A Leader's Journey
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 talked to Bill Mahre, president of ADG Promotional Products, Hugo, Minn. Here, Mahre opens up about his unconventional introduction to the promotional world, tackles industry concerns and more.
How did you first get started in this industry, and what path did you take to land in your current role?
Bill Mahre: My background has been a diverse journey. Started with Procter & Gamble, handling different challenges (i.e., Liquid Tide test market, merging of food and beverage organizations). Moved back to Minn., where we are originally from, and led the Minnesota Twins’ business operations. Professional sports is an exciting and highly visible career, but an all-encompassing lifestyle that was difficult for a young family. Then, helped the merging of three health care systems and led a nonprofit that provided employment opportunities for people with disabilities. My first entrée into the promotional products industry was leading the operations for two large merging distributorships. From there, I was approached to lead ADG, which had struggled to find profitability and a proper position in the industry, and [I thought it] was an intriguing challenge. [I’ve had a] lot of different business experiences that provided education on what it takes to lead and develop successful organizations.
How does the economy continue to affect the industry?
BM: The larger economic picture will always impact marketing budgets. We are projected toward another recession with higher interest rates in the next few years. Promotional and print companies just need to be aware of how customers are affected by this normal cycle of the U.S. and global economy, and be proactive in managing costs and expectations. Marketing always seems to be one of the first budgeted items reduced in tough times. Those organizations that are more proactive can find success when that occurs.
What do you expect to be some of the biggest changes or challenges the industry will face?
BM: There is a consolidation of distributors and suppliers that will continue. Additionally, we are seeing an influx of equity firms stepping into an industry that historically has been run by small, family-owned enterprises. This move raises expectations for financial performance and brings new perspective to the industry. In a channel fragmented with small market shares, organizations with strong balance sheets and points of differentiation will find success. Unfortunately, our current selling, distribution and pricing model is somewhat outdated and driving costs out of the system is critical. Today, our industry spends an inordinate amount of resources selling internally to each other and not enough emphasis is on showing end-user customers a value proposition. The speed of communication and access to information is growing exponentially each passing year and, in some respects, we continue to price items and operate like three decades ago—not a sustainable long-term model.
What keeps you up at night?
BM: Personnel decisions. Making sure we do the right things for our people, their families and the organization is challenging. Not every person’s skill sets fit into each situation perfectly, and making decisions on someone’s future is difficult. As a leader, it is my role to establish a culture that drives long-term success, but ultimately, it is also about finding good people who understand what is required to achieve goals.
What do you think is the most exciting, cutting-edge thing your company is doing right now? Why?
BM: Since we are part of a large corporation [Taylor Corporation], our access to information technology resources is fairly substantial. We are building rebranded sites that make it easier for distributors to sell and collect orders for numerous products, like calendars, planners, pens, etc. The sites are branded by distributor, and ADG is behind the curtain making the order process quicker, easier and better. Also, we just launched a new, patented light-up pen that epitomizes the promotional products industry. The customer’s logo lights up with a magna-size imprint and the pen can be personalized down to one. Who doesn’t love their brand or name in lights?
What would people be surprised to learn about you?
BM: My wife, Monica, and I started dating in the 9th grade and got married right after college. We have two adult children, who are married and successful in their careers. With three granddaughters living nearby, every outing with them creates special memories. I enjoy playing golf with my buddies and family, but just gave up competitive basketball after 50 years, as the knees won’t allow it anymore. Lettered four years in college football and when a couple of NFL scouts told my coach that “the kid has million-dollar hands and a 10-cent body,” I figured the job offer from P&G looked pretty good.
Elise Hacking Carr is editor-in-chief/content director for Print+Promo magazine.