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Secrets of success

Jul 1, 1996 12:00 AM

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R.R. Donnelley & Sons. Banta Corp. Quebecor Printing. World Color Press. Quad/Graphics. These behemoths all scored stellar marks in AMERICAN PRINTER'S listing of the Top 100+ printers (by annual sales) in North America.

The question is, how did they make the arduous climb to the top? And how do they remain firmly ensconced there, despite a formerly precarious economy, reported lack of skilled employees, overcapacity, price cutting, and every other obstacle the graphic arts industry confronts daily?

To find out, we went straight to the source--CEOs and other high-ranking managers of these large firms. Sure, the industry is composed mostly of small shops with fewer than 20 employees, but the management tactics and business acumen revealed by these experts can offer tremendous benefits to small printers as well.

Consider World Color Press, Inc. (New York City). The firm adroitly has navigated the sometimes turbulent waters of the graphic arts industry "by being a niche player," relates Robert Burton, president and CEO. "You must be very niched and focused. That's what we've done."

Since Burton came on board six years ago, the firm has chiseled its focus into four areas: consumer magazines, catalogs, direct mail and commercial work.

However, the printer also was determined to become a full-service-do-it-all shop for its remaining markets. "We said, `We'll do your prepress, fulfillment, distribution, etc. We can do the whole package,'" states Burton.

"Customers want single-source suppliers or partners who can provide creative services, print, assemble kits and packages, and fulfill orders, as well as store and archive digital information," agrees Donald Belcher, chairman, president and CEO of Banta Corp. (Menasha, WI).

To offer such a range of services, Banta employees must be highly skilled professionals. Therefore, the company established a Management Training and Development Program. "In addition to the specialized program," Belcher adds, "we have training efforts at all levels of the corporation, such as formal on-the-job instruction, mentor programs for up-and-coming production workers and specific job skills training."

This type of education gives employees the knowledge and skills to attain the next step in their development which, for some businesses, is to empower them to make decisions.

"The single key to our staying on top has been empowering our employees around the world and delegating authority to the plant level," relates Sean Twomey, vice president of business development for Quebecor Printing, Inc. (Montreal). "That way, customers receive all the responsiveness and concern they get from small printers, along with the favorable pricing, scheduling and services we can offer as a large corporation."

Employees, too, perceive a benefit. "People get a great deal more satisfaction when they play a meaningful role in what they do," Twomey explains.

Quad/Graphics (Pewaukee, WI) takes another avenue to help employees find meaning in their work--the firm is worker-owned through profit-sharing. "Staff members," believes president Harry Quadracci, "perceive a stake in whatever they do; they see the importance of their actions because they are, in essence, performing for themselves." The employees as a whole own 30 percent of the stock.

Six years ago, R.R. Donnelley (Chicago) also moved from a hierarchical workforce to working with teams, relates Johnathan Ward, executive vice president. "Each plant can implement the team concept any way it wants; we conduct training sessions on how to work together as teams and improve communications. We've also trained supervisors and managers not to be decision makers, but to become quick resolvers of conflict between teams."

No matter what your shop's size, you, too, can implement these top execs' secrete for success--whether it be niche markets, full service or employee empowerment--to help you not only survive, but prosper in today's often harsh business environment.