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2004 HALL OF FAME George Stephenson -- Savior to His Company

October 2004
By Erik Cagle

Senior Editor

The greatest challenge George Stephenson has ever faced as the owner of a sheetfed and full-web printing company is not the same as the greatest challenge that has ever confronted the business itself.

Stephenson, 70, is founder, president and CEO of Stephenson Printing, located in the Washington, DC, suburb of Alexandria, VA. He opened the plant in 1959 and aggressively built the company, was a forerunner in the color revolution and the first printer on his block to delve seriously into the manufacture of annual reports.

Those reasons alone make him a prime candidate for the 2004 Printing Impressions/RIT Printing Industry Hall of Fame induction class.

In 1998, amidst a changing ownership landscape that was ruled by industry consolidators, also known as "roll-ups," Stephenson decided to sell his company to Master Graphics.

"It looked like the smart thing to do, and it gave me the opportunity to phase out while the time was right," Stephenson explains. "Unfortunately, the company I sold it to was a 'Johnny-Come-Lately' in the roll-up concept that tried to do too much too soon and ended up with financial problems."

The problems persisted to the point that Master Graphics filed Chapter 11 bankruptcy in 2000. Stephenson, now on a contract basis with the establishment that bore his name, was concerned about the future of the print shop he had painstakingly grown from the ground up. Thus, in late 2000, he put together a plan to buy back the company's assets.

"With Master Graphics selling off some of the assets of their companies, my concern was that they might sell off Stephenson Printing's equipment," he says. "I wanted to ensure the future of the company. It took a while to get over the stigma of being in Chapter 11. Buying the company back was the best solution to making it healthy and well again. And we're doing very well today."

Born and raised about three blocks from the White House, Stephenson spent some of his childhood years helping his father, an electrician who worked on radios. He found part-time work with a small print shop as a teenager and operated a small-format Multigraphics 1420 press—an experience that whetted his appetite for the industry. In junior high and high school, Stephenson took printing courses and came to the conclusion that he loved the vocation, even to the point where he left school a year early to pursue commercial printing.

Stephenson started out full-time as a pressman in 1951 and, five years later, formed a partnership to open a small lithographic printing operation in Georgetown. Three years into that venture, his partner encountered personal problems and had to bow out, leaving Stephenson to start from scratch again. However, this time the company, Stephenson Lithograph Printing, had only one boss.

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