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November 1998

As the leader of a publicly held company with a strong global influence and more than $50 million in sales, Michael Cunningham has positioned himself as a power broker in the graphic arts industry. But not too long ago, he was just a broker—worried about going broke.

Throughout most of the '80s, Cunningham earned his living selling printing for two companies. One of these companies handled Cunningham's primary business: research reports. It was a good arrangement, until the late '80s. That's when the company decided printing this type of work wasn't profitable enough.

At first, Cunningham looked for a new company to print the reports. It wasn't easy. Research reports can range from two pages to 500, and turnarounds can be six hours.

Unable to find a printer that could handle this work efficiently, Cunningham launched his own company. In 1989, he opened up an 11,000-square-foot facility in Jersey City, NJ, hired 10 employees and invested in a four-color sheetfed press.

Cunningham Graphics still maintains headquarters in Jersey City but, other than that, the company bears little resemblance to the shop Cunningham established a decade ago. Today, Cunningham Graphics employs more than 500 workers spread across five facilities: a 120,000-square-foot operation in Jersey City, two plants in New York City adding up to 40,000 square feet, and another two in London that combine for 30,000 square feet.

These five locations provide publications, directories, mutual fund work, on-demand printing and commercial jobs using an assortment of web offset, sheetfed offset and digital presses. And, remaining true to its roots, Cunningham Graphics continues to print research reports.

"We are the world leader in research for the equity and fixed income markets," Cunningham says.

He acknowledges that customer support has allowed his company to grow. "We've been really blessed with some great clients," Cunningham says. "They've taken us at our word, and they've taken a lot of chances with us."

And for good reason. Instead of investing in new equipment, then looking for work to fit the subsequent services, Cunningham Graphics has tailored itself to fit its customers' needs. "We make capital decisions with clients," reveals Gordon Mays, executive vice president. "We see where their work is going, and then we develop our systems around that."

Building the Perfect Team

While customer support has been crucial to Cunningham Graphics' rapid ascent, Michael Cunningham—who serves as president, chairman and CEO—also credits his managers for making the company what it is today. "The more I've delegated," Cunningham says, "the more I've realized that our key managers make real good decisions—better decisions than I would make in the line of fire."

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