Several leaders of companies on the inaugural PPAI 100 – the definitive ranking of leading suppliers and distributors in the promotional products industry – shared their leadership strategies during a panel discussion at The PPAI Expo Conference.

Moderator Josh Ellis, PPAI’s publisher and editor-in-chief, guided the conversation on how these leaders work on – not in – the business.

“When I became CEO, I thought I had to wear all the hats and work 18 hours a day,” says Mark Gammon, CEO of Cap America (PPAI 111597, S10) – ranked the No. 11 supplier in the PPAI 100. “At the end of the day, allowing employees to make decisions and empowering departments has helped me immensely. We’ve grown a lot because of it.”

Indeed, hiring the right people and trusting that they’ll perform to the best of their abilities was a common theme.

“From our perspective, we really invest a lot into strategic growth and strategic talent that comes from both inside and outside the industry,” says Christine Puglisi, co-owner and chief marketing officer of ePromos Promotional Products (PPAI 212648, D11) – ranked the No. 19 distributor in the PPAI 100. “We get this interesting perspective on our executive team that allows us to look forward in a different lens.”

Corporate Leadership Measures

With the objective of creating a broad and holistic ranking of promo firms, the PPAI 100 takes into account virtually every key measure of corporate leadership for its scoring.

For example, Gemline (PPAI 113948, S11) – ranked the No. 5 supplier in the inaugural PPAI 100 – received high marks for employee happiness, among other categories. Gemline President and CEO Frank Carpenito explained how the Lawrence, Massachusetts-based company has been a perennial honoree of PPAI’s Greatest Companies To Work For.

“We expect our associates to play an active role in how we advance our culture,” Carpenito says, adding that Gemline conducts pulse surveys throughout the year to gauge employee sentiment on different aspects of the organization. “We try to ensure that our value set is embodied across the organization regardless of our mental boundaries, work schedules or geographies. It’s about how we treat each other, how we celebrate wins and console each other on our losses.”

Meanwhile, Daron Hines, president of Staples Promotional Products (PPAI 108945, D15) – ranked the No. 3 distributor in the PPAI 100 – addressed how the company’s prioritization of professional development, for which it received high marks, has been a “tremendous competitive advantage.”

“We look at it holistically because a variety of things create the whole person,” Hines says. “We’re proud that our employees want to be professionally developed. It’s good for them personally, our customers and for partnerships with suppliers. We’re committed to people leader development, creating emotionally intelligent leaders who give adequate feedback to team members. Because when we show up for our customers, we want to have industry knowledge, be vertical experts and understand our customers’ issues.”

Progress To Be Made

Corporate social responsibility also dominated the discussion, as leaders explained the future value of dedicating executive attention to it today.

“We took what was already there and amplified it, putting energy and resources behind our CSR initiative,” Puglisi says. “It’s important to measure it from a data perspective, so we partner with suppliers who have ESG and DEI goals, which allows us to report on it.”  

While Hines encouraged promo firms to partner with EcoVadis, one of the premiere business sustainability ratings providers, he admitted that Staples has more work to do when it comes to promoting diversity, equality and inclusion internally.

  • Nearly half (48%) of PPAI 100 suppliers and more than a third (36%) of PPAI 100 distributors have completed a sustainability audit from EcoVadis or a similar organization, according to the 2023 State of Responsibility.

“If you don’t measure DEI, you won’t make progress,” Hines says. “You either get left behind, change alongside others or lead the change. We want to lead.”