Executive Perspectives: Sai Koppaka of BEL USA
As part of Print+Promo’s ongoing feature, Executive Perspectives, we get to know leading professionals in the print and promotional industry. This month, we interviewed Sai Koppaka, CEO and president of BEL USA, Medley, Fla. Here, he talks about troubleshooting industry challenges, simplicity’s role in the customer experience and how to evolve past the status quo.
Sai Koppaka: I started at BEL USA as its chief marketing officer in 2015, and was promoted to the CEO role in 2016. My background is in e-commerce and digital marketing. I had worked at large corporations, such as Orbitz, Charles Schwab and Sears, in various e-commerce roles, and in 2015 I decided to look for opportunities at a smaller firm where I could make a real difference. When I visited BEL USA, I realized that it was one of the largest e-commerce businesses in promotional products with a unique business model, and decided to join and help us get to the next level.
How do you set goals for yourself? For your business?
SK: My one primary individual goal is continuous improvement. I love to read about and learn from other business and technology leaders to understand their thought process[es] while solving complex challenges.
For BEL USA, our primary goal is simplicity. As a business grows, it tends to become complex and create unnecessary barriers for its customers. I want our customers to have a very simple experience with us during every single interaction—product selection, order placement, order tracking and delivery. Every project we executed in 2017 was geared toward making things simpler for our customers and employees by leveraging technology and automation.
How does the economy continue to affect the industry?
SK: There have been eight straight years of economic expansion. I doubt this environment will last much longer. During a recession, businesses tend to cut marketing and promotional budgets first since it tends to be one of the easiest things to do; as a result, our industry could see an adverse impact. Promotional product companies that tend to have low overheads, and ones that are nimble would weather a recession and come out even stronger on the other side.
What do you expect to be some of the biggest challenges the industry will face?
SK: I’m fairly new to this industry, and I see some inertia and resistance to challenge status quo. I saw the same thing in retail when I worked at Sears, and we all know what’s happening there with Amazon. If we don’t evolve and meet our customers’ ever-changing needs, such as embracing mobile, providing lightning-fast delivery, etc., we open the door for outsiders to come in and gain a foothold. The quicker we evolve, the better it is for all of us.
What keeps you up at night?
SK: BEL USA’s primary business is conducted online, [so] cyber security is always on top of my mind. It’s a tough challenge to stay ahead of people and technology with malicious intent, but we try to do our best.
What do you think is the most exciting, cutting-edge thing your company is doing right now? Why?
SK: We are working on technology to move an order from our website to the production floor within minutes. Our customer expectations have changed due to applications such as [Amazon] Prime Now; they expect an order to be delivered on the same day, not two weeks later, and we need to meet those needs.
What would people be surprised to learn about you—hobbies, special interests, etc.?
SK: People are surprised to hear that I have a twin.
My wife and I love to travel. While it’s tough to take time off, we try to travel abroad a couple of times every year and experience new cultures and cuisines. We welcomed our first baby in October, [which] could put a dent in our travel plans for a bit.