ON THE LINE: Paul Bambei, ARVC’s New CEO
Paul Bambei is hitting the ground running as president and CEO of the Larkspur, Colo.-based National Association of RV Parks and Campgrounds (ARVC), having made his first industry appearances at ARVC’s InSites Convention in Las Vegas in early December.
A marketing and business development expert and entrepreneur who has worked for some well known companies, including Time Inc. and Comcast Corp., Bambei’s extensive business experience, self-confidence and personable nature are said to have made him an easy pick to succeed retiring exec Linda Profaizer at the first of the year.
Bambei (pronounced “Bambi”), whose strengths are marketing and business management, recently co-founded Jookt LLC, the nation’s first high school sports network, serving as its COO for the past four years, producing programs for broadcast television, cable and Internet distribution.
From 2004 to 2006, he was a key advisor to Luxembourg-based Intelsat Ltd., a leading provider of fixed satellites, and he also spent 20 years in senior management positions in the cable television industry, including vice president of operations for Comcast Corp.’s Comcast Media Center in Denver from 1999 to 2003
Bambei, who graduated in communications from Southeast Missouri State University and completed an advanced business management program at Denver University, tells contributor Evanne Schmarder in an ARVC-exclusive Internet interview that he’s eager to improve the trade association’s spirit of team play, to pursue a national marketing agenda and to purchase a new building in the Denver area on behalf of the small business people who make up the bulk of the trade association’s membership.
The 27-minute video, highlights of which appear below, is posted on the www.ARVC.org homepage.
Schmarder: Paul, I understand that you’re an RVer. Tell us a little bit about that.
Bambei: Well, it goes back about 10 years. I happen to be very fortunate in having a wife who loves the great outdoors. She did it as a child and she really convinced me that with our young children this is something that we ought to do, get away from the electronics and the craziness of the concrete jungle in Denver, where I’m from.
So we rented an RV from a local shop in Denver, and that was a learning experience because we didn’t really understand quality of RVs. So, we went to one initially that looked a little bit like what Robin Williams turned in at the end of his RV movie, only we had it at the beginning and it’s (renting) been the way that we’ve taken family vacations every summer since.
The only difference is that now we rent from a vendor who has a very good fleet of RV units. He turns them every year, brings in new, sells them and brings in new models the following year. So we’re delighted that we’re going out in new models, but the passion for RVing is what always counted with us and that’s why we enjoy it so much.
Schmarder: Has it made a difference in your children’s lives?
Bambei: I know it has because we started taking them out when they were three or four years old and initially the thrill was just climbing into the cabover and just seeing the sights from up above the driver cab. Since that time, it’s expanded to “let’s jump in the river and do some fly fishing. Let’s take a hike. Let’s do things we just don’t normally do at home.” So, that’s how it has created that quality of life in them, and I have no doubt when they’re older – let’s say I’m hoping that they own an RV instead of renting one, and are willing to take grandma and grandpa with them.
Schmarder: So let’s talk a little bit about business and your background — marketing and technology, small business owner, entrepreneur.
Bambei: That’s correct. I’ve been involved in both. My early career was spent primarily with large corporations. Time Warner is one that I think everybody will be familiar with, later on Comcast. And, of course, those are cable television corporations, very successful ones. I started in a marketing capacity. I was a director of marketing for Time Warner, corporately and that goes back a few years.
It was the early/mid ‘80s when — for those who can remember back that far – those were go go years… So there was a lot of marketing involved, getting the general public familiar with the features and benefits of a product like cable television.
Schmarder: When you talk about the “go go” years of the cable industry, it reminded me of technology today and how it’s quickly evolving and becoming something that really is important in everybody’s business.
Bambei: There are a lot of things about websites and Internet technology that I learned that I think can be very helpful to ARVC. You know, something as simple as putting a video player on the home page I think could really enhance the experience of the consumer because not only is it entertaining, but it provides sight, sound, motion. It’s a reason for them to keep coming back to see whatever is on the consumer Go Camping America site.
Might be relevant to them, might not be, but hey, it’s going to be entertaining. It’s going to be something they’re going to probably enjoy. And it’s a great vehicle, too, to allow the members to get involved. I heard a lot at ARVC’s InSites convention about how cool it would be to just be able to upload videos about their campgrounds and the things they’re doing that are very interesting perhaps to all the other members in the United States, and what better way to portray that than with a video? So those are things on my short list to try and accomplish.
Schmarder: Well, it sounds like you’ve looked at GoCampingAmerica.com, ARVC’s consumer brand, and I think that I read somewhere that you’ve got a lot of plans for the Go Camping America website, to brand that out and generate a lot of consumer awareness.
Bambei: Well, yeah, you never want to jump too fast in your plans before you listen, and that’s what I tried to do at the convention. But my overarching thought from a marketing perspective is to make that consumer site something that is easily pointed to by other media.
And because I’ve been in the cable industry and I’ve worked with the Travel Channel and The Outdoor Channel and The Fishing Network and National Geographic Channel, I have a gut instinct that if Go Camping America is something that is truly universally appealing to the outdoorsman and young families that there’s a partnership that could probably be struck there. Make it something that ARVC and its members enjoy in terms of broad television exposure through one of those channels or all of them.
Schmarder: So, right now, you’re listening.
Bambei: I really believe that sometimes people get in trouble when they move too fast, and, as anxious as I am to move on some of these ideas, I don’t have all the pieces put together just yet, and that’s the value of listening.
Schmarder: When you addressed the group at the InSites Convention in early December, you talked about your three guiding principals – service, communication and teamwork.
Bambei: Yes, and I’ll focus on communications. It’s one of those strange things that needs to go sideways, up, down, vertical, horizontal and that just doesn’t happen on its own. And I think leadership needs to create that by setting a good example.
I’ve heard in my short time here so far that sometimes a member will call the ARVC office and not get an answer, not get a phone answer perhaps or just not get an answer to an e-mail or a question. Those things can be so damaging to the bridging of this confidence that I think we need to really move forward.
So one of my pet peeves, to be honest with you, is to allow that to continue. I simply won’t, and I’m going to make it very clear to the staff back in Denver that that’s first and foremost in terms of priority. We just have to make sure we’re being responsive.
Communication is not just about being responsive though, it needs to be proactive in many ways. When we have an agenda or something of importance that we know needs to get out, it has to get out. And I’ve heard other stories of people not receiving things that other people have received and I think that’s more or less a database issue perhaps where not everybody is plugged in as they should be. Or maybe some balls are being dropped in Denver that can be carried better.
Schmarder: So, this will be a point of focus for you?
Bambei: Absolutely, it’s my goal to make it better. And you can’t manage what you don’t measure, so there are some very cost-effective ways of tracking things that I want to be able to put in place to show the membership how we’re improving. And I think that’s the grace period that I’ve been given.
It’s also my goal to help our members make a profit. That was my life for 30 years and I don’t necessarily believe that just because I’m now the leader of a non-profit that I shouldn’t be responsible for helping members make money. I feel we can facilitate it in many ways.
One is through the website. I don’t think we need to be an order taker for every member, but I do believe that the website can be a lead generator to create interest on the consumer’s part and physically and traceably show that we are sending leads to members’ campsites.
And that’s the top line of any P&L statement, it’s revenue and I think if they begin to see that we are funneling that kind of business to them and that we are attracting attention in the wider media that the members will approve. And although this is not something that will happen overnight, that’s something that I feel can happen.
So I’m talking about the revenue side of the profit and loss statement. On the expense side, if we’re doing our jobs right at ARVC, we can share some very effective ways to reduce expenses, to pick up very cost-effective capital items that every park in the country uses that can help them save money. So that’s how I plan to do it.
Schmarder: Sounds good.
Bambei: And I should add one other thing: I don’t mean to use the word I so much. This is a team effort.
Schmarder: You also mentioned teamwork as a priority.
Bambei: The final pillar of success in my view is the teamwork that I think is so important. And I really don’t think there’s going to be a problem here at ARVC.
Walking in, I had my doubts to be honest with you, I didn’t know how the factions were communicating and getting along and were willing to roll up their sleeves and work together. Now I feel very good about everybody’s willingness to work together toward a common goal.
And I’m elated that in the first day of the convention, we all sat together —100 plus people came together from all walks of the organization — and agreed basically to set an agenda and work together to make some things happen for states and national. And that, to me, is progress. That, to me, is teamwork. It’s fantastic. So, I’m going to be the last guy to let that ball drop, and I’m working with a very excited and capable executive committee and board of directors that understand the importance of that as well.
I’ve got to give great credit to those ladies and gentlemen who have the foresight to put this squabbling behind us and to do something proactive to start pointing things into the future positively. And I feel they accomplished that, so now we’ll move ahead.