PPAI Magazine April 2024

products” was a foreign concept. She joined the company as its operations manager. “I believe in building something from scratch and creating a culture with people you respect and who have a similar work ethic,” Volker says. “He gave me the leeway to help run the business, which was very appealing to me. He was very allin, no hesitation. I appreciated that coming from a boot-strappy background.” Within two years, Volker transitioned into sales, quickly bringing in $1.2 million, and is the company’s longest-tenured employee. Lee Ann Mazzarisi met Sommer when she was working in design services for fashion house Kenneth Cole Productions. The company was hosting an in-store event and needed some T-shirts, so Mazzarisi Googled “millennial-owned T-shirt companies in the New York area” and stumbled upon Whitestone. “He took the time to pick up the phone, even when I didn’t have an active opportunity, just to check in on how I was doing and to see how the business was doing,” Mazzarisi says. “I had never received that level of service before. Our interactions never felt transactional. He was always anticipating our needs and wanting to make me look like a rock star. It felt like he was my partner and at times an extension of the Kenneth Cole brand.” The feeling was clearly mutual, as Sommer asked Mazzarisi if she would join Whitestone as director of brand operations. In February 2022, she made the leap to promo. Change Agent Sommer’s meeting of the minds in Las Vegas is not only an indicator of The PPAI Expo’s role as a central forum for conversations within the industry, but also an example of the organic conversations that can foster growth and change in promo. Those that know him well say that Sommers often stakes out territory in discussions like these. Wesley Danson, president of industry distributor organization The Partnering Group – of which Whitestone is a member – and president and CEO of Houston-based BMP Partners, has coined Sommer an “industry disruptor and change agent.” “Differing perspectives, fresh ideas and a wholesale new way of thinking help all of us to Joseph Sommer | Must Read Lee Ann Mazzarisi Wesley Danson PPAI • APRIL 2024 • 59