This month, we continue our leadership spotlight series with a feature on Jim Stouffer, Merkle RMG’s vice president of technology services.
Meet Jim Stouffer
As our resident IT wizard, Jim oversees security, connectivity, software applications and hardware, and facility/property management. We rely on him to ensure that our technology and infrastructure support Merkle RMG’s current operations, growth and emerging services.
Jim has held a progression of technology management and production positions since joining the company more than 25 years ago. He brings a strategic, results-based approach to aligning Merkle RMG’s technological capabilities with our business goals. Learn more in the Q&A below.
You started working at Merkle RMG at an early age. Could you describe your journey to your current executive role at the company?
I joined the company at age 16 because I needed a job to pay for my car insurance. I wanted to do something other than retail or fast food, and a friend of mine worked here. So, I started working four nights a week encoding the lines at the bottom of checks. I’d already done some programming at home and at school, just for fun, so it seemed like a good part-time evening job where I could make money until I went off to college.
Once I got here, I enjoyed what I did, and I met some great people. And as the business started to change direction and the company kept advancing, I was able to take part in new things. I started doing data entry, outputs of data for clients and system management. Then I got into managing hardware and the imaging system, and then programming. It was a chance to do some of the tech-related things I was already doing in my personal life, but had never done professionally.
Whether it was replacing a mainframe system with a network, or supporting new clients who needed new solutions — the work fit my passion, which is innovation. The growth of the company very much paralleled my career path.
Over time, I had more influence and ability to help set the direction of Merkle RMG’s business, and it’s been that way for 26 years.
How would you describe Merkle RMG’s culture? What does it mean to you in terms of how you approach your role with the company?
Overall, the feel of the organization is very professional. We know what we’re doing, but we’re also willing to acknowledge when we don’t have all the answers and need to develop new solutions.
This is also a very relaxed, friendly culture. When someone comes in, they’re going to experience a warm and welcoming place. We don’t have the rigid rules our competitors have because we believe that flexibility and collaboration lead to happier employees that deliver a higher level of service to our clients.
We also believe in inclusion and letting people know that their work matters. Whether it’s caging mail or talking to clients, each person plays a different but important role. Everyone here is an expert in what they do. If you’re in the building, you’re adding value.
What philosophies do you apply to your work?
Expect that you’re going to have to learn something new each day. Never allow yourself to sit back and think, “I know everything I can know.” Almost every single day, when I leave here, I know something that I didn’t know the day before.
That’s why I encourage my staff to always be open to suggestions. Not every suggestion is going to work every time, but you should always communicate in a way that doesn’t shut people out from sharing ideas.
Also, don’t just report a problem — be prepared to help solve it. When someone comes to me with an issue, I want to have some idea of how they’d like to see it resolved. That challenges people to consider repercussions more closely. It forces them to think, “If I’m the one who has to fix it, how does it get done?” It gives people a vested interest in creating a solution that works.
What are your goals for your area of business at Merkle RMG? What business challenges are you trying to solve? As the market changes, are there any challenges you’re anticipating?
I want to eliminate any thinking that “we’ve always done it this way” and always be thinking, “How can I get a better result?” The goal is constant evolution. Nothing we have is the final product. We’re constantly pushing the envelope in some way, and there’s always something new we’re working on that our competitors aren’t doing.
From a tech standpoint, this year is about expanding the services we offer and being able to do the same things in faster, easier ways. And, most important — it’s about making things even better for our clients.
Ultimately, everything we do is to help our clients be successful, because if they’re not, we’re not. So, a lot of our initiatives center on supporting new services, refining our methods and improving our processes to offer clients more value.
Adapting to Market Changes
We always want to keep our business growing even as the market continues to change. As direct mail volumes continue to decline, we’re thinking about how to grow other services tied to maintaining and analyzing data, and creating opportunity for more personalized interactions. And, how we can meet market needs not served by other companies. Right now, we’re the only ones thinking about using data to drive the one-to-one experience of a donor — knowing who they are, what they buy, what they give to, what they care about. We’re also continuing to transition our business so we’re multi-pronged and able to manage every channel for our clients through a full suite of services.
We’re also making a major investment in our security systems this year. We used to have ID badges, but we’ve decided biometrics is the most secure way to go. Right now, we’re in the process of installing fingerprint readers throughout the facility. The new system will strengthen our access control and allow real-time monitoring so we know who’s here, at what time, and where. Safety isn’t just about who gets in — it’s also about knowing who’s in the building and making sure they get out if there’s a problem. So it’s about protecting our staff as well as our clients.
What do you like to do for fun?
I have a long-time interest in sports car racing. I joined multiple drivers clubs in the early 2000s and went through their training programs, and then I’d rent cars to race (legally) at regional tracks just for fun. I’ve raced classic Minis, Miatas, Ford Pintos, a 350Z, to name a few. It was exhilarating. The first time you head into a hairpin turn at over 100 mph, it’s quite an experience!
I go to lots of concerts; I’ve been to at least 40 concerts over the past 20 years, from Bruno Mars to Kid Rock to Willie Nelson. I also enjoy traveling, even if it’s just a day trip. Growing up, my mother didn’t have the opportunity to take us on a lot of trips. Now that I have an 8-year-old daughter, I want to be able to give her memorable experiences involving different peoples, cultures and locations, and I’ve taken her on several international and domestic trips. I try to do lots of activities that will help her build character, plus just have some fun. She loves pro wrestling, so I recently took her to two WWE events, and we had an incredible time. I’ve never seen her get so excited!
I always try to stay up to date on what’s happening in the larger marketplace. Every year, I take multiple classes to help me grow what I know and what I can do. I’m also involved with the local zoning appeals board, so I learn things that help us when Merkle RMG undertakes building initiatives. And, I’m on the board of a regional bank, so I know what’s going on in the banking industry outside of what we do. Additionally, I joined the PTA at my daughter’s school to make sure I can contribute there (Go PHE Dragons!). All those things have also taught me how to manage different conversations with different people. Communication methods are drastically different between meetings at the bank and at the PTA, and being involved with different groups helps me be a better communicator and manager.