The 2016 PPB Rising Stars in attendance at Sunday’s presentation were, from left, (front row) Esmeralda Anaya, Beau Ashton, Remy Kawaguchi, Dan Webb, CAS, Ryan Hanchey, Elson Yeung, (back row) Kenny Ved, Tim Hennessy, Jr. and Kevin Mullaney. Not pictured is Keith Lofton, CAS.

Millennials took center stage on Sunday evening at the opening dinner for the PPAI North American Leadership Conference in San Francisco. Twelve up-and-coming young leaders were recognized during the annual PPB Rising Stars presentation, which kicked off the dinner. The room erupted in applause as each of the 10 PPB Rising Stars in attendance was introduced by Tina Berres Filipski, PPB editor, and greeted by Paul Bellantone, CAE, PPAI president and CEO. He presented each with a commemorative, personalized power bank and Bluetooth speaker donated by Hirsch Gift, Inc. This year’s Rising Stars are Esmeralda Anaya, Beau Ashton, Ryan Hanchey, Tim Hennessy, Jr., Remy Kawaguchi, Keith Lofton, CAS, Stephanie Lyndon-Wheeler, Sarah Merrill, Kevin Mullaney, Kenny Ved, Dan Webb, CAS, and Elson Yeung.


Ishmael Beah, a former child soldier from Sierra Leone, spoke on the journey that took him from the battlefield to his life as an author and father.

After dinner, Jonathan Isaacson, CEO of The Gem Group, introduced the evening’s speaker, Ishmael Beah. Beah is a former child soldier who, at age 13, was forced to fight during the brutal civil war in his home country of Sierra Leone. In his moving, inspiring and remarkable story, Beah, now 35, held the room captive as he recounted how he was eventually rescued by UNICEF, was adopted by an American woman and went on to become a human rights activist, best-selling author, husband and, his latest role, a father. In his extraordinary life story of redemption and hope, his message resonated clearly: enjoy every moment of life.

This year’s NALC is the result of months of planning by PPAI staff and a volunteer work group headed by Catherine Graham, CEO of commonsku, and David Nicholson, president of Polyconcept North America. “Our focus this year is on innovation, leveraging the San Francisco location to bring in some excellent speakers,” says Graham. “We’re bringing speakers in on wide-ranging topics from artificial intelligence and innovation in technology to the impact of the election on the economy and our industry.”

Nicholson adds, “We have also balanced the agenda with a number of sessions that connect these themes with our industry and highlight implications for the attendees’ businesses.”


NALC Work Group members are Jeff Batson, CAS, Rod Brown, CAS, Lee Strom, David Nicholson, Catherine Graham and Nate Robson.

Among the sessions presented on Monday were those on the economy and the potential impact of the upcoming election; competing through business innovation and enterprise marketing; business models and innovation, business disruption and how demographics, technology and globalization could affect the industry landscape by 2020.

More than 130 principals and key executives representing many of the industry’s top companies are in attendance from across North America and as far away as Australia. Of these, 25 percent are first-time attendees. Long-time NALC participant Bobby Lehew of distributor ROBYN, Inc., who led a Monday breakout session on the most frequently used apps, readily shares his thoughts about the program. “There’s a spirit here at NALC that I love, that of deliberate progressiveness. Disruption, in and of itself, can often be viewed as an incendiary act, something with clear winners and losers. But an open attitude toward deliberate progressiveness is a disruptive attitude we can all embrace, where change and the willingness to change becomes a rational response to our own creative evolution.”

PPB Rising Star Kenny Ved of supplier Goldstar, says he is glad to have attended the conference. “As a first-timer, I really appreciate the education side of it. I’m having a different perspective just looking at the marketplace.”


NALC attendees take a break between sessions: Rick Brenner, MAS+, Jeff Lederer, Joe Hoffmann and Paula Schulman, CAS.

His colleague, Howard Cubberly, explains his reason for attending. “We are trying to look to the future, to look to 2020 and say, ‘Where are we now, where do we want to go?’ This helps us get a little outside of ourselves, and see the world and markets as a whole and start to break it down as to how we can think about our business.”

Ruth Verver, CAS, of distributor Paperclip Promotions, one of the smaller companies participating in the conference, was finding a slightly different kind of value. “Being a relatively small fish in this pond, it’s fantastic to have quick conversations with people who have been in my shoes. They are so willing to give advice and suggestions and say, ‘Here’s the three things I wish I knew when I was your size.’ For me, sometimes I get more from this than the people on the stage.”

Todd Gabel of supplier Toddy Gear says he is most inspired so far by speaker Eric McDermott, who spoke on Monday morning about innovation. “He recommended a book by Larry Keeley that breaks innovation down into 10 stages of a value proposition. You can break innovation down by logistics, product or customer service. That was an ‘aha’ moment for me because innovation is so huge—but, really, innovation can happen in the smallest parts of the business.”

NALC continues through today with seven educational sessions and wraps up tonight with a dinner cruise on San Francisco Bay and a private, after-hours tour of historic Alcatraz Island.