Pam El is the newest board member at Ranpak, a manufacturer of protective paper packaging materials and systems.
Each chapter of Pam El’s career has been more interesting and impressive than the next. After almost two decades in advertising, followed by executive marketing roles in companies spanning startups to big insurance to the NBA, she now owns her own consulting practice. She has also dedicated the final chapter of her career to board service. She recently joined the board at Ranpak, where she is positioned to leverage her marketing background to support the company through unprecedented changes in the retail and sustainability landscape.
Tell us more about your background and the transitions you’ve made in your career as an advertising and marketing executive.
Pam spent the early years of her career within advertising agencies, supporting clients across all verticals. After developing a deep industry expertise, she made the calculated decision to switch to the client side. Pam found a home within the insurance world, taking increasingly senior roles and ascending to Vice President at State Farm and SVP at Nationwide. However, in 2014 Pam landed her “dream job”, as she calls it. Pam admits herself a sports fanatic, with basketball her favorite sport. To land the job of EVP and Global CMO of the NBA was truly a dream come true.
However, unsurprisingly, Pam’s ambition didn’t stop there. Her vision for the final chapter of her career was clear: board service. After nearly five years, Pam left the NBA. She took a year to travel and “play” (which, as expected given Pam’s record, was hardly that; she also established her consulting practice). Pam then turned her attention to board opportunities.
Why is board work important to you?
Pam’s passion for board service stems from having seen it in action as an executive over the years. “The ‘noses in, fingers out’ approach is truly unique,” she shares. “Board work focuses on strategy that guides execution.” The opportunity to transition from her previous experience and focus in the corporate world was intriguing to her.
Pam also notes, “I didn’t want to sit around in retirement!” Her unmatched energy – as well as her desire to continue evolving her career – is a fantastic fit for board service.
How were you connected with the Ranpak board?
In business and in life, connections are everything. Pam had worked with Michael Gliedman at the NBA, where he was Chief Information Officer. After he left the NBA, they stayed in touch. Michael subsequently became a Ranpak board member and then the company’s CTO. In late 2019, Michael introduced Pam to Omar Asali, CEO of Ranpak.
Pam flew to New York in March 2020 to meet several of Ranpak’s board members. She recalls having wonderful conversations and capping off the trip with a Knicks game. As luck would have it, a week later the COVID-19 pandemic brought all business travel to a screeching halt.
Omar called Pam shortly after her trip. She had impressed the board and Omar wanted to move forward. Pam inquired, “so am I still interviewing?” Omar simply said, “My word is my bond.
Pam was moved by Omar’s transparency and integrity; it further affirmed to her that Ranpak was the right fit. She now feels incredibly lucky to have met her fellow board members in person, although she’s been impressed by the board’s focus and perseverance in a virtual setting.
What advice do you have for a Black professional seeking board opportunities?
“Watch and listen to people who look and act like the person you want to become,” Pam shares. She believes you can learn a lot just from keeping your eyes and ears open. Pam also notes that she has built a great network, particularly of African American females, who have supported her in her career. When she decided to explore board roles, they were equally invested in her success.
Pam’s roles on nonprofit boards, including service at her alma mater, Virginia Commonwealth University, also shaped her skills and experience. “I had often been told that non-profit work didn’t count. I disagree with that,” says Pam. She explains that the governance, materials and board discussions were excellent preparation for her work at Ranpak.
Lastly, Pam advises diverse candidates to be discerning about board roles. “If someone comes to you and says ‘I just need an African American female,’ turn and walk away,” notes Pam. “What they should say is [I need] consumer data expertise, someone who has dealt with customers. And I’m looking for diversity on my board so I would prefer an African American female.”
The sage advice comes from someone who has not only blazed a trail in marketing and advertising, but also committed the latter half of her career to giving back. Pam’s contributions – both to Ranpak’s board as well as to future African American board candidates – will not go unappreciated.