by Matt Alderton | July 05, 2018
On June 4, 2018, leading incentive and loyalty marketing awards provider Rymax Marketing Services Inc. made history by naming its first-ever female president, Eve Kolakowski.

A longtime employee and key executive at Rymax, Kolakowski joined the Pine Brook, N.J.-based company in 2000, after completing her studies at New Jersey's Seton Hall University. She has been the company's chief operating officer since 2008 and will continue in that capacity in the joint role of president and COO. Although Founder, Chairman and CEO Marc Farbstein will remain active in the firm, Kolakowski has assumed management of the company's day-to-day operations and overall strategy.

Just a few weeks into her tenure, Incentive magazine caught up with Kolakowski to discuss her rise to the top, her devotion to non-cash awards, and her vision both for Rymax and for the larger industry it represents.

You're the new -- and first woman -- president of Rymax. How did you get here? To what do you attribute your success?
Hard work, commitment, tenacity and confidence are important keys to success. It helps that I'm with a company that I believe in and an industry that I'm passionate about growing.

You joined Rymax in 2000. Because Rymax is an incentive and rewards provider, it only makes sense to ask: How did Rymax manage to keep you for nearly 20 years? What incentives and rewards motivated you to remain loyal to the company for so long? 
In 2000, I knew that we were building something great as an organization that would be industry changing. In turn, I grew with the company. I continued to develop as a professional learning from my team and the overall organization, which was extremely rewarding to me on a daily basis. In terms of tangible rewards, I think what I love the most about our portfolio of products is the diversity. We've always had a very strong product offering of top-notch brands. From handbags to electronics to cookware to jewelry and outdoor goods, we've always made sure that our portfolio of rewards offered robust choices.

What are your goals for Rymax, both in the short term and in the long term? Where do you see yourself taking the company?
Rymax is a successful and thriving company. I want to reenergize it and make it even greater, not just in the services offered to our clients, but in the environment that we've cultivated for our employees. We develop and manage employee engagement programs, customer loyalty programs, sales incentives platforms and corporate gifting. We're tremendous event planners, too. We create one-of-a-kind redemption experiences for our customers that are second to none. We do it all under one roof. The goal is to continue on this path of providing our accounts with the ultimate customer experience.

Likewise, what are your goals for the incentive industry? In your new position, you have an opportunity to steer the industry's ship to a certain extent; in what direction do you intend to point it?
All companies offer something unique. What makes us unique is our ability to be a one-stop shop. However, the one thing I think we should all share as an industry is the commitment to customer experience. Remembering always that customer experience is paramount ensures that our industry will thrive for years to come.

Your job is to help your customers retain and motivate employees. As a leader, how will you retain and motivate your own employees? You have an opportunity to lead your customers by setting an example for them; what lessons will your tenure as a leader teach them?
We, at Rymax, practice what we preach. We've created an environment where every employee is challenged and given a chance to shine. People are recognized and rewarded frequently, not just by management, but also by their peers. We have our own recognition program where employees can earn points to redeem for merchandise, but they can also earn badges from colleagues that publicly acknowledge them for a job well done. The program helps build respect and camaraderie among our employees.

Rymax is the leading merchandise award supplier. Why do you believe that merchandise awards are superior to cash? 
Merchandise rewards are tangible and long-lasting. Years after receiving it, a recipient remembers where/why/how they earned their reward and were recognized. With cash rewards, the money typically is spent toward bills. It's fleeting. People don't remember how they spent their cash reward. However, trophy value rewards resonate for years to come. Plus, merchandise is a better value to the employer than cash rewards, lending to a healthier bottom line. 

Likewise, why do you believe corporate incentive and consumer loyalty programs are better served by brand-name non-cash aspirational rewards? 
Loyalty programs aim to make people feel valued. The rewards need to reflect that objective. Delivering trending rewards with strong brand recognition elevates the perceived value of the item and the program and truly makes an impression on the recipient. It leaves the recipient feeling empowered, appreciated and excited. Providing rewards that matter most to the audience at hand properly conveys appreciation, but also drives engagement and fuels loyalty.