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Donald Duncanson -- A Self-made Man

September 2001
BY CAROLINE MILLER


When you page through Donald Duncanson's long list of industry accomplishments, it's hard to imagine he ever thought of himself as an underachiever.


At age 61, Duncanson is the co-founder and chairman of Dynacolor Graphics, a successful, $9.6 million commercial printing operation in Miami. He also is the founder of the Graphics of Americas trade show. A longtime member and past chairman of NAPL's board of directors, as well a member of several of the association's board committees, he also serves on the board of the Graphic Arts Show Co. and Graphic Arts Research & Education Foundation, and is a member of NAPL's Soderstrom Society.

And if that wasn't enough, Duncanson has been the recipient of numerous printing awards from the Printing Association of Florida. But he's not through adding to that impressive list just yet. He now has the honor of being inducted into the 2001 Printing Impressions/RIT Printing Industry Hall of Fame.

With such an impressive resume of industry accolades and achievements, it's difficult to believe that Duncanson once thought that he might not amount to much in life.

"I had a teacher tell me that I shouldn't bother with college because it would be a waste of my time," remembers Duncanson.

So after graduation at the age of 17, Duncanson enlisted in the U.S. Navy. "I didn't really know what I wanted to do. I thought that the Navy might help me find some direction in my life." For the next three years, Duncanson served as a clerk typist on an aircraft carrier.

A Family to Support
After finishing his tour of duty, a jobless Duncanson returned to his hometown of Hollywood, FL, with his young wife—high school sweetheart Elaine—his one-year-old son and another baby on the way.

"Everyone told me to stay in the Navy because there was no work locally. I came home any way," he notes.

The only work he could find was as a truck driver for a small printing company, which required that he also do some part-time work in the print shop's bindery department.

"I didn't have a clue what a bindery department was, but I took the job. I was in the bindery for five months, but I just about quit because the boss I had was a ruthless type of guy," claims Duncanson.

In fact, Duncanson had even accepted a job with a different company, but at the last moment decided to stay. "I thought that I could learn a trade, so I decided to stick with it," he remarks.

It was a decision that would ultimately pay huge dividends for Duncanson. Over the next 10 years, he slowly worked his way up in the company through the prepress side of the business, eventually becoming vice president and part-owner.

It seemed Duncanson had finally found the direction for which he had been looking. But then the operation was sold to a large, publicly run printing company.

With the change in the company's political climate and product mix, Duncanson decided to strike out on his own. "When I left, I had nowhere to go and had never worked anywhere else."

Although he had 10 years of industry experience, the decision to go it on his own was a risky one. Duncanson had never sold printing. He also now had four sons and was in the midst of adopting his fifth child, a daughter.

Initially, Duncanson partnered with a former colleague who had a small advertising agency. His then-partner wanted to be able to offer printing, in addition to his advertising services. The two split after just five months, however, due to differing management styles.

"I was left with the overhead, the equipment, the lease—and no sales. Through the school of hard knocks, I learned how to pound on doors. It was a lonely year. It took me a lot of time and hard work to get the business going," he remembers.

Despite a rocky start, Duncanson decided to try partnering again in 1972—this time with Manny Perez, Dynacolor Graphics' plant manager, and Duncanson's two brothers, Harry and Bob. Harry would become the vice president of finance. While Bob would join the company as vice president of sales and marketing. The four men started Dynacolor with a single color, 29˝ sheetfed press and a small-format, 10x15˝ press.

A year and a half later, they moved the fledgling business into a shared building with a trade bindery and financial printer.

Over the years, the financial printer and the trade bindery both closed their doors, enabling Dynacolor to acquire their sales and employees, as well as purchasing the entire 41,000-square-foot building.

A Sheetfed Success
Almost 30 years later, Dynacolor Graphics now boosts 73 employees, two 28x40˝ Komori sheetfed presses and a 25x38˝ MAN Miehle press. Today, the shop produces post cards, brochures, corporate image pieces, magazines, catalogs and fine art reproductions on a national scale.

"We have a strong management team. That has been important since our startup. Early on we decided that our standard would be to print quality products that exceeded customer expectations. We are known for the brightness of our color, for our dependability, our reliability and our ability to solve a client's print problems," Duncanson states.

It's a standard that Dynacolor Graphics has always seemed more than able to meet, says Peter Stephens, sales manager of the Pitman Co. a long-time friend and business associate of Duncanson.

"There is one word that describes Don: integrity. Don always does what he says he's going to do, when he says he going to do it. People trust him; he is a strong leader."

An integral part Dynacolor's success has been Duncanson's willingness to learn, reports another colleague and friend, Jim Schultz, chairman and CEO of the Great Lakes Companies in Cleveland.

"He is a guy who never takes anything for granted. He researches everything," reveals Schultz, who first met Duncanson at a NAPL management course at Northwestern University.

That thirst for knowledge began in an unlikely place—the Printing Industry of South Florida (PISF).

In 1971, a reluctant Duncanson agreed to serve on the PISF's board of directors. (He would later serve as chairman in 1973, 1983 and 1984). "I didn't think that I was qualified to be on the board because I was not educated. But what I did learn over time was that the more I put into it, the more I got out of it. Peer networking, to me, has always been invaluable. I've learned so much from others. It opened up a whole new world of education for me."

Still, Duncanson was not to be the only person who would benefit from his growing involvement in the industry at large. Although lacking in formal experience, Duncanson's vision and leadership were evident from the start.

In 1974, he approached the PISF with the suggestion that they start a small trade show in Miami. At the time, the only Florida show was in Orlando.

The board declined Duncanson's suggestion. Undeterred, the following year Duncanson approached the board again with his idea of a Miami trade exhibition. This time, though, the board agreed. "We had 10 tabletop exhibits and a dinner speaker. That show was the beginning of Graphics of the Americas."

Family Comes First
While no one can deny that Duncanson has accomplished much in his career, if you ask him what his greatest accomplishment is, it has nothing to do with his career in printing.

"It's that that we've raised our family so successfully. I have four boys and a girl. For me, the most satisfying thing has been to see them grow into successful adults and terrific parents," Duncanson states.

It's not surprising that Duncanson would pick his family as his most important accomplishment, say his close friends. This funny, witty man, who employs just a hint of sarcasm, is a family-centered kind of guy who is always willing to lend a hand to those in need, reveals Schultz.

"He runs a first-class organization. Don's employees are treated just like his family," explains Schultz. And that family atmosphere of reaching out to those in need was never more evident than when Hurricane Andrew hit Miami.

Although the Dynacolor facility remained untouched by the disaster, Dynacolor Graphics offered assistance to employees and other printers. "Many of our workers lost their homes and were without power for a month or two months. We had people who had power bring in food and ice on a daily basis; some even shared their living space. We organized to help our customer base, as well, in order to help them stay in business during the disaster."

This sense of giving back to the community comes from deep within Duncanson and it extends throughout every aspect of his company. "My parents were pretty involved types of people. When I got into business, I decided that I needed to give back."

It's a promise that Duncanson has kept over the years.

The company has an employee-run community relations committee, which plots out Dynacolor Graphics' community giving for the entire year. Dynacolor is active in the local soup kitchen, cancer walks, clothing and food drives, and Thanksgiving baskets. At Christmas, the firm adopts a local family in need.

"We've built a culture at our company of which I'm very proud. Our vendors always comment that Dynacolor isn't like any other printer in the area. People want to come to work for us. We care about our employees and we are successful because of them," he notes.

As to the future, Duncanson is content to continue the course that has been charted for Dynacolor Graphics, as well as to spend time with his wife of 43 years and his 12 grandchildren.

"I've been pretty fortunate. There is no question that I have had opportunities staring me in the face that probably many others don't ever get, which is a shame because they are as bright or brighter than I am. I was just fortunate enough to be able take advantage of those opportunities when they hit me in the face."
 

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