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1998 Hall of Fame--A Mentor, An Advisor, A Leader

October 1998
Joe R. Davis has taken the industry by storm with his novel approach of acquiring well-managed commercial printing operations.


BY CHRIS CORNELL


If all you knew was that Joe R. Davis is the chairman and CEO of a printing company with annualized revenues in excess of $575 million, you might wonder why he was chosen as a 1998 Printing Impressions/RIT Printing Industry Hall of Fame inductee. After all, there are larger printing companies. But when you know more, the reason becomes clear.

In its frequent dispatches to the press, Davis' New York Stock Exchange company, Consolidated Graphics, routinely states that it is "the fastest-growing printing company in the United States." It is not an exaggeration. The Houston-based industry consolidator began in 1985 with just one, $5 million, 50-employee establishment. Today, Consolidated Graphics has forged a coast-to-coast network of 50 printing companies, is among the continent's most powerful purchasers of graphic arts machinery and supplies, and shows no sign of slowing the pace of its growth.

And in addition to its own success, Consolidated Graphics' acquisition strategy—of which a noteworthy element is a policy that the management of purchased companies stays in charge and the company name stays on the door—has sent shock waves through the entire industry, sparking a raft of imitators and a wave of consolidations in the extremely fragmented commercial printing industry.

Heady Ascension
Consolidated's heady ascension is a long way from—and yet somehow an extension of—Davis' boyhood days in Ogden, AR, where his parents built a successful, local business that grew into a general store/gas station and extensive farming operation.

"We weren't open 9-to-5," he recalls. "We opened at 6 a.m. and we stayed open until the customers stopped coming. That's a service mentality that gets in your blood."

His consolidation strategy itself was conceived following Davis' experience at the prestigious accounting firm of Arthur Andersen, where he had observed other fragmented industries being consolidated. The strategy to keep each company's name and its management team, says Davis, is a no-brainer.

"If you've got a successful company, there's some reason why it's successful," Davis explains. "Typically, clients patronize a business because they are getting good service and a good product at a reasonable price."

Chris Colville, Consolidated's executive vice president of mergers & acquisitions, says that this is part of Davis' recipe for success.

"There is a depth of experience from the individual company presidents and their management, and Joe is smart enough to step back and let those teams do their jobs," he says. "He's very involved and gives significant input, but at the end of the day he is willing to let his management team in their areas manage and run their businesses. Instead, he has become a leader, Mentor and advisor."

 

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