Counselor Power 50: Eric Belcher

Meet The CEO Of InnerWorkings

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Eric BelcherThese are the facts. When Eric Belcher joined InnerWorkings (asi/168860) in 2005, the company had 97% of its business based in Illinois. The company's yearly revenue was $76.5 million. Today, the distributor has recorded seven straight quarters of growth; is on pace for revenue between $780 and $810 million in 2012; underwent a massive international expansion; and is knocking on the door of becoming a Top 10 distributor in the ad specialty industry. Says Belcher, who became CEO in 2009: "I, along with others at InnerWorkings, had the vision of becoming a major global player across all physical branded marketing materials."

That's about the biggest personal boast that can be elicited out of the company president and CEO. While Belcher staunchly believes in his company's unique approach – "We're convinced it's the way of the future," is a common sentiment of his – he nimbly deflects any notion of sole ownership for InnerWorkings' rapid success. For example, what effect has Belcher had on the culture of the company?

"We ultimately measure ourselves based on our clients' opinion of us," says the 44-year-old, mentioning the company's 98% client retention rate. "That's a big part of the culture. And that hasn't changed, and I don't expect it to change going forward based on the way in which we manage our business."

While many of the same values have been maintained on the inside, outward success has come quickly. The publicly-traded company grew its promotional product revenue by 27% from 2007 to 2011, and is slated to grow its overall revenue in 2012 by as much as 22% compared to last year. Belcher admits the company is in "full-blown growth mode right now."

So, how has the Chicago-based distributor done it? It starts with its method of doing business – offering an array of branded services, which include promotional products as well as print management, direct mail, signage, fulfillment and more. The offering, Belcher says, is unique and enticing to its clients, even if it takes some effort to convince corporations that they should look to a single provider for all of these services.

"It takes quite a bit of education and trust," he says. "Yet it's a logical approach, and therefore, once we have an opportunity to show a client what we mean, how it works and our track record … it can be a very convincing and persuasive argument."

Next, Belcher spearheaded an aggressive expansion. InnerWorkings raised its national profile and then made a global jump, rising from selling in just a half-dozen countries a couple of years ago to 44 countries today, with flagship offices in Brazil and France. Its strategy is to expand to the international markets in which its Fortune 500 clients are located to help service them better. (For example, InnerWorkings is now working with one high-level client in 15 different countries.) Besides some additional planned expansion in Asia, the distributor is focusing on fleshing out the international strongholds it has built. "I don't think we'll be looking to grow from 44 countries to 200 countries in the next two years," Belcher says. "It's more about growing with existing and new clients in markets where we're established but not currently supporting them." What else is on Belcher's plate? Additional collaboration across countries. Diversifying its client portfolio by working with middle market-sized companies. And, establishing internal creative studios, as it did for one Fortune 500 company. With no signs of let-up, the company's rapid rise validates the vision set forth years ago. It even allows Belcher to indulge in a moment of pride. "We've been thinking big all along," he says. "Along the way, we were told our approach wouldn't work, particularly from people within our industry. But we hear that a little less now."