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Banta Corp. -- Pursuit of Excellence

April 2005
To paraphrase a quote from legendary Green Bay Packers head football coach Vince Lombardi, Stephanie Streeter is not remotely interested in being "just good."

The commercial printing industry's most powerful woman is adhering to the philosophy that while perfection may be out of reach for her company, Banta Corp., the relentless pursuit of it will produce an enterprise that can attain its personal best.

FROM THE LEFT: Dave Engelkemeyer, VP, worldwide operations; Dennis Meyer, VP, marketing and planning; Geoff Hibner, CFO; Stephanie Streeter, chairman, president and CEO; Mike Allen, president, printing services sector; Frank Rudolph, VP, human resources; Sara Armbruster, director of business development; and Ron Kneezel, VP, general counsel and secretary.
"This is about performance in everything we do—everything we touch," says Streeter, chairman, president and CEO of the Menasha, WI-based company's quest for operational excellence.

"There's a quote from Lombardi that goes something like, '...we are going to relentlessly chase perfection, knowing full well we cannot catch it. But we are going to relentlessly chase it because, when we do, in the process we will catch excellence. I am not remotely interested in being just good.'

"That sums it all up for me," she adds. "It's not just about reducing costs, it's about becoming excellent in everything we do. We want to make sure that we do the ordinary things extraordinarily well—every day, every time."

Top of the List

It's difficult to argue otherwise. Banta ranked seventh on the 2004 Printing Impressions 400 with more than $1.4 billion in sales and reaffirmed its commitment to the print and supply chain management disciplines by recently divesting its single-use healthcare products subsidiary, Banta Healthcare Group, for $74 million in cash and by investing a total of $135 million in new technologies and equipment during 2003 and 2004.

And the corporation, which boasts about 8,400 employees in 40 manufacturing facilities, has been able to sustain its lofty standing in the industry rankings due, in large part, to the leadership of Streeter, and the performance of her management team and employees company-wide. She has carved out her own managerial niche while keeping the corporation focused on the things it does best.

Some of the challenges Streeter and her management team have faced include economic/marketplace issues, including pricing pressures, Asian competition and economy fluctuations that impact the supply chain and print markets; technology advancements; developing and maintaining quality employees; and crossing over from "good" to "great" company status through strong business discipline, culture, focus and building around the right people.

"We've embarked upon an overall strategy that has four cornerstones to address those challenges," Streeter says. "These are all about making us world class in our approach to customers, how we deliver service and quality to them, our approach to the markets in which we choose to compete, how we deliver our services, and how we relate to and motivate employees."

The aforementioned operational excellence is one of the four Banta cardinal doctrines. Some of the initiatives under this umbrella include focusing on the elimination of waste, training and education, efficiency and effectiveness, and utilizing its employee resources better.

The second cornerstone is positioning the company in selected markets and more precisely defining the market segments Banta wants to compete in over the long haul. In a sense, the divestiture of Banta Healthcare is indicative of this positioning.

A third cornerstone is the attraction, development, retention and engagement of the best available talent. Banta conducted a company-wide employee survey in 2004, and is acting on nearly all of the feedback that was received.

The fourth cornerstone is the development of strategic alliances and partnerships. Some of the partnerships range from casual alliances to solve specific issues, to targeting acquisitions that allow the company to add services, expand its geographical footprint or add scale to its business.

Getting Educated

Banta also stresses the educational/informational component of its relationships with customers. Addressing this area, the printer provides Webinars and Technovation seminars on topics ranging from color management and Website design to supply chain management concepts and design.

"We believe as a management team that these four strategies will enable us to fulfill the promise to our customers, which is to help make it faster, easier and more profitable for our customers to do business with their customers," Streeter notes.

Banta's printing and imaging services segment consists of five business units, called groups: books, catalogs, publications, direct mail and the literature management group. Its soft-cover book business serves the education market, along with trade books and documentation manuals. Special interest, trade and business-to-business magazines comprise its publications group and, on the catalog side, consumer and business-to-business markets such as scientific, automotive parts, office supplies and tools account for a majority of its clients. Banta's direct marketing business serves the broad commercial market, while specializing in complex in-line finishing and personalization services.

The rookie of the groups is the Banta Literature Management Group, which provides customers with the management and on-demand electronic printing and fulfillment of marketing collateral materials, for such programs as employee benefit enrollments—HMO welcome packages and 401(k) plans.

Its supply chain management group (Banta Global Turnkey) is managed as a separate business, but actually is an outgrowth of Banta's project management experience, which started with the assembly of educational classroom kits—storybooks, workbooks, teacher manuals, instructional toys, colorful boxes and overhead projection materials—in the 1960s.

The 2004 business campaign proved to be a successful one for Banta, according to Mike Allen, president of its print sector and former longtime print executive for RR Donnelley. Allen came on board in January of 2004 and found a company that had survived the 2001-2003 economic period and emerged in very strong shape.

Sales on the Rise

Aside from the repositioning of some assets in the catalog division—the closure of the St. Paul, MN, facility and the refortification of its Maple Grove, MN, plant—overall sales grew roughly 5 percent. When adjusted for the St. Paul closure, its print business revenues actually grew about 8 percent.

"We're somewhat unique in that we blend the advantages of being a world-class, larger printer with the benefits of a nimble, service-focused localized supplier," Allen says. "We have a philosophy that emphasizes service quality and flexible manufacturing through multiple plant locations in each of the business units, and they provide localized service to their customers. And, yet, we can leverage the scale of being a $1 billion printer. We have fewer layers as a company than many of our competitors. We have the nimbleness of a small, niche player.

"We have a high customer retention rate, and our new customer acquisition rate is even higher," he adds. "Our client retention rate for catalogs was stellar; in the second half of 2004, we didn't lose any business. That strong performance came following a year in which we closed St. Paul and invested heavily in the modernization of the Maple Grove facility."

Allen also points out that for the direct marketing group, which tracks the number of new accounts in excess of $1 million a year, its 2004 rate of such accounts was 76 percent higher than it was in 2003.

In terms of recent investments, Banta officials declined to provide specific equipment information on its capital expenditure initiative. But, over the past two years, it has installed major web offset presses for its book, catalog and publications divisions, and a number of digital units were purchased for the literature management group.

Speaking of the literature management group, its manufacturing space was augmented by more than 700,000 square feet. Within the last two years, two new facilities were added, a couple more were expanded and yet another was added via acquisition.

"We've been able to apply our advanced supply chain practices to how we manage literature programs for our customers," remarks Dennis Meyer, vice president of marketing and planning. "Our customers are looking to reduce obsolescence, to respond more quickly to their customer demands and forecasts, and to do so with customized products, turned around within 24 hours. It's utilizing what we've learned in over three decades of project management experience, along with our supply chain division, that clearly differentiates us."

Other ways in which Banta sets itself apart from its competitors, according to Meyer, is its ability to focus on customers with complex needs. Instead of a client base requiring lesser complex, higher volume runs, Banta seeks lower volume and complex jobs that require high levels of customization and system integration.

Another aspect that enables Banta to set itself apart lies with its Asian sourcing program. For customers who are either sourcing in Asia or interested in doing so, the company uses a small group of suppliers, which it leverages through an international purchasing office in China.

These jobs generally fit one of two popular criteria: they either involve substantial hand labor and/or are not time-sensitive. Books and book reprints, postcards, technical software documentation and calendars are prime examples. "Publishers continue to look for alternative sourcing options to be competitive in the growing global economy," Meyer affirms. "One way we help them is through our Asian partners."

A Mind for Marketing

According to Allen, Streeter's marketing background is a major asset in the printer's ability to position itself against competitors, as well as being able to anticipate how clients will need to position themselves in order to be successful. And, in growing the company, it is also about understanding that not all print segments are alike, and investing accordingly.

As for Streeter, she believes that the floor plan set forth by the four strategic initiatives will help guide the company in its quest to serve all masters—customers and shareholders alike, as well as the Banta employee base.

"In addition to achieving our financial targets, we want to be recognized as one of the top 100 places to work. We would like to go beyond appearing on Forbes' Platinum 400 and Fortune's Most Admired Companies lists to being recognized as one of the 25 best managed companies," she says.

"And we want to be the best company to do business with, as recognized by our customers. Again, we are going to relentlessly chase perfection because, in the process, we will catch excellence. I am not remotely interested in being just good. That's our mission here at Banta."

By Erik Cagle

Senior Editor

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