Every year at The PPAI Expo, the Association and its members celebrate the Icons that make the industry what it is today. This year, attendees of The PPAI Expo Conference held an opportunity to hear from the 2024 Icons directly at Monday’s networking luncheon.

Almost 400 industry professionals gathered for an introspective conversation on succeeding in the promotional products industry from professionals at very different points in their career. The secret to success that they all seemed to come back to: It’s people helping people.

Moderator Josh Ellis, PPAI’s publisher and editor-in-chief, guided the conversation featuring 2024 PPAI Hall of Fame inductee Dave DeGreeff, MAS, and 2024 Distinguished Service Award recipient Bill Petrie. They were joined by 2023 PPAI Rising Stars Chelsea Williams and Nadav Raviv, through a discussion on their perspectives on competition, mentorship, personal growth and more.

People First

Common to all of their stories were the people who helped them become who they are today. Williams shared the story of her first job in the industry, at 21, and the boss, Jan Nathanson, who trained her and the co-worker, herself nearing retirement, who took her on sales calls and showed her the ropes.

“Both of those women were so patient and taught me so much,” says Williams. “In 2022, I reached out to Jan and said that I was thinking about going out on my own and I wanted to pick her brain. She called me back within five minutes. She was so excited. That has now turned into monthly luncheons and constant knowledge sharing.

“It’s incredible, you know. She was my very first boss a decade ago and she’s still sharing her knowledge with me.”

Petrie shared the formative impact his late father-in-law had on his life, while Raviv said it was his mother, a school administrator, who pushed him into promotional products. “I was bartending and running nightclubs at the time and she tells me about this company that does, you know, shirts and cups and koozies. And I’m like, oh, dude, that’s so stupid! Who wants to do that? Boy, was I wrong!”

Raviv’s journey into promo also illustrated another facet of the promo industry that, for many, is one of its fundamental truths. “I’ve leaned on so many people in this industry, and everybody’s so welcoming. We don’t have competitors in this industry. We have friends and allies and peers, and there’s so much business out there, really. We don’t go against each other. We go for our clients.”

Petrie’s experience aligns with Raviv’s. It takes a village.

“When I got into this industry, the word was that it was founded on complete paranoia and mild alcoholism,” he says. “There’s some truth to that, but I’m backing off on the paranoia part. We used to be so worried about competition but now I see far more collaboration. That’s a testament to people looking at things differently and being open to sharing. We can really raise the entire industry.

DeGreeff adds, “I’m the oldest one up here, so I’ve done more evolving than maybe everybody else. And I feel that as you go through life, you become part of the people you are close to or come in contact with. They become part of you, and they mold who you are.

“We’re entrepreneurs, but we are not entrepreneurs doing it alone. You have your family, of course. And there are people who have passed away, but they live with me. I think about them a lot, and they have helped me do better.”

A Private Reception

Monday concluded for the 2024 PPAI Icons with the Chair’s Appreciation Dinner, an invitation-only event at Rivea, atop the Delano Hotel overlooking the Las Vegas Strip.

The evening brought together the Icons and approximately 40 invited guests.