There are hundreds and thousands of books, articles, and blogs written about leadership daily. Any aspiring and ambitious person could pick them up and skim through them, or even read them closely. But, as a matter of fact, all the knowledge in the world can’t make a good leader. It’s only the care for the work and the people who collaborate with you that makes the difference. This is in large part just because people want to follow a passionate and agile leader. For innovation to flourish, organizations must create an environment that fosters creativity; bringing together multi-talented groups of people who work together in close collaboration— exchanging knowledge, ideas and shaping the direction of the future. Passionate about offering clients impeccable service and new, out-of-the box solutions to serve their promotional marketing programs, and creating a work environment that makes his organization an employee destination of choice is one such ingenious leader, Chris Behrens, President and CEO at YA.
The Pivotal Propelling Instance
Back in 2000, at the age of 39, Chris had the opportunity to lead a business for the first time. It was a Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) business named eTrac that created, delivered and serviced 911’s emergency tow management software. This was a strategic model where a venture capital firm acquired three businesses and needed someone to integrate them to create a new business. It was a significant and successful challenge, and the business was sold a year later.
That started Chris’ journey of growing and transforming companies and set him on the path of leading and guiding emerging organizations to ongoing success.
It also taught him how to maximize the confluence of marketing and technology and manage the break-neck speed of change. Back when Chris worked at eTrac in 2000, if one was lucky enough to have a mobile phone, that’s all it was – a phone. Chris is already imagining past today’s mobile/social-first environment to pursue new offerings in the marketing promotions space.
A Sagacious and Adept Professional
It is quite evident that the organizations led by creative leaders have a higher success rate in innovation, employee engagement, change and renewal. Chris took the helm of YA as the President and CEO in 2013. However, his journey to joining YA and helping the company achieve a strategic and financial turnaround began 17 years ago as he first executed business strategies to “turnaround and grow” companies. Before coming to YA, Behrens was at Baird Capital Partners. There, he was hired to develop and execute acquisition and investment strategies to build a company in the digital marketing services industry, serving as CEO and/or Board Member of the acquired company. Chris’ diligence at Baird led to an opportunity to represent banking lenders as their new Board member of YA, serving as Chairman starting in April of 2013.
Previously, Behrens was the President and the CEO of SourceLink, which, under his leadership, grew to become the fourth-largest privately held marketing services company in the United States. He worked to provide sales, marketing, operations and management leadership to extend SourceLink’s direct marketing capabilities to its customers by integrating direct marketing’s accountability, brand building impact and e-marketing interactivity. Prior to SourceLink, he was President and CEO of ETrac, his first platform for genesis as a leader. Behrens also held various positions at GE Financial Assurance, including Senior Vice President of Sales and Client Marketing. He began his career at OAG, a global publisher of airline and hotel information.
Pioneering Services and Solutions
As YA continues to innovate, the marketing promotions company is enhancing its client-centric approach to leapfrog the efforts of competitors. YA’s efforts are focused on easing the consumer journey so that they can provide and deliver ongoing engagement from clients to buy more without the concern of volume or scale.
The team, led by Chris, has successfully streamlined sales and account management, the contact center and promotion operations. YA has also invested $10.5M over the last three years in technology that transformed the company’s ERP, contact center, financial and HR systems and workflow management tools, moved the technology footprint to the cloud, reduced inefficiencies in processes, and recovered lost billings through improved contract management.
A tangible example of how this has positively impacted the business is a new client-friendly customer proposal process. The increased rigor in management and tracking has dramatically shortened the time to close a deal – from an average of a 6-9 month sales cycle to as short as 10 days from lead generation to contract signing.
Learn from the Learner Himself
The ability to think creatively to solve problems and motivate people is centered on common objectives. In today’s competitive environment, being smart is table stakes. A CEO today needs to show respect, listen to others, and have integrity to do what’s right.
“When I first started at as CEO of YA in 2013, I was the 7th CEO in 12 years. Later, I learned that some of the staff members referred to me as “Next….” People who had been here for decades questioned what I know about YA and about promotional marketing. And, it was a legitimate point. I had to prove my worth to the team and I knew that I had to earn their trust, not just expect it,” says Chris. The way forward was a shared vision that would succeed as a result of working together, and it’s manifestly working.
Foreseeing Innovation and Growth
Chris envisions transforming and scaling YA both through acquisition and organic growth, and enhancing the career opportunities for the people who work at YA with new product offerings and capabilities. The team will continue to push the needle on technological advancements, applying them at a faster rate to meet their clients’ marketing requirements using a business platform that can scale.