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The road to gold

Sep 1, 2001 12:00 AM

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Focus, goals and investing in people set NAPL's Management Plus Award winners apart from the pack

For more than 20 years, NAPL (Paramus, NJ) has recognized printers that use effective management strategies through the Management Plus Awards Program. Three awards — gold, silver and merit — are given for excellence in business management. (For more on the awards, see “What is the Management Plus Program?” below.) This year, 14 printers received top honors. american printer persuaded the Gold Award winners to divulge some of their secrets.


A clear, focused definition of company purpose is common among Gold Award winners.

Elliot Thostesen, senior vice president of marketing and sales at Lazer Inc. (Rochester, NY), a six-time gold winner, says the company maintains focus through a targeted business plan. Lazer's plan clearly defines the types of customers the company will do business with and what services it will perform for its clients.

Keeping employees focused on the company's goals is just as important as keeping management focused. Action Printing (Fond du Lac, WI), a $17 million sheetfed and web printer, communicates its plan to employees on a regular basis. In addition to weekly management group meetings, monthly departmental meetings are held to inform employees of the company's standing. Management presents sales figures, number of impressions, number of plates, waste factors, spoilage or credits, and safety concerns via a PowerPoint presentation. “Even though we're a family-owned business, we operate like an employee-owned business,” says Robert Carew, president.

Focusing on customers' needs is also important to Gold winners. Branch-Smith Printing Division (Fort Worth, TX), a provider of sheetfed printing for publishers, mandates that any equipment purchased or services offered fit customers' needs. “A small publisher can demand a fast turnaround, and we'll meet its requirements,” says David Branch, chairman and CEO.

The Johnson Group (Rockford, IL), a general commercial printer, also listens to its customers. Tonya Meister, vice president, recalls a time when the industry trend was to increase colors. “Our customers were reducing their run length, not increasing colors. We followed our customers,” she says.

Carew applies a similar philosophy at Action Printing. The company is not afraid to buy late-model, used equipment if it is an economical way to satisfy customers' needs. “We're a short-run printer,” he says, “so we like to stay on the leading edge, but not the bleeding edge.”


Goal setting isn't taken lightly among NAPL's Gold Award winners. Friesens Corp. (Altona, MB), a printer of books and yearbooks, creates an 80- to 90-page business plan detailing the company's goals for the upcoming year.

One of the goals outlined in Friesens' business plan is for every operator to understand the entire print process. How does Friesens achieve this goal? The company conducts an annual Print Fair. The four-day event includes seminars, demonstrations, guest speakers and a “State of the Industry” address by president and CEO David Friesen.

Many printers use judging criteria from awards programs, including Management Plus, as tools to help them develop their goals. Dynacolor Graphics, Inc. (Miami), a national postcard manufacturer, uses NAPL's Management Plus guidelines — the program gives printers a report card comparing their results to those of the winners, which Dynacolor's management uses for benchmarking.

Action Printing, twice a Gold Award winner in the $10 million to $25 million printer category, also uses the Management Plus Program to identify improvements. “It really provides a road map for any printer to improve its business if serious about it,” Carew says.

Branch-Smith Printing sets goals for sales profitability and other specific measurements in each department. Management uses judging criteria from the Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Award as a framework to direct the company's improvement. In 1999, Branch-Smith won the award's state-level equivalent, the Texas Award for Performance Excellence.


Top-of-the-line equipment and detailed business plans can only take a company so far. Well-trained employees are necessary to sustain a successful operation.

Lazer Inc.'s Thostesen estimates his company spends $1,000 to $2,000 per employee on general education and job-related training, annually. Thostesen partly credits employee loyalty to this training program. “We've helped develop our employees over the years,” he says. “Most started with us when the company first got started, and we've supported their growth.”

Branch-Smith also uses training programs to retain employees; it credits loyalty to employee opportunity. “We try to identify where people can be successful and create a career for them,” says Branch. “Each employee understands how he or she can make a difference.”

CIGNA Printing and Distribution (North Charleston, SC) is a 92-employee in-plant printer that has difficulty finding qualified employees. But through South Carolina's School-to-Work program, graphic arts students in their junior or senior years of high school can obtain training and work experience at CIGNA. The company generally hires students part-time during the school year and full-time during the summer.

After graduation, students can take jobs elsewhere; however, many are hired by CIGNA. “It benefits the students,” says John Panhorst, assistant vice president. “They get a taste of working in a print shop, a fair wage and some benefits.”

Friesens Corp. has created a similar partnership with local community colleges and GATF. College seniors in the program receive a year of training in the graphic arts at Friesens. When they graduate, the company determines students' skill level, considers its needs and places students where they will be most productive.

Arbor Press (Royal Oak, MI), a $9 million general commercial printer, not only trains its staff, but involves them in management, too. The company's business plan is created through what president Jim Russell calls an “open process,” which encourages employees to participate in planning. Russell says that by allowing employees to help create goals for the company, they feel ownership of them and are willing to work harder to achieve them.


Arbor Press employees' hard work does not go unrewarded. Arbor operates an incentive compensation plan based on revenue profitability whereby each employee can earn up to $1,800 a year. Any production employee who completes an entire year without making an error that results in a rerun receives $600. Russell says these benefits, plus smaller incentives, such as pizza lunches and gift certificates, are key factors in worker retention.

All-State Legal (Cranford, NJ), a software, general office supplies and print provider for law firms, maintains a company-wide mentality that every job is important. “We just try to be fair and treat everybody the same,” says owner and CEO Robert Busch. All-State offers full medical benefits, a pension plan, 401(k) and an earned incentive plan. Employees also enjoy perks such as a cafeteria, and their birthday off after five years with the company. Busch believes All-State's treatment of employees is what differentiates the $50 million printer from its competition. “If we treat our employees well, ultimately, they will treat our customers well,” he says.

Dynacolor Graphics stresses teamwork — on and off the job. The company participates in events such as a cancer research fundraiser walk, a used-clothing drive and Christmas-in-July for underprivileged children. “We strive to achieve a company where employees want to come to work,” says president Don Duncanson. “We do things with employees that give them opportunities to be involved. This helps us cross departmental barriers, enabling employees to know one another outside the work environment.”

What is the Management Plus Program?

NAPL's (Paramus, NJ) Management Plus Program is a two-step process that evaluates printers based on management performance. The first step is to fill out a self-evaluation questionnaire. It looks at 10 major areas of management: financial performance, internal control systems, marketing/sales plan, customer feedback, vendor relations, business planning, human resources, environmental concerns, quality control and community/industry affairs. The evaluation is a tool managers can use to judge their company's performance against industry standards.

The second step is to enter the self-evaluation results into the annual Management Plus Awards competition. This optional process compares each printer's results to industry standards among companies similar in sales volume.

The competition presents awards in categories of merit, silver and gold. The Gold Award represents the highest level of management excellence a company can receive for performance in any given year.

Sponsored by AMERICAN PRINTER, Compass Capital Partners and MAN Roland, the Management Plus Awards Program is the only program that rewards management excellence.

For more information about the Management Plus Program, contact NAPL at (201) 634-9600, ext. 1307.

Hall of Fame for the John Henry Co.

The John Henry Co. (Lansing, MI) is the 18th recipient of NAPL's William K. Marrinan Management Plus Hall of Fame Award. Specializing in the horticulture industry, it is one of North America's largest printers of plant tags and soil stakes. Founded in 1912, the employee-owned company develops and prints cards, tags, labels, pharmaceutical inserts, packaging and computer forms.

The Hall of Fame Winner is given the honor of bestowing two $1,000 scholarships in its name. The John Henry Co. has bestowed its scholarships to The John Henry Co. — Lou Brand Scholarship Foundation.

Silver Award recipients

  • Alonzo Printing Co., Inc.
  • Bloomington Offset Process, Inc.
  • Classic Graphics
  • Color World Printers
  • The Great Lakes Companies
  • The Nielsen Co.
  • Omaha Printing Co.
  • The Sheridan Press
  • Western Graphics, Inc.
  • Worth Higgins & Associates, Inc.
  • Baum Printing
  • Bradford & Bigelow, Inc.
  • ColorDynamics
  • First Impressions Lithographic Co., Inc.
  • Morrison Communications, Inc.
  • Nies/Artcraft Printing Companies
  • Pacific Printing
  • Swifty Printing & Graphics
  • Wordsprint, Inc.

Merit Award recipients

  • R.W. Nielsen Associates, Inc.
  • Heeter Printing Co.
  • Executive Printing, Inc.
  • PrintWest Communications Ltd.

Sheridan wins Life Time Achievement Award

NAPL's (Paramus, NJ) Life Time Achievement Award recognizes graphic arts leaders for their service to the association, as well as the industry. It is awarded only periodically, not annually. R. Champ Sheridan, chairman of the Sheridan Group (Hanover, PA), is the fourth recipient.

“Champ has always given back to the industry, both through his involvement with NAPL and his belief in the power of learning,” relates Gregg Van Wert, NAPL president. “Sheridan Group has used the educational services we and other organizations provide. It's a model organization in terms of what its people achieve.”

Van Wert also praises Sheridan's philanthropy both inside and outside the industry. “He's one of my heroes,” says the association exec. “He's been very successful in business and generous in the private sector.”

The Sheridan Group specializes in printing journals, magazines, catalogs and books. It includes Sheridan Press, United Litho, Capital City Press, Dartmouth Printing Co. and Sheridan Books.

Sheridan joined the company as president in 1967. In 1988, he became CEO. He was named chairman of the board in 1995. A graduate of Johns Hopkins University, Sheridan is now a trustee of his alma mater and its School of Medicine.