The Marvin Spike Lifetime Achievement Award recognizes a distributor or supplier whose innovative and progressive spirit have paved the way to both personal and business success in the promotional products industry.

Back in 1902, an enterprising businessman named F.L. Vernon founded The Vernon Company (asi/351700). No doubt if he were around today, he would be smiling at the achievements of his grandson William F. “Bill” Vernon, who has spearheaded the 111-year-old business to unprecedented success levels while being the consummate family man and philanthropist. F.L. would be proud, too, that his grandson’s legacy of hard work, dedication to the ad specialty industry and business-building acumen are why Bill is the recipient of the 2013 Marvin Spike Lifetime Achievement Award. “I’ve been fortunate to have led a rich life,” says Bill Vernon.

After completing college and two years in the Army, Vernon joined the Newton, IA-based family business in 1956. “My dad would take me on business trips when I was growing up, and I always assumed I would go into the company,” he says. Still, Vernon didn’t just step into a cushy executive role. “I went through training in various departments and ended up in sales,” he says. “It was a great way to learn the industry.”

The expertise Vernon accumulated over the next two decades prepared him well to take over as CEO in 1974 – a position he still holds today. From his pre-CEO days to the present, Vernon has witnessed – and been at the center of – the vast expansion of the ad specialty industry. Given an industry perspective that spans more than five decades, Vernon is a kind of ad specialty historian who can spin stories about how the number of suppliers and distributors has expanded exponentially, how the introduction of widespread education offerings has enhanced expertise of industry personnel, and how product categories have proliferated. “We’ve seen a whole transition from a calendar-dominated industry to one dominated by wearables,” he says. “I think wearables will continue to be the major category.”

While Vernon has served as chairman of PPAI and the Iowa Association of Business and Industry, his civic, cultural and governmental activities could also easily fill a scroll. He has been everything from chairman of the U.S. Olympic Committee for Iowa, civilian aide to the Secretary of the Army for Iowa, and a delegate to the Republican Party National Convention, to the founder of the Iowa Games and director of the Mid Iowa Council of Boy Scouts. His awards and recognitions include the Army’s “Outstanding Civilian Service Medal,”Counselor‘s “Person of the Year,” and being inducted into the Iowa Volunteer Hall of Fame.

For a while now, the accomplished team at Vernon has included the CEO/chairman’s four adult children. Their involvement puts The Vernon Company in line to remain one of only about 30 companies in the U.S. that is more than 100 years old, owned by the founding family, and still in the same industry. Having helped accomplish that feat is a source of pride for Vernon. “I’d like to be remembered,” he says, “as someone who worked hard to better the business and to pass along the accumulated knowledge of our company.”

Reprinted from Counselor magazines State of the Industry 2013 issue

Watch a video interview done after Bill Vernon received the award: