It was over a year ago that the pandemic first pushed promotional products companies to the brink. To survive, distributors and suppliers had to adapt and get creative. They made new products, serviced new markets, even launched completely new business models. In short, they reinvented themselves.

ASI Media is celebrating that resourcefulness with “Reinvention Week” – a series of stories that honor promo’s ingenuity and explain how to stay agile in the face of future challenges.

Lou Weisbach is back.

The venerated entrepreneur re-entered the promotional products industry with a splash in late 2020 when he announced he was leading an investment group that was acquiring Top 40 distributor Overture Promotions (asi/288473). Weisbach and his team, along with the distributor’s leadership that was already in place, have aggressive plans for growth and global expansion.

Still, the plunge back into promo is only the latest of what has been many career progressions and well-navigated twists and turns for Weisbach, who began his professional life as a teacher and high school basketball coach before going on to succeed as an entrepreneur and philanthropist.

Weisbach, who Counselor named Person of the Year in 1996, became an industry celebrity after founding distributor Ha-Lo (as it was known then) in the early 1970s and building the firm over the years, including taking it public in 1992. At one point under Weisbach, Ha-Lo’s revenues stood at $740 million and the company employed 5,200 people in 55 offices in 11 countries. Weisbach no longer has any affiliation with the firm, which has become Top 40 distributor HALO Branded Solutions (asi/356000).

Since exiting HALO a couple of decades ago, Weisbach has been active in a variety of ventures. Central to his success in each has been that he’s always found ways to evolve and adapt – to reinvent himself along the way. In this exclusive Q&A, he discusses his long career, his keys to succeeding in new ventures, and the reason he decided to jump back into the promo industry.

In a recent episode of Promo Insiders, ASI Media Digital News Director Christopher Ruvo spoke with Weisbach and Overture Promotions CEO Jo Gilley about their plans to evolve Overture.

Q: What other professional pursuits did you engage in after your time with Ha-Lo ended?
A: After leaving Ha-Lo, I was fortunate to have a remarkable run of life experiences, including being Chairman of the Giving Back Fund, Chairman of the Jefferson Trust for Bill Clinton and the Democratic National Committee, and CEO of Stadium Capital, a sports finance company that was a Morgan Stanley affiliate. I worked on a variety of major league sports initiatives in multiple sports, as well as working on corporate boards and in advisory services. I also worked at Cancer Treatment Centers of America and led a national COVID response effort.

Q: What role has being adaptable as you’ve changed your business pursuits had in your career?
A: I’ve always been driven to achieve professionally and cared deeply about relationships and social responsibility. Life certainly takes us all down a challenging pathway, but focus, determination and resilience tend to prevail. With that in mind, I approached every unique opportunity from the perspective of learning everything about the challenge and whatever industry I was focusing on. I then went about creating an outside-of-the box thought process relative to adding value and creating positive change.

“I’ve always viewed our industry as a family that I hope I’ve been able to make a material contribution to. Over the years, I consistently considered a return, provided there was the right opportunity, vision and partners.” Lou Weisbach

Q: What compelled you to get back into the promo industry?
A: I’ve always viewed our industry as a family that I hope I’ve been able to make a material contribution to. Over the years, I consistently considered a return, provided there was the right opportunity, vision and partners. Having the combination of Overture, my business partners Michael Nemlich and Mark Serdar, and Westbridge Capital has provided that opportunity. [Weisbach, Serdar and Nemlich, along with private equity firm Westbridge Capital, are the owners of Overture.]

Q: How will the Lou Weisbach heading up Overture these days be different than the Lou who was last at Ha-Lo?
A: I’ve been fortunate over the last 20 years to expand my network globally. My subsequent experiences and relationships have the potential to be a significant asset in executing our vision and mission. The network will also provide dynamic and expanded capabilities that will serve as a unique asset to our clients.

Q: Can you tell us about the founding of Ha-Lo?
A: I was teaching and coaching high school basketball after graduating from DePaul University. After marrying at 21, I needed supplemental income and went to work for a friend in the industry for a few months. Being an entrepreneur at heart, I started Ha-Lo in late 1971 with a $3,500 loan from my extraordinary mother. I used the name of my mother’s retail business, which was a derivative of her two sons’ names – Hal and Lou.

Q: How did you go about growing Ha-Lo over the next couple decades?
A: Ha-Lo grew gradually, financed by bank debt and retained earnings for the first 20 years. The key drivers were the family atmosphere. The first 85 employees were virtually all friends and family, or relationships introduced by them. The main point of differentiation was our unique sports signage and branding in stadiums around the world, including the contract we signed to have our logo on the players’ seats of the Chicago Bulls in Michael Jordan’s rookie year.

Q: In 1992, Ha-Lo went public – a huge deal not just for the company but the whole industry. Can you tell us about that?
A: I saw a great opportunity to take Ha-Lo and its unique brand public, giving us a currency for acquisitions that no one else had in our industry at the time. Our banker who took us public was Michael Nemlich, who became a trusted friend and business associate. It also gave the company a form of visibility in the industry that none of our competition had.

Q: Can you speak to the circumstances around your departure from Ha-Lo?
A: I’m very proud of the accomplishments of our Ha-Lo family in the 27 years I was there. We built a collaborative culture that served our team, clients, and the industry well. When the makeup of the board and its direction moved to a place I was opposed to, I chose to step down.

Q: You’ve been active as a philanthropist. What motivated you to get involved?
A: My wife and I have tried to provide help to those less fortunate. We try to do so quietly and anonymously wherever possible. It has been one of the most important blessings and opportunities of our lifetime.