2011 Hall of Fame: Ken Kaufman - From Publisher to PrinterSeptember 2011 By Erik Cagle
The path taken to the printing industry can often be a fascinating journey. For some, it is steeped in family tradition, a passing of the torch. And for others, the love of printing was first kindled by an elective course taken in high school. Then there are those for whom a career in printing was more of an accident than a predestined fate; a random, detoured route to success as opposed to a paved path to a preordained promised land.
In the end, we only have the results to judge and, suffice to say, Ken Kaufman made a number of bold and pivotal decisions whenever a choice between A, B and C confronted him. Those critical thinking skills served him well, and on the 40th anniversary of the birth of Kaufman's constantly evolving printing company, it is only fitting that he takes a spot alongside the 2011 Printing Impressions/RIT Printing Industry Hall of Fame induction class.
Kaufman, 70, president of Corporate Press of Lanham, MD, was likely ticketed for greatness regardless of his vocation, but the stars just happened to align in favor of printing. Despite the fact that he had attained an undergraduate degree and earned his masters in a largely unrelated field, Kaufman went about learning the ins and outs of printing from the ground up.
Truth be known, he knew very little about the profession when he opened Newsletter Services (NSI) in 1971, but was astute to surround himself with skilled craftsmen. Forty years later, Kaufman more than knows his way around a shop floor, where he can be frequently found.
"I'm not a micromanager. I expect people to do their jobs, so I'm not going to be on their tails all of the time," he says. "Unless they let me down, I let my managers manage. I give them their leeway. Also, I do make it a point to go out at least twice a day and talk to our employees, talk about their problems and what's going on in their lives."
Kaufman was born and raised in and around the Washington, DC, area, experiencing what he termed a "very normal" childhood. He graduated with a business degree from Miami (OH) University, then enrolled at Northwestern, where he earned a masters degree in journalism.
Since Washington, DC, was and still is the political capital of the universe, Kaufman served a six-month stretch in the U.S. Army before embarking on a career as a writer.
He debuted with Iron Age magazine, then hit the DC financial scene, covering subjects including banking regulations, savings and loans, and credit unions. Kaufman then joined a friend, the late Peter Nagan, in reporting and writing a bi-weekly title that followed the Federal Reserve and monetary policy. Since news came out of the Fed at a much more deliberate pace, Kaufman and Nagan were able to provide valuable information for banks and New York investment houses.
Since Kaufman and Nagan were dealing with the Federal Reserve and could not directly quote anyone unless they spoke on Capitol Hill, crafting the language in the newsletter was an exacting process. The duo would pore over copy right against (and past) bed time, which didn't prove popular with their chosen printer. The solution? Get into the printing business themselves.
"We hired a pressman to produce our newsletter every other week. But, we didn't know what to have him do the other days of the week," Kaufman recalls. "So, we started producing business cards, envelopes and letterhead. Plus, we had a lot of friends who did newsletters, so that helped fill our little Multilith with other work."
Despite having no grounding in the printing world, NSI quickly built up a book of business within the newsletter community. The company soon had as many as 350 titles of varying frequencies that it was producing and mailing. Since the company operated out of the same facility as other newsletter publishers, NSI "owned" the building within a short period. It's biggest coup was a six-newsletter pact with McGraw-Hill and, within 10 years, the firm had surpassed the $10 million mark in revenues. The little Multilith gave way to bigger and faster presses.
Dean of Newsletters
NSI was so renown in newsletter printing circles, it often had competing titles on its facility's dock. For example, during the energy department's heyday of the late 1970s/early 1980s, the printer had six competing energy titles coming through the plant.
For 20-plus years, NSI enjoyed a healthy share of the newsletter niche. Then a competitor came along, carrying the www prefix, and it proved to be a game changer for Kaufman & Co. That's when he made the strategic decision, circa 1994, to shift focus more toward direct mail. And, since the newsletter moniker seemed limiting to potential clients, Kaufman changed the company's name to Omniprint.
It wouldn't be the last change Kaufman made. In January of 2008, he sold the firm to longtime friend (and 2005 Printing Industry Hall of Fame inductee) Michael Marcian, of Corporate Press. Kaufman loved the synergies: Corporate Press offered four-color sheetfed offset and digital printing, but didn't have direct mail clients; Omniprint had no digital printing gear.
The tandem has also delved head-first into the marketing services provider menu—QR codes, Web-to-print, fulfillment, etc.
"I've learned a lot about printing, and I give much of the credit to the people I've met along the way who have helped me," Kaufman relates. "(Early on) I joined the local PIA affiliate chapter here, and there were a lot of guys willing to give me advice, talk to me about any problems. I hired the right people on the technical side, and used my managerial skills. Along the way, some wonderful people have helped me a great deal."
Kaufman has repaid the kindness through his 30 years of industry association participation. He has served on the board, including stints as chairman, of both the local Printing Industries of America affiliates (Printing Industries of Metropolitan Washington, then Printing and Graphics Association MidAtlantic) and the national association.
Last year, he joined fellow 2011 Hall of Fame inductee David Pitts as a Ben Franklin Society honoree. One of his current projects is as a board member of the Graphic Arts Benefit, which provides health, dental and vision benefits.
David DeLana, president of El Reno, OK-based Heritage Press, has deep respect for Kaufman's opinions and his "straight-shooter" persona. Kaufman has left a lasting impact on the industry due to the association work he has performed, DeLana says. "It's definitely one of his strong suits. Ken did a lot of good things at the PIA helm, and it made us a stronger organization," he adds.
When Braden Sutphin Ink expanded into the DC/Baltimore area in the mid-1970s, President Cal Sutphin said that Kaufman was not only one of the first people he met, but the printer treated the ink vendor like a longtime friend and the pair soon did business. Sutphin has always been impressed by not only how fair and balanced Kaufman was in business, but also in how he had struck a perfect balance between home and work life.
A cherished moment in Sutphin's life came when Kaufman phoned him and asked Sutphin if he would entertain the idea of being a chairman for the then-Printing Industries of Washington, an honor never previously extended to vendors.
"I just remember being swept off my feet; I was going to be the first supplier member in the 85-year history of PIW to be given the opportunity to come up through the chairs," Sutphin recalls. "I'll always remember that call from Ken."
Kaufman and his wife, Jean, have been married 46 years and have three sons, two of which work at Corporate Press. The other is a partner at a DC law firm.
Kaufman enjoys writing and reading, and loves to golf. While taking a cruise three years ago, the Kaufmans were overwhelmed by the beauty offered by St. Petersburg, Russia, and the majestic castles that were rebuilt following World War II. PI