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A Quiet Generosity Toward All --Cagle

September 2002
An oft-repeated story from circa 1971 tells of a young pressman—one of the first employees of a struggling, fledgling commercial printing company named Quad/Graphics—who went to the bank to secure a mortgage for a home he wanted to purchase.

The trip proved fruitless, as the press operator was denied a mortgage by the bank.

When Harry V. Quadracci, owner and founder of the Pewaukee, WI-based printing company, heard about his employee's plight, he called the bank himself. Quadracci asked the bank to provide his new recruit with the mortgage loan.

Quadracci backed the loan, but was far from being in the black himself.

"When Harry first started out," says Angelo Rivello, "he didn't have a pot to piss in or a window to throw it out."

But Quadracci believed in his employee. He believed in all his employees.

Early Days

Rivello, the senior vice president of manufacturing and distribution for Newsweek, has been both a friend and business associate of the Quadraccis from the company's inception. He watched the company grow from rock bottom, when Harry took a $35,000 second mortgage out on his home to finance a press acquisition, to becoming the greatest success story this industry has ever witnessed.

"The thing that always impressed me was his quiet generosity, helping people," Rivello says. "Harry and (wife) Betty are remarkable in my mind because of that."

Rivello spoke fondly of the elder printer in the family, the late Harry R. Quadracci, when he was inducted into the RIT/Printing Impressions Printing Industry Hall of Fame in 1998. Now, Rivello was searching for the words to sum up his feelings regarding the loss of young Harry—the man who was known as Larry around the Quad/Graphics plant to avoid confusion with his father—the man they called The Admiral from the skits he performed in at company parties, the man who only weeks before had dealt with perhaps the company's biggest setback in its 30-plus years.

Harry V. Quadracci was laid to rest August 2 in a nondescript wooden coffin fashioned by Iowan monks, wearing his Quad/Graphics embroidered work shirt. He was, by all accounts, anything but pedestrian, as evidenced by the 2,000 or so family, friends, employees, customers and business associates who packed the Basilica of St. Josaphat in Milwaukee to say goodbye to the man who exemplified privately owned, small-business success on a larger scale.

Quadracci was closer to P.T. Barnum than Joe Average. At company functions, particularly Christmas parties, he could be seen riding a motorcycle, an elephant or horse onto the stage. He once walked across a high wire connected above a factory floor. Fortunately for the commercial printing industry, he never ran away to join the circus.

"Along the way," says Rivello, "he made many people successful in this business. He just believed in the American way. That's what building a business is all about."

He knew a thing or two about building a business, and wasn't afraid about anticipating new accounts, as evidenced by his "Ready, fire, aim," mentality, according to Rivello.

"He'd buy two presses and say, 'We'll go out and get the business later,' " Rivello relates. "He believed you get good people and good equipment, then let them go to work. I've seen printing plants all over the world, and they're the best in the game."


Quad/Graphics is not a publicity hound. With the exception of an occasional press release regarding expansion, there is no news. But little is ever made of the company's sterling treatment of its employees. The Lomira plant that suffered through a destructive fire only two-plus weeks before Quadracci's passing boasted a child care center, medical and dental clinics, a pharmacy and fitness center—all on-site. It underscores the "quiet generosity" Rivello saw. Fortune magazine named the company to its list of "100 Best Companies to Work for in America."

That generosity was extended beyond the walls of Quad/Graphics. Harry and Betty donated $10 million toward the Calatrova addition to the Milwaukee Art Museum. In a final irony, the thousands who bid farewell to him may not have realized that the Basilica of St. Josaphat had received a $500,000 makeover courtesy of Quadracci.

Diane Romano of Applied Graphics Technologies, who has been a "fierce and friendly competitor" with Quad/Graphics since the 1980s, was always amazed how Quadracci could combine sheer business acumen with a human touch for his employees.

"He was just a brilliant guy, so smart and quick on his feet," she says. "But he was also just a great human being."

The Web Offset Association's Tom Basore feels Quadracci rubbed off on Quad/Graphics. "The philosophy of Harry Quadracci is so strong in Quad/Graphics—its customers and people. He believed it, he lived it and the company grew because of it."

By Erik Cagle

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