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DON WALSWORTH III -- Selling Peace of Mind

September 2003

As for Don Walsworth's future, the printing business was pretty much a foregone conclusion. He was an education major at the University of Missouri, where he played guard/forward for the men's basketball team. He broke an arm his sophomore year, putting an end to his playing days. He also took courses on printing at Carnegie Tech in Pittsburgh.

"Printing had always been what I wanted to do and I enjoyed it," Walsworth recalls. "I focused on it all through my college career. My parents died during my sophomore year. When I came back to work at the company, it was quite small then. It was more of an advertising company, church cookbooks, things of that nature."

Walsworth joined his uncles in running the family company after he graduated in 1957. By 1965, Walsworth Publishing had ventured into commercial printing.

"Yearbooks are cyclical, and we felt we needed to add commercial printing to supplement it," Walsworth explains. "We do yearbooks for more than 5,000 schools each year."

A commercial book division, specializing in high quality, four-color books, was forged in 1974. It also manufactures trade books, military publications, as well as regional government products such as county and city history books.

Rick Jensen, a sales/publications specialist with industry supplier xpedx, has known Walsworth for 22 years and considers him to be a quiet, yet intense, individual.

"He's not a screamer or a yeller, just quietly very aggressive," Jensen says. "Don lets the people who work for him lead the way, then he comes into the picture if things aren't going well. He runs and works out, and always seems to be going from point A to point B quickly."

Educational Leadership

Doug Henry, superintendent of the Tarkio (MO) school district, first met Walsworth while a principal at Brookfield (MO) High School, the same town that houses Walsworth Publishing's prepress facilities. Henry feels Walsworth and his staff go far beyond what is expected of a product and service provider, calling the company an educational partner.

"Don and (son) Ed were the driving force behind our school getting into the graphic arts and offering it as a vocational program," Henry says. "Don invested in our school, giving us computers. He cares about the kids and gives back to the community.

"He gives out six principal awards each year for being a consummate professional," he adds. "That, to me, speaks volumes about Don and his company."

Henry notes that graduating children of Walsworth employees can apply for scholarship money towards college tuition. To date, the company has given out more than $800,000 toward students' tuition.

Big Investments

Now boasting nearly $85 million in sales, Don Walsworth (seated) and son Don Jr. have led Walsworth Publishing to become much more than just a producer of high school yearbooks.
Perhaps the primary challenge Walsworth faces is the pace of technology and the cost of maintaining the highest level it offers. In the last three-plus years, the company has invested more than $30 million.

"If you don't stay on the cutting edge, I'm afraid you'll get lost in the shuffle," Walsworth maintains. "We have great people here analyzing it constantly. A couple of our employees concentrate solely on new products, methods, new techniques and material. They travel the country and the world to do that, and that's how we stay abreast of the market.

"We provide sheetfed, web and digital printing. Most of our information comes in as PDF files. We're encouraging our schools to submit all of their copy as PDF files, and it's a big challenge to stay up with technology. The key word for us, again, is to simplify the process. We have 29 programmers working in our Kansas City office, doing nothing but taking existing programs and making them more customer-friendly. I think we're accomplishing that."

Walsworth stresses the importance of reminding employees how valued they are for their contributions to the final product—an aspect of employee relations that he feels is often overlooked. Bringing down the corporate barriers even more is the Walsworth Community Center in Marceline, and the company is also a major sponsor of the Brookfield YMCA.

A strong presence in his community, Walsworth has also served as mayor of Marceline.

"I love everything about my job," Walsworth remarks. "I've never considered retirement and don't plan to. I still find it challenging because of the nature of what we do.

"We've been innovative in various technologies. We've been pioneers in many different areas: page pagination, complete pagination, eight-up film, computer-to-plate and now computer-to-press. We've been innovators, not followers. We maintain an entrepreneurial atmosphere here. We're somewhat of a risk taker, but we want the rewards, too."

Having bolstered the company's leap from a mom-and-pop operation to a 1,500-employee-strong organization with a startup company in Scotland and a publishing company in Virginia Beach, there are ample reasons for Walsworth to be proud. "What I'm most proud of is how the employees of our organization have handled change—with enthusiasm, vision and foresight," Walsworth says. "To a lot of companies, change is a bad word. That's not been the case with our company."

An avid golfer who also jogs six miles a day, Walsworth and his wife, Audrey, have three children—Lynn, Ed and Don Jr. Don Jr. spent 14 years on the Professional Golfers Association (PGA) tour.

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