.”

Thirteen-year company veteran Tina Holland, who also nominated Koenig, says her boss truly cares about her employees. “She goes above and beyond making our workplace safe, and she tries to accommodate everyone’s needs and wants.” Holland is also impressed by Koenig’s interest in showing appreciation to employees and doesn’t hesitate to offer help when personal problems arise. “Family is very important to her so she is understanding of requests for personal time for family matters,” adds Holland. “Rachel’s ultimate goal is to grow her business and by keeping her employees happy, she has succeeded. I personally feel like one of the family and can honestly say that I have never had a better boss.”

Employees report that Koenig demonstrates devotion to employee satisfaction by promoting from within almost exclusively, providing ongoing safety training, taking the time to listen, keeping an open-door policy and springing for occasional treats such arranging for an In-N-Out food truck to come to the facility to celebrate the news of a product patent. 

Her best boss
My father, Howard Koenig, has taught me a lot, but he always encouraged me to experience things outside of our home. Even though I never officially worked for him, he has taught me the most about business, people and the game of life.

What managing others has taught her about herself
Managing others has taught me that I have more patience than I thought. With so many different personalities, I think patience and good listening skills are crucial.

Her best advice for other bosses
My best piece of advice for being a great boss is to make the effort to keep your employees happy. Happy employees want to come to work and they make being where you spend so much of your time more enjoyable.

Rachel’s cool factor
She loves Halloween, so she plans a company party every year and encourages everyone to dress in costume—and she dons a costume too.


Penny Ledbetter
C. Sanders Emblems
San Fernando, California
Number of direct reports: 14

Penny Ledbetter got her start as an elementary school teacher and then earned a master’s degree in marriage, family and child counseling. She’s taught parenting classes, raised four children with her husband, and has volunteered in leadership positions with the PTA and community center, and on the boards of various nonprofit organizations. She’s also been a Scout leader and chaired several large fund-raising events. “I feel that I have been in a managerial position without truly recognizing it for most of my life,” she says.

Those many diverse leadership experiences primed her to take a job with C. Sanders Emblems, where she’s been president for the past 10 years. It also made her appreciative of the knowledge attained through life experiences—not just from degrees and titles. That mindset helped her see the intrinsic value in Yvonne Livingston, a former stay-at-home mom who applied for a job at C. Sanders Emblems in 2014.

“Once I decided to go back to work, no one would hire me. I mean no one,” says Livingston. “Then I met Penny. I came in for an interview and I told her right up front that I had been out of the workforce for 12 years, I didn’t know any of the latest programs (Excel, Outlook, Word, etc.) and I was very rusty on the computer. I was sure she was going to end the interview. She asked what
I had been doing for the past 12 years. I said, “Raising my family, being the chief accountant, cook, driver, handyman, nurse, purchaser and wearing all the other dozen hats needed to run a household efficiently.”

I braced myself for the worst. I felt silly, and worse yet, invalidated. She smiled and said, ‘My gosh, you had a tremendously hard job all these years. You are more than capable and qualified to do this job I am offering.’ I can’t truly explain in words what I felt at that moment, but it was wonderful.”

Nominator Susanne Dennett, who has been calling Ledbetter her boss for 10 years, says she encourages hard work from the team by giving back: when the company has a great quarter, Ledbetter shares by giving bonuses. She also likes Ledbetter’s management style. “Penny has trust in people and allows them to do their jobs without standing over their shoulders,” she says. “She also encourages everyone to take their vacations and spend time with family and friends to recharge.”

Two other nominators, Jay Ewing and Christine Kane, have been reporting to Ledbetter for one year and seven years, respectively. They describe her as fair, understanding, nonjudgmental and a good communicator. “She has our back when it comes to difficult situations,” says Ewing. “She allows us to make mistakes and yet doesn’t criticize us when things don’t turn out the way we’d hoped.” Kane adds, “Her management style brings out my best.”

Her best boss
I have learned many skills from my Vistage group (a worldwide organization serving as a peer business advisory and executive coaching organization). I attend monthly meetings with other CEOs in my area, learning from their experiences and sharing information. I am a self-motivated learner and continue to read articles and books on all areas of business. They are a source of inspiration for me. I have been greatly influenced and inspired by John Wooden, UCLA’s legendary basketball coach. During our weekly office meetings, we often discuss the various steps in his Pyramid of Success and how we can serve our clients using his model. I was honored to have met John Wooden; he was never my boss but certainly my role model.

What managing others has taught her about herself
I have learned to trust my instincts and that “little voice” inside my head; that my enthusiasm for this business is contagious, which I believe energizes my employees; the value of collaboration with my employees who offer creative and workable ideas to company challenges; and to value continued education as well as openness to new ideas and opportunities.

Her best advice for other bosses
Think of yourself as a member of a team using vocabulary such as “we” rather than “I.” It is important, as a leader, to lead by example; to have a clearly defined operating system and expectations; to set a positive, celebratory tone, to discover as a team the vision and core values that become the compass and guide for all you do for your customers, and why you do it. Leaders welcome challenges and different viewpoints valuing employees who take the initiative to offer new ideas. Leaders respect the different strengths and skills of each employee and make sure they are in the right seat. If you say you’re going to do something, do it. Work hard but have fun, too.

Penny’s cool factor
A true visionary, she is always thinking about how to improve the company tomorrow, next week and next year.


Eileen Lynch
Regional Sales Manager
BIC Graphic
Maplewood, New Jersey
Number of direct reports: 9

“Eileen is empathetic, genuine, caring and brilliant. Her approach is more of a coach or parent than a boss,” says her nominator, Harold Wood, who has reported to Eileen Lynch for 13 years. He explains that she understands the grueling pace of a sales organization, the importance of industry volunteerism, and the importance of balancing work and personal life.

Perhaps one of the reasons she’s such a good boss is that she has reported to a number of exceptional bosses, including Paul Lage, MAS, who was the top executive at BIC/Norwood before joining Gill Studios, Inc. “Paul’s philosophy is ‘manage or be managed.’ This approach helped me understand the key to working with people is giving them permission to do it their way,” she says. “It fosters creative thinking, and helps develop ownership and accountability.”

Lynch’s career experience—18 years at BIC, 10 years at Hammond and two years at Rediform—formed a solid foundation to help hone her people management skills. Over the years, she has collected valuable experience that she freely shares with others.

“She has been a personal mentor for many years helping me understand my strengths and weaknesses,” says Wood. “She assists in setting realistic goals, and then urges me to plan for my success.” He also admires her volunteerism for PPAI and regional associations; she is a former board member and past president of Specialty Advertising Association of Greater New York. “She is one of a kind, and I can only hope to be the same type of manager one day,” Wood adds.

Her best bosses
Paul Lage, MAS; John McNulty; Chris Edelen; Joe DeVault; Dave Saracino; and Lori Bauer, to name a few.

What managing others has taught her about herself
Asking for help is a sign of strength, not weakness. We all share the same fears, doubts, wants and needs. Each of us has our unique gifts and talents. Be generous with your time and talents. Help others and share your experience, and what you are good at—it will come back to you tenfold. Conversely, if you need help or support, ask for it. It opens the door and gives people permission around you to do the same.

Her best advice for other bosses
Leaders should lead. Like children, your team will listen to what you say but, ultimately they will watch what you do and imitate it. A great boss sets the tone for the team and, for me, balance is key to being successful and satisfied in every aspect of your life. Certainly, work hard, but take time to smell the flowers. It is easy to say; but difficult to practice. Be in the moment and be fully present in your life. If you are working, work, but if you are with your family, friends or just relaxing, be there and focus there. Give that moment/time/person your full attention. Have a servant’s heart. My philosophy and attitude in dealing with my team is the same as with our customers: help them succeed; make their lives a little easier; listen and solve their problems/issues, and the business will follow. It builds loyalty, commitment and a true team spirit. Make it about them, not about you.And last, follow the Golden Rule: Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. I never liked to be micromanaged, so I don’t micromanage my team. Give them the freedom to soar; they will not disappoint you.

Eileen’s cool factor
She is more of a “mom-ager” than a manager. She knows every member of her team, their kids, their pets and their successes.


Eden McClellan
Icon Blue, Inc.
Los Angeles, California
Number of direct reports: 11

Eden McClellan landed in her role as president/COO with solid career experience in human resources as a consultant at Icon Blue and, before that, having worked in various HR positions. After a part-time management role at Icon Blue, she joined full-time in 2012 and was named to her current position earlier this year.

McClellan routinely offers her team a rich assortment of education and information, sharing articles from industry and outside publications, and links to webinars. She’s also a strong advocate of giving her employees the power and freedom to make decisions. “Eden is all about the team concept, so empowerment is something she takes seriously,” says Jose Encinas, Jr., one of seven employee nominators. “She understands that empowering employees breeds confidence, which helps bring out the best in people. And she constantly looks for ways to challenge us so that we can be the best versions of ourselves.”

Nominator Temi Adesina has been at the company only a short time but is already keenly aware of the positive qualities McClellan brings to the workplace. “She is very understanding and remembers we are human too. I can’t get over the fact of how honest she is and how much she cares about us. She encourages us to have a balanced work and personal life. When it hits 5 pm she wants us to clock out and enjoy the rest of our day—not to save money but to help us maintain that balance. She is just a wonderful person to work under and a very inspiring woman leader.”

“Eden is one of the best bosses because she is a partner,” says nominator Alison Peters.

“Eden has created an environment where people strive to do their best.” She explains that McClellan holds strategic weekly staff meetings, has introduced a wellness program and a spot recognition program, recognizes growth in her team and promotes from within. “Everything she does is to boost employee morale and performance which, in turn, allows us to give our best to our customers.”

Four other employees also nominated McClellan: Shelby Sensui, Aric Bayer, Patrick Mickelson and Heather Hutchins.

Her best boss
My best boss was Judy Whitney, vice president of Cal-Bay Mortgage (my first job out of college). Judy provided challenging work and had high expectations. She was kind, fair and very professional. It was under her leadership that I grew from payroll clerk into the role of HR vice president.

What managing others has taught her about herself
Managing others requires constant introspection; I’ve learned what my triggers are so that I can manage my reactions in an encouraging, positive and respectful manner. 

Her best advice for other bosses
To be a great boss means that you respect each employee as the individual they are, while also creating a workplace that brings those individuals together for a common goal. Focus on the strengths of each team member and ensure that each person understands how their contributions fit into the big picture. Applaud openly and frequently, discipline privately and have clear policies and procedures for accountability. 

Eden’s cool factor
She’s the real deal; there is nothing false or pretentious about her.



Jason Nokes
President DistributorCentral
Gardner, Kansas
Number of direct reports: 4

Jason Nokes has been managing others for 22 of his 24 years in business—18 years at DistributorCentral, four years at TradeNet and two years at Stouse—but he is the first to admit he never has all the answers, nor would he want to.

Nokes believes in hiring and keeping smart and talented people around him, and he believes in treating them well. When he joined the business services company in 1999, he was the first programmer. He learned how to hire the most skilled employees and rely on them to do their jobs. As he grew into management, he retained a deep appreciation for what he asks others to do. Now that he has four direct reports and 15 indirect reports, he understands the importance of delegating tasks and empowering individuals to do it their way.

“If a team member pitches a project that he or she feels passionately about, he will allow them the bandwidth to work through the project, regardless of his own ideas about it,” state his nominators, Angela Taylor; Tiffany Tarr, CAS; David Shultz and Chris Schlemmer. “If the project succeeds, then everyone wins. If the project fails, Jason recognizes that mistakes and failure play an important part of a technology company’s growth. We will all learn something from the experience.”

He also gives employees the space they need based on what they are working on or their personal demands. As his nominators explain it: “If you need a two-hour creative brainstorming session, take a long lunch. If you need an afternoon off to deal with a sick child or pet, go take care of it and be back in the game tomorrow. If you need uninterrupted time to focus on writing copy, creating a new webinar, preparing for a big client meeting, or filming videos, then work from home. If we exceeded our sales or launched a big project, then he takes us to happy hour.”

Nokes takes a similar thoughtful approach to how he manages his own work. If he needs time to think through a new idea someone just pitched, he’ll walk the mile or so to his home and spend his lunchtime composing music on his guitar, then walk the mile back to the office. This gives him the necessary creative time to ponder the idea from all angles and return to his desk ready to make a decision.

His best boss
My best boss is my current boss, Tom Mertz, CEO of DistributorCentral and TradeNet. He sets a strong example for work ethic, generosity, volunteerism and commitment to the community.

What managing others has taught him about himself
It’s better to surround yourself with great people. There is always someone more talented than yourself in every area of the business.

His best advice for other bosses
Empower everyone to make decisions, listen and give people the space and resources to grow and innovate.

Jason’s cool factor
He’s a Rotary Club volunteer and gives staff company time to volunteer as they wish; he also offers DistributorCentral as a sponsor for organizations inside and outside the industry.


Eric Rubin
Blue Generation
Long Island City, New York
Number of direct reports: 55

As long as he can remember, Eric Rubin has been working at his family’s business, New York City-based apparel manufacturer M. Rubin & Sons. “As a little boy, I would tag along with my dad, stuffing catalogs and doing other menial jobs around the office and warehouse,” says the third generation in this 73-year-old family-owned business. “I used to get a kick out of climbing up the racks in the warehouse like [they were] monkey bars. They seemed so big in those days!”

Later, he worked part-time as a shipping clerk while attending NYU’s Stern School of Business, which was five blocks away from the warehouse. Upon graduation, Rubin brought his MBA and expertise to the company full time. In 1996, the company created a division for logoed apparel, Blue Generation, of which Rubin is now president. The close-knit family feel of the company extends beyond blood relatives, say the 14 employees who nominated Rubin as a PPB Best Boss: Patricia Low, Christopher Low, Pamela Brooks, Anita Swinton, Joan Acevedo, Kelly Gong, Marie-Grace Cave, Nelson Adderly, Denise Peralta, Victory Burgos, James Mitsner, Gina Delgado, Stacie Peirce and Denise Robinson.

“Eric Rubin leads by example,” says Pamela Brooks, who has reported to him for almost 14 years. “He works hard to assure that the business is successful and his employees stay employed. He is very professional, yet makes us feel like family. He values and respects my hard work, potential and dedication.”

His care and consideration for employees has earned him plenty of fans. Anita Swinton, who has been with the company for 12 years, says she was getting on the train one day when she caught sight of her boss approaching. “I thought he would walk by me, but he got on the train and sat right next to me!” she says, adding that his management style also makes a difference. “Eric has an open-door policy. He is your friend when you need a friend, and your boss when he has to be.”

His best boss
I was fortunate to have three best bosses: my uncles Don and Bob Rubin, and my father, Phil. I worked side by side with each of them at various stages of my career for over 40 years. Each of them taught me different aspects of the business and managing people. But the one common thread was their respect and appreciation for those who contributed to building the family business. I’ve seen so many people work their entire lives here going back to my grandfather’s time. With loyalty, you get loyalty.

What managing others has taught him about himself
I view every member of our team as part of the Rubin family. My greatest reward is seeing the people here grow and thrive in their personal lives. So, at the end of the day, I realize it isn’t just seeing the business grow, but the smiles I see when I walk in the office in the morning.

His best advice for other bosses
In this competitive corporate world, the importance of the individual is often lost. Everyone has a personal life and all the trials and tribulations that go along with it. I look to be understanding and helpful in any way we can through their difficult times and share in their joyous times as well. When they feel you really care, they will be there for the company tenfold because they feel important and appreciated. One thing they know: they have a home here to come to every day.

Eric’s cool factor
He’s got a memorable sense of humor and a laidback style. He’s the type of leader you want to follow.


Saretta Savage
The Corporate Gift Service Burbank, California
Number of direct reports: 3

With six years of experience at creative agency Peter Green Design, Saretta Savage set out on her own in 1990 and opened The Corporate Gift Service, providing gift ideas and quality products to businesses and corporations.

Over the years, she’s cultivated a small and talented team of people who work closely with clients to fulfill their needs for holiday gifts, promotional giveaways and corporate apparel. In that time, Savage has learned how to retain loyal employees by training them well, empowering them and celebrating their successes.

“Saretta Savage is one of the strongest, most honest and hardest-working women in this industry,” says nominator Katie Kelly, who has reported to Savage for nearly five years. “She sets a prime example of what a boss should be. She is constantly teaching us how to improve our customer relationships and how to continue building the company as a team.”

Nominator Lydia Eltringham, who has been at the company for two years, says, “Saretta is always pleasant, never heavy-handed; she asks for things in a friendly and courteous way; makes games for us when we set our targets so we get to do something fun; never seems stressed; handles things that come her way efficiently and effectively; and never makes us feel like we’re intruding if we ask a question. Then she answers the question fully so you understand it. The work environment is friendly with people caring about each other and the things in our lives, and this tone is set at the top. [She is the] best boss I’ve ever had.”

Nominator Brent Selvog has also worked for Savage for the past two years and says when he first started with the company, she took him under her wing in a meeting with a large client and helped him learn how to effectively work with people. “She makes me feel validated, appreciated and needed,” he says. “I am more confident in the work I do.”

Her best boss
Peter and Dawn Green; they gave me the job and let me do it. They appreciated my skills and gave me support in applying them in managing things.

What managing others has taught her about herself
The best way to manage others is the way I like to be managed myself. If you work that out, it’s a good guide.

Her best advice for other bosses
Only hire pleasant, smart, productive people who fit your office culture; teach them the basics of what’s been successful; then exude confidence in them.

Saretta’s cool factor
She is an artist and is so committed to her craft that it inspires those around her to enrich their own creativity.


Michael Snyder
Vice President – PCNA Apparel
Chicago, Illinois
Number of direct reports: 14

Michael Snyder got his first taste of managing others while growing up in his family’s clothing store, Snyder’s of Oconomowoc, one of the oldest and most respected clothing stores in Wisconsin. Along with buying and selling tailored apparel and top sportswear brands, he learned the importance of treating employees well. The lessons he picked up proved invaluable in his roles that followed in the corporate apparel market with Tri-Mountain; Hartwell Industries; his own venture, Snyder Apparel Sales, Inc.; and then at PCNA, where he’s honed a loyal employee base since 2011.

Jill Rogers, one of Snyder’s eight nominators, says that when Snyder began building the Trimark sales team in 2013, he handpicked his team members and was clear about his expectations: work hard, make money and have fun doing it.

“He has an innate ability to uncover what motivates people and draws from that to get the best out of what each person has to offer,” she explains. “He encourages collaboration, spontaneity and humor, making him fun to work with and for. Over the years, I’ve had many bosses who sucked the life out of me, but Michael gives me the freedom to manage my territory, yet he’s always there for me when I need help and guidance.”

She calls him boss, friend, leader, mentor, comedian and genius, adding, “I don’t think I’m alone when I say that I would follow him into a fire.”

Nominator Kristi Lewis, who has also reported to Snyder for four years, explains what makes him a standout. “He is a leader; passionate about the company and his employees; and genuine and authentic. You know he cares deeply about you. He is a ‘what-can-I-do-for-you’ kind of a leader vs. a ‘what-can-you-do-for-me’ type of boss. He wants more than anything for you to be happy. He is knowledgeable and relatable, humble and approachable. He leaves you wanting to give your job your all.”

Along with Rogers and Lewis, Snyder received Best Boss nominations from Nicole Deen, Geoff Vejsicky, Rachel Hare, Lisa Folts, Alina Rubinshteyn and Andy Stilts.

His best boss
My uncle, Tom Snyder. He was the third generation in our family clothing store; I was the fourth. He taught me the true art of sales by speaking about meaningful trends, referencing relevant case studies, and through good old-fashioned storytelling. He stressed the importance of being 100-percent focused on who is standing right in front of you (be that the customer or our employees) and he mandated that I be immersed in continuing education. He gave back to his family, friends and community far more than he took, and he always remembered to laugh (I mean really laugh—like a Santa Claus belly laugh).

What managing others has taught him about himself
That while I have some good ideas now and then, true success (both personal and professional) lies in tapping the incredible wealth of knowledge that resides in the amazing people around me.

His best advice for other bosses
Culture is paramount; without great culture, you have no foundation to work from. It all starts with you, be the boss you want for yourself. Collaboration is integral; include your team in as many critical decisions and strategies as possible. Sell your team, do not lecture them. Try to avoid the use of “I,” “me” and “my” when speaking to your team. Using “us” and “we” makes a world of difference.

Michael’s cool factor
He is genuine, and a leader, not a manager. When he asks for feedback, he wants to know the good, the bad and the ugly.


Phil Sunshine
Founder & Chairman
The Sunshine Group Maitland, Florida
Number of direct reports: 7

Since 1968, when Phil Sunshine opened the doors of his distributorship, The Sunshine Group, he has offered a welcoming, instructive and supportive environment that has attracted and retained an impressive employee fan base. Among them are his two nominators, Debbie Bassett and Leslie Wiesenfeld—both 12-year veterans with the company—who continue to be inspired by their boss. It starts with his age.

“At 81 he is not afraid to learn all he can about computers and technology,” says Bassett. “He wants to stay as current as possible by researching how new technology works, even if he will never use it himself.” She’s also impressed with his consistent, positive outlook and his depth of industry knowledge.

“Phil has the best personality in the entire world,” she says. “He’s always sunny, as we like to put it. Funny, witty and extremely knowledgeable about the industry, he could sell ice to an Eskimo. Sales reps come to him with questions about how to get into a client’s office, and he will stop what he is doing and share his techniques.”

Sunshine entered the promotional products industry in 1968 after several years in sales at a defense contractor. In those days, the only technology used in sales was a desk phone, and salespeople found new customers through cold calls. But Sunshine has kept up through the decades, and can easily relate to today’s way of conducting business, say his nominators.

“He has been able to adjust to the ever-changing technology and the way sales work today,” says Wiesenfeld. “Many customers want to email or text instead of picking up the phone, and this has never slowed him down in any way.” She says he still loves to make cold calls and is very successful at it, and he can work with Millennials, too.

“Phil is a very exciting person to be around,” she adds. “He always comes in happy and ready for any challenge that comes his way. He has seen and been through the good times and bad, so it is nice to have an experienced mentor to help us get through the same.”

When the recession hit in 2008, it affected the company’s sales and money was tight. Sunshine led several decisions to scale back and made some hard choices with layoffs to get the company through. “He had the experience we did not have and he was here to help show us the way,” says Wiesenfeld. By 2010, with his guidance, the company was in a better positon and hired back the accounting manager who was laid off. “Without his experience in the business for so many years, I do not believe we would have fared as well,” she adds.

His best boss
Russ Flotkoeter, field manager at U.O. Colson. I was his favorite sales rep in Florida, so he was very nice to me.

What managing others has taught him about himself
How wonderful I am!

His best advice for other bosses
Recognize the strengths and weaknesses in others, then help them mitigate the challenges so they focus and excel at their strengths.