The PPAI North American Leadership Conference (NALC), held August 11-13 in Irving, Texas, packed a lot of value into two-and-a-half days. Included were 10 education sessions led by top speakers, the opening dinner on Sunday night with an improv show and presentation of the PPB Rising Stars, several networking breakfasts, lunches and breaks, an off-site evening dine-around and a spectacular closing event on Tuesday evening at AT&T Stadium in nearby Arlington, which included a tour, photos on one of the world’s largest HD video screens and access to the field with its iconic blue star for pass, catch and kick games.

“This year the NALC workgroup focused on building a robust schedule focused on leadership growth for attendees through a variety of speakers and sessions incorporating relevant industry topics and trends, both economic and marketing driven, as well as motivational influences and interactive breakout sessions,” says Lori Bauer, vice president/national accounts for BIC Graphic NA and NALC workgroup leader. “Most importantly, this event is centered around networking with industry peers and learning from one other, with our goal to provide many opportunities to connect.”

More than 150 industry leaders from all levels and from companies of all sizes attended this year’s conference, which delivered education sessions examining some of the most relevant, top-of-mind business issues and ideas impacting the promotional products industry.

First-time attendee Rhonda Reilly, MAS, director of sales/promotional products at Pilot Corporation of America, was impressed with the education. “I thought the speakers were very informative to my needs across a number of avenues, which I deal with every day managing Pilot’s promotional products division—from being able to be in the present, dealing with people and where we are as a company with the economy, as well as wanting to climb a mountain.”

Above photo: Keynote presenter and mountain climber John Beede drew on lessons learned
scaling the world's highest peaks to speak on leadership and decision-making.

Alan Tabasky, vice president and general manager at Bel USA, also spotlights the programming. “My key takeaway from this NALC was learned through the educational and motivational speakers the Association aligned with. I came back to my office with notes on improving our employee engagement, overall company strategy, focus, vision and culture, as well as the importance of taking care of yourself first—before you are able to properly take care of and lead others. Overall, the quality of the speakers was great, and I am really looking forward to next year’s NALC.”

Networking was valuable for Howard Cubberly, general manager of Goldstar Global. “For me, it is always great to network and this year, more than ever, I felt many of us are wrestling with the same issues of how to add enough value to scale and build process and culture that drives and supports the growth. The presenters were as good and on point as I can remember. I have returned re-energized to put in place some new leadership initiatives to create better clarity on our mission supported by better communication and employee engagement plans.”

Mike Malinowski, vice president of sales at Gill Studios, Inc., says the speakers were really on track for today’s challenges. His key takeaway was from a session presented by speaker Don Rheem, CEO of E3 Solutions. “In today’s environment, validation, recognition and feedback are more necessary than ever to build a culture that will keep you relevant. This is critical for the long-term viability of any company as employees are the key to building your brand and sustaining it. As leaders, this forum is an awesome exchange that I look forward to attending next year.”

Above, left: NALC 2019 wrapped with a tour of the AT&T Stadium and an opportunity to spend
time on the field with various games. Above, right: Gary Garfield, former CEO of Bridgestone
Americas, spoke on leading a company through change and growth.

For Nikki Stella, CEO of Altitude Group plc, NALC delivered on its promise. “The event, as always, delivered great value in networking time with peers as well as valuable content that will provide industry leaders great insight into marketing, leadership and economic trends to take into 2020 and beyond.”

Michael Harper, CEO of Summit Group, says his biggest takeaway was a lesson learned from the session on design experiences. “The best design experiences are those that adapt to the problem you want to solve (don’t fight the dirt path). This is something we can focus on immediately to improve our client experience.”

Brian Porter, senior vice president of sales and marketing for Starline and a member of the NALC workgroup, wrapped up this year’s event: “Once again, NALC has proven to be an invaluable place to not only connect and recharge with fellow industry partners, but the content was so diverse, from corporate culture and economics, to IT solutions and high school football coaching philosophy. It had something for everyone.”


James Khattak is news editor of PPB.