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A Talk With Alexander van Meeuwen--Capturing Critical Mass

May 1998
One year ago, Alexander van Meeuwen, senior vice president for Bayer Corp. and president of its innovative Agfa Graphic Systems Division, shared his strategies with Printing Impressions. At that time, van Meeuwen spoke of a new discipline at the prepress innovator. He touted Agfa's goal of maintaining its position as the undisputed global market leader in system solutions. And he affirmed Agfa's continued support of its dealer channel.

Today, with the acquisition of DuPont's offset printing plates and graphic films business freshly tucked into its portfolio, the supplier is involved in expanding its product assortment. Major developments include the marketing of Agfa's Galileo digital platesetter, the recent launch of Agfa's Apogee PrintDrive output manager, Apogee Viper PDF RIP family and the introduction of the Antares family of CTP solutions.

Recently, Agfa introduced its Digital Roadmaps program, a seminar series focusing on topics from CTP to PDF workflow to digital printing. Agfa also launched an interactive Web site (www.digitalroadmaps.com) that allows users to navigate their way through areas of CTP, digital printing and high-end workflows.

Where is van Meeuwen leading Agfa, and what are the corporate objectives of this growing prepress supplier, particularly in the wake of the DuPont offset plates and films business acquisition?

Time to meet with van Meeuwen. Again....

Alexander Van Meeuwen virtually jogs into his office. He has less than an hour to talk. He still has to wrap up a deskload of office details, return several phone calls and e-mails, look over some figures, then rush out the door to catch a plane bound for, well, that's classified. An 8 p.m. business meeting is on van Meeuwen's agenda this particular day.

Still, despite the exhausting time constraints this specific Monday presents to him, van Meeuwen is charming, distinguished and patient as he takes a seat to talk about his most encompassing professional mission to date: the stability, structuring and success of Agfa.

Where to begin?

Van Meeuwen, taking barely a second, opts to start the conversation with the focus of Agfa today—its growing customer base and the dramatically proactive stance Agfa is taking with its customers.

Within the past 12 to 18 months, Agfa restructured its internal synergies, van Meeuwen reports, with a focus on internal training, increasing customer awareness and elevating the duties of top marketing managers to new heights.

Today, Agfa's marketing and sales managers are 100-percent responsible for all areas of their specified businesses, including profitability. All figures are turned over to van Meeuwen, naturally, for evaluation. This, he swears, is a winning corporate strategy: empowering employees to empower the customers.

"We want to maintain the role of true consultants," he says. "We are pushing to give advice and suggestions to our customers on a constant basis that will help them achieve new levels of seamless digital workflow, at whatever particular level they are ready for internally."

Van Meeuwen pauses. He leans back in his chair and looks up for a second, as he ponders Agfa's rejuvenated customer stance.

"We want to be partners with our customers," he continues. "We are offering solutions, yes, but we are also offering expertise and assistance that go well beyond the scope of our expanding assortment of products."

Imaging Integration
Van Meeuwen loves to talk about Agfa's expanding product base—most recently given a jolt by the acquisition of DuPont's graphic films and offset printing plates business units.

The acquired DuPont operation employs approximately 2,000 worldwide, with production facilities located in Germany and Great Britain. The combined international sales of the two units amount to more than $500 million. Agfa has integrated the former DuPont business units into its Ridgefield Park, NJ, corporate center.

"Our mission in the integration of Agfa and DuPont technologies is to be the undisputed leader in the printing and publishing industry by providing and supporting a complete range of world-class electronic and photographic imaging solutions," van Meeuwen states with almost parental pride in his voice.

"The objective of the acquisition is to maximize Agfa's overall long-term growth objectives in terms of revenue and profitability by satisfying the customer requirements best."

Effective March 2, the $500 million global revenues of the DuPont business units added approximately 10 percent to Agfa's total worldwide revenues. Combined, the two businesses exceed $600 million in the United States alone.

"Agfa will continue to offer DuPont's current product line of graphic arts film, printing plates and ecological solutions with a focus on customer satisfaction," van Meeuwen promises.

The Agfa executive goes on to report that the absolute synergy between Agfa and DuPont's R&D initiatives will be paramount and, in time, duplicate product offerings will be seamlessly integrated, with no disruptions to printing plate or film customers of Agfa or DuPont.

"It's all about capturing critical mass," van Meeuwen shares. Critical mass—two words that obviously strike a chord with van Meeuwen.

"The DuPont acquisition, the expanded product assortment, it's all about winning a critical share of the market—you can't do that by being specialized in any one or two technology corners."

After all, he jokes, in the end it's all about going to the bank. "Those [technology providers] with vulnerable, specialized product offerings will find themselves more in a position to exit the industry entirely than go to the bank," van Meeuwen muses, with a hint of honest resolve.

Consolidation, van Meeuwen says, is the direction the industry is moving, from the commercial printing firms to the vendor base to even the distributor channels. In fact, van Meeuwen predicts major changes in the distributor market within the next year. He won't elaborate, but hints the distributor market will get quite comprehensive in its scope, and quite competitive.

"So many vendors say they are the world leader at this, they are the world leader at that, but the truth is, in prepress, there can be only one world leader," van Meeuwen says, as he starts to laugh. "We are the global prepress leader—check the business volumes."

—Marie Ranoia Alonso


Alexander van Meeuwen's Agfa Portfolio

Alexander van Meeuwen, president of Graphic Systems for Agfa Division, Bayer Corp., discusses a small sampling of his favorite Agfa product initiatives, ranging from Agfa's PrintCast global network to the versatile IntelliStream workflow concept to the spotlight shared by the digital platesetter, Galileo, and a new family of CTP solutions near and dear to van Meeuwen's corporate heart—the Antares family.

The PrintCast Concept: Agfa chose 4-Sight's iSDN Manager as the digital link to facilitate the worldwide distribute-and-print capabilities of Agfa's digital print network, PrintCast. Van Meeuwen calls PrintCast "brilliant" and reports the PrintCast hub allows users to maximize the flexibility of the Chromapress—which, he says, aggressively doubled its sales in 1997 and is expected to do the same this year.

Cheers for Galileo: Van Meeuwen is enthusiastic about Agfa's Galileo digital platesetter, which integrates Agfa's digital plates, a plate handler, imaging engine and processor into a single system, all serviced by Agfa. Van Meeuwen reports Galileo is shipping to customer sites around the world.

One Intelligent IntelliStream: Agfa's Chromapress IntelliStream is an output manager for the Chromapress that establishes a new method of processing, transferring and storing files, and speeding the digital printing workflow. Recently, van Meeuwen adds, Agfa announced the release of its new IntelliPrep off-line RIP for the Chromapress.

Imagesetters Among Us: With the advent of the high-speed Avantra 25XT (45,000 rpm), Agfa reaffirmed its commitment to the imagesetting marketplace. Van Meeuwen contends Agfa's product assortment is its strength, from imagesetting solutions to CTP solutions. "You cannot be a firmly specialized player in this market and succeed; you have to maintain a diverse product portfolio," he states.

Hello, Antares: Further showing Agfa's product versatility, van Meeuwen points to the recently introduced Antares family of CTP solutions—a new line of three platesetters designed to meet a range of performance and format needs.

The Odyssey Solution: Agfa recently unveiled a remote product service and support terminal called Odyssey. The Odyssey solution is intended to speed service as well as response time for Agfa customers requiring either diagnostic or upgrade support for the company's Galileo digital platesetting system.

Odyssey allows service technicians to conduct upgrades and diagnostics right over the network, making use of full-duplex audio and video transmission with a portable video camera to provide visual troubleshooting capability.

The Odyssey Remote Support Center connects to the customer's remote support terminal via an ISDN dial-up connection. The customer's terminal runs on a Windows NT workstation with a remote access service installed and configured to use TCP/IP and NetBEUI protocols.
 

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