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2017 Men of the Year: Keith Acuff

Noble Communications Co./Gatesman Inc.

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Keith Acuff has a long history in marketing, advertising and sales. His resume includes more than two decades with Springfield-based Noble Communications Co., five years at Carthage-based H.E. Williams Inc., five years at Houston, Texas-based Arthur Andersen & Co. and two years working for Procter & Gamble in Houston, Texas.

“My proudest accomplishment is not a single event, a moment in time or a particular victory,” Acuff says. “My proudest accomplishment is the character, values and reputation I have built over a 30-plus year career in business, family and life.”

A recent acquisition spelled change for Acuff.

In July, Pittsburgh-based Gatesman Inc. bought all of Noble Communications’ clients in the home-and-building, insurance, banking, financial, health care and education industries. That represented 87 percent of client billings.

Acuff, the company’s CEO since mid-2010, is staying on temporarily as a consultant for Gatesman Noble.

“I am no longer at Noble, per Noble’s wishes,” Acuff says via email, a month after the buyout. “Most of the Noble associates are now associates of Gatesman, and I’m proud that I was able to craft an agreement that helped them continue their careers with a strong, vibrant agency.”

Acuff remains optimistic about his future.

“I’m sure there’s a canned phrase out there to use, but I’m taking time to explore my options, truly understand my passions and find something that will excite and inspire me,” he says. “Somewhere out there is a fabulous fit, but it won’t happen overnight. Not too often a person gets to start anew, so I want to be sure and do it right. I’m confident I will.

“Sometimes, timing makes for interesting circumstances.”

Acuff has high-profile work to draw on. Beyond his time at Noble Communications, he was tasked in the mid-2000s with turning around a sales force. Then vice president of brand development for national lighting manufacturer H.E. Williams, Acuff met with each representative individually to map out goals and set forecasts. The change was noticeable after the first year. Overall, sales increased by double-digits, largely without layoffs.

“The reps had general direction but no individual guidance tailored to their markets, their potential and their abilities. Many lacked necessary market intelligence and product training,” he says. “My task was to change all of that – and do it quickly.”

When it comes to his colleagues, Acuff has a dictionary of words he’s sure they’d use when talking about him: fair, respectful and willing, among others.

“Big accomplishments happen daily simply by doing what’s right, listening to others and being a trusted part of many different teams,” he says. “Hopefully, those characteristics will be the lasting impressions others take away and decide to add just a little to their own character.

“I believe in humility, compassion and caring. I believe everyone has something to offer and something to teach each of us.”

That belief naturally helps Acuff be a memorable mentor.

“The greatest prize a leader can have is seeing the success of those he or she worked with,” he says.

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