Executive Perspectives: Cathy Armstrong of RBO
As part of Print+Promo Marketing’s ongoing feature, Executive Perspectives, we get to know leading professionals in the print and promotional industry. This month, we interviewed Cathy Armstrong, CEO of RBO, St. Louis. Here, she reflects on the career highlights that earned her a C-suite role, shares her pandemic takeaways and previews her long-term business strategy.
How did you get started in this industry, and what path did you take to land in your current role?
Cathy Armstrong: I started in the marketing supply chain business when I went to work for my father’s company in 1991 supporting our primary customer, McDonald’s Corporation. I was a print buyer responsible for the Happy Meal program, managing the printing, finishing and fulfillment of the displays and toys. Over the next 18 years, my responsibilities expanded as the organization grew and included focus [on] customer service, operations, new client on-boarding, an ERP conversion in 1999, and account management for top brands including Walgreens, The Home Depot, Sears, Borders Books and Kraft Foods. The opportunity to work across every aspect of our business model while supporting top brands provided me with the experience I needed to expand my career with other companies and clients. Over the last 15 years, I’ve worked for two commercial printers and two other top marketing supply chain organizations, primarily managing client service teams but always with a focus on operational efficiencies, processes and technology integrations. When the opportunity presented itself to replace Jim Riley, the founder and CEO of RBO PrintLogistix (now simply RBO), I [felt] it was exactly the right timing and the right role for me as a next step in my career.
How do you set goals for yourself? For your business?
CA: I’ve always been focused on the needs of the customers first and I believe that has helped me set goals for myself, as well as the organization I’m supporting. What I’m learning in my new role is to think about the broader needs of the company across all teams as opposed to just the sales or operations. Part of the reason Jim hired me was to bring best practices to a 35-year-old company to position us to succeed in the next generation of RBO so we have a significant amount of change management underway. That in itself has created numerous goals, both personal as well as for RBO.
How does the economy continue to affect the industry?
CA: We are feeling the same pressures with supply chain challenges as our competitors. There’s a significant focus on adding qualified supplier partners while working with existing partners to forecast material needs and secure products further in advance of when we traditionally would have. To meet timelines, we’ve become more creative in how to source products and hold press time months in advance. I believe COVID and the way it’s changed how we work has opened the opportunity to look at things differently. There are fewer rules and less of “because that’s the way we’ve always done it” in our approach to managing our business and processes. As much as it’s a challenge, it can be rewarding to think outside the box more than we may have previously.
What do you expect to be some of the biggest changes or challenges the industry will face?
CA: The supply chain challenges will be here for longer than we’d like and the increase in material costs, as well as extended lead times, will continue to create complications in meeting our clients’ needs. Additionally, the focus on recruiting and retaining top talent is a key area that we are constantly addressing. There will always be someone offering better pay and benefits, [so] we must make sure we keep our employees engaged and feeling appreciated. More than ever, employee satisfaction is as important as client satisfaction.
What keeps you up at night?
CA: The number of changes we are currently executing can become overwhelming, but RBO has one of the best senior leadership teams in any business I’ve ever been a part of, and I know we will have great success. Everything we are doing is necessary for RBO to continue to be a best-in-class partner for our clients and a best-in-class employer for our associates. Constant communication to our teams across all parts of the business — so they know we are here to support them and are working on improvements that will allow them to grow and be more successful in their careers — is so important to me.
What do you think is the most exciting, cutting-edge thing your company is doing right now?
CA: We are currently implementing a new ERP system that will bring significant benefits and process improvements to the organization and our clients. This is the foundation that will allow us to support the growth and expanded capabilities that are part of our long-term strategy. We are also onboarding a recent acquisition and I’m excited for both teams to share best practices and learn from each other. The synergies that each company brings align so well with our goals — it is really exciting to be a part of.
What would people be surprised to learn about you?
CA: I’d love to say I have a secret passion for playing the guitar or flying helicopters like a few of my co-workers, but sadly that’s not the case. I still have my home in the north Georgia mountains (and that may be surprising to some — Georgia does have mountains), and I love when I can travel back on weekends to sit on my deck and enjoy the view. I have the best of both worlds — St. Louis is a great city with so much to offer, and I still get to enjoy quiet time in Blue Ridge.
Elise Hacking Carr is editor-in-chief/content director for Print+Promo magazine.