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DONALD ROLAND -- Accentuating Solutions, Not Processes

September 2003
By Erik Cagle

Providing solutions, as opposed to letting processes define who he is and what he does, is the mantra for Donald Roland.

Roland, the chairman, CEO and president of Baltimore-based Vertis Inc., and a 2003 inductee into the Printing Impressions/RIT Printing Industry Hall of Fame, is a fan of the cutting edge, be it technology or the ways and means of producing advertising product that will make his customers wildly successful. It is a philosophy that has enabled Vertis, which has seen about as many identity changes as the industry itself, to post sales in excess of $1.8 billion in 2002, making it the fifth-largest print solutions provider in North America, according to the most recent PI 400 ranking of top printers.

"One aspect that has sparked our growth is a very strong focus on the customer," Roland says. "It's a make-it-happen, can-do culture. Change has been the only constant we can count on, and we've always sought ways to do things better.

"Vertis is not a company that is tied to a process or to iron. I'm a printer; it's in my background. But I don't run a printing establishment. I run a company that prints because it is the most effective process to help our customers steer people toward their products in stores."

Printing may not rule Roland, but it practically raised him. His earliest childhood memory sees him as a toddler, playing with Linotype slugs in a printing plant while his father, Vernon, operated the Linotype machine.

Roland's father was a true journeyman printer—a news-paper/job shop veteran who bounced from plant to plant in search of an ideal situation. Vernon Roland was a fiery printer with a short fuse. Invariably, the elder Roland would get into a disagreement with the owner of the news-paper or job shop and walk out. His family, which resided in Texas when Donald was born, spent much of his first 14 years living throughout that state, as well as Oklahoma, Colorado and New Mexico.

Old School

Donald and his brother, Philip, often worked alongside their father as early as elementary school. That's where he learned the printing business inside and out.

"My father was a real task-master—he would fire my brother and me when we had childhood fights," Roland recalls. "But he raised both of us with a strong work ethic. (Vernon) was an incredibly gifted printer in the classic, old tradition of journeymen who could literally do everything. That part of my childhood was rich in experiences, but lacking in stability and material wealth. We were like nomads, moving almost every year. But I certainly learned the printing business inside and out."


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