Counselor Power 50: Michael Bernstein & David Nicholson

Meet The Heads Of The World's Largest Supplier Company

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Bernstein and NicholsonYou're not going to compare me to Michael Corleone, are you?," laughs Michael Bernstein, the recently-installed chairman and CEO of Polyconcept, referring to the famous Godfather quote from Vito's favorite son: "Just when I thought I was out, they pull me back in."

He's asking because Bernstein, though he's always retained a seat on the Polyconcept board, had, in fact, left the industry entirely three years ago to run his boutique guitar company and immerse himself in the music industry. But as of May of this year, he was back in the promotional products business and at the helm of the world's largest supplier company.

The why of that is the real question. "The reality was that Polyconcept was facing significant challenges in Europe for a number of reasons, and the Board asked if I would get involved, and I thought I could potentially help," Bernstein says, adding that he felt a sense of loyalty to the company, as his father founded Leed's, the flagship entity within Polyconcept North America. "The opportunity to transform the business model in Europe to more reflect what we've been successful doing in North America was a terrific challenge. Time will tell if everything we're planning works, but from a business challenge standpoint, coming back to the industry felt like the right next step for me."

When asked about his outlook for the industry in 2013, Bernstein points out that his perception is framed in an international context as he's spent the majority of this year in markets outside the U.S. "While the North American market appears to be stable and could continue to grow at a moderate rate, the problems in Europe will continue into 2013 and possibly beyond," he says. "We anticipate the European market to be down around 10% in 2013, after declines of approximately 15% overall in 2012 and 10% down in the second half of 2011. The European crisis is having a ripple effect throughout the world and poses significant risks to the North American market, so we're taking an overall conservative approach to 2013."

Just how conservative? "I think it's a difficult period for the industry and global economy in general," Bernstein says. "We're expecting industry revenues in North America to be moderately up 1%-3% barring any major macroeconomic disruptions. For our companies, we're looking at growth of 4%-8% before taking into account new initiatives such as our apparel launch into the U.S."

David Nicholson, who oversees the company's U.S. and Canadian business as president of Polyconcept North America, views the official launch of Trimark apparel into the U.S. market as the company's major initiative next year. "This is our top priority for 2013 and we're very excited to bring it to our distributors," he says. "We will be hiring more employees next year to support the growth of our core businesses as well as our apparel expansion."

With Bernstein's main goal for next year to "increase profitability," he aims to develop a truly global supplier company that gives Polyconcept an opportunity to leverage its scale and expansive geographic positioning. "It seems to be the time in the industry when scale is going to become more of an issue," Bernstein says. "I don't think the global industry is growing, nor do I think it has long-term growth prospects that are dramatic, so it comes down to being more efficient and doing things better to gain market share. In most industries that are mature like ours, the largest players who use their assets most effectively tend to be the winners."