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Hall of Fame--Tevis Paves His Own Path to Success

October 1999

It cannot be said that Terry A. Tevis ever sat around wondering when that one opportunity—which would give meaning to his professional career and validate his place in the commercial printing industry—would fall in his lap.

Tevis, a 1999 Printing Impressions/RIT Printing Industry Hall of Fame inductee, decided that instead of waiting for opportunity to come knocking at his door, he'd kick a few down. He was satisfied with carving a niche for himself at one company, where he could settle in for the long haul in a comfortable position.

Even as Tevis prepares to accept the Hall of Fame honor this month in Chicago at GRAPH EXPO 99 and CONVERTING EXPO 99, he is joining the board of advisors of a Silicon Valley Internet startup, Noosh Inc. Not many people can be phasing out as the CEO of one of the fastest-growing printing consolidators, while moving immediately into the world of an e-based business-to-business print management and purchasing system.

In roughly 18 months under Tevis' guidance, Printing Arts America went from being a startup to a $200 million powerhouse—the latest in a long line of success stories left in Tevis' wake. He shows no signs of slowing down, either, and offers these nuggets of wisdom.

"Each of the career moves was carefully thought out and led to successful ventures," Tevis notes of his 30-plus years of industry experience. "The teams we put in place helped to improve margins and build five successful businesses in three different segments of commercial printing. However, a highly leveraged transaction like PAA tends to focus more on short-term gains rather than a long-term play. While the company remains very successful, when one reaches a strategic difference of opinion with the investors, it is time for one of the players to move on to other ventures. Banks remain the key to leverage and one should never forget the adage: He who controls the gold, wins."

Those years of experience have taught Tevis to concentrate on seven areas that led to running a successful business:

  • The customer is king. Make sure your business strategy and culture support your customers' needs.

  • Understand your customers' markets and their growth potential. Too often we invest in a customer segment that has limited potential.

  • Building a low-cost platform must be one centerpiece of a strategy. Not low price, [but] simply focusing every day on ways to take the cost out of the manufacturing and indirect areas, through continuous process improvement and prudent capital investments.

  • Develop a team-based environment with employees informed in all aspects of the company's strategy, culture and financial position.

  • Single source suppliers when possible, as it helps to build a partnership with each vendor.

  • While customer is king, cash is a very close second.

  • Give something back to the community.

Terry A. Tevis was born March 29, 1942, in Los Angeles. His father, a career Army man, served in World War II and received a battlefield commission. The Tevis family frequently moved, and Terry attended a dozen schools before graduating, including an exotic two-year grade school stop at Japan and high school experiences in Heidelberg, Germany, and Monterey, CA.

Military Ties
After graduating from San Jose State with a BS and MBA, Tevis emerged a 2nd Lt. in the Army ROTC and went on active duty in 1965. His professional career started with a two-year stint at the Walter Reed Medical Center in Washington, DC. After working as a pricing analyst for IBM and a financial consultant with Plan Metrics, Tevis found his way into the world of commercial printing as a financial manager for Arcata Graphics in 1971.

Arcata National was forming the Graphics Service Group in New York City and was in need of a financial manager to consolidate the various printing divisions of Arcata Graphics. He initiated a computer-based financial reporting system, a new capital budgeting methodology and a formal annual planning process. Tevis' success in selling the ideas led to a career change and move to Los Angeles as a sales executive in 1973. He remained there and was elevated to vice president of Western sales until 1978, when Tevis returned to New York as vice president and general sales manager for Arcata's Publication and Commercial Printing Group.

Unique Printing Exec
"Terry is a very unique individual for a printing executive," says Martin Maloney of the PR firm Broadford & Maloney. "His first job was in finance for IBM, and he entered the industry with an MBA. I think that gave him a well-rounded grasp.

"He's a multi-talented printing executive with a lot of depth and understanding in many ways. He's one of the true industry leaders who not only cares about the graphic arts business, but people as well."

Bob Hackett, vice president of Donnelley Direct, the direct mail division of R.R. Donnelley & Sons, admires Tevis' vision, which he believes is an uncanny ability to see opportunities others can't.

"Terry has brought great vision to the industry," Hackett remarks. "He has the ability to take action when the time is appropriate. When others are pondering what their next step should be, Terry is already taking action."

In 1983, Tevis was recruited as a senior vice president of sales and marketing at Foote & Davies. He remained there until 1985, when he was tabbed by American Standard as president of a foundering American Standard Graphics. During the next seven years, the management team increased sales from $85 million to $325 million.

When American Standard decided to leave the printing industry, Tevis spearheaded a management-led leveraged buyout in 1987. He became CEO of the newly renamed American Signature Graphics, with the ASG moniker intact to maintain identity continuity. The company's Deming Process Improvement Team and various quality programs buoyed the tremendous growth.

"During the seven years at ASG, our management team took an obscure company named Storm Printing and built it into a national company with a superb reputation in the web offset markets," Tevis notes. "A Deming-based quality program brought market leadership to our service model and employee team building that broke down barriers between supervisor and subordinate."

ASG was sold to Quebecor in 1992, and Tevis "retired" for three weeks, basking in the golden sunshine in Bermuda before becoming president of the web offset catalog unit, the Sterling Group, at R.R. Donnelley & Sons later in the year.

John Walter, then-CEO of R.R. Donnelley (and later Jon Ward, its current president and COO), viewed the offset catalog market as a segment still experiencing tremendous growth in the early '90s.

A Capital Opportunity
"They offered me the opportunity to mold various offset plants within Donnelley into one effective business unit," Tevis recalls. "While not an actual launch of a new company, offset catalog printing had not received quite the focus in the '80s as Donnelley capitalized on its strength in the gravure process. During that same period, the more selective nature of the short-run catalog customer led to explosive growth in offset production and was the key to success at ASG. To repeat that effort at the world's biggest and best printer was an exciting challenge."

Over a 40-month period, $40 million was invested in new equipment and sales increased 15.5 percent. That opened the door for Tevis to assume the role of business unit president for R.R. Donnelley Direct in August of 1996. He remained in that capacity through January of 1998 and was instrumental in developing new manufacturing and sales leadership. RRD Direct improvements during those two years were instrumental in the 1999 acquisition of Communicolor, which doubled the size of that business.

Kohlberg & Co. soon came after Tevis to help form the highly leveraged Printing Arts America. Over the first 18 months of its existence, consolidation-centric PAA hauled down revenues in excess of $200 million, courtesy of the acquisition of 11 companies. He helped consolidate a disparate group of small business printers into a national network of companies, while focusing on driving cost out of the platform. National selling efforts produced new contracts for multiple PAA locations and brought new techniques to increase sales in each division's local market.

The fact that the industry is so fragmented is one aspect Tevis feels commercial printing has in its favor.

"The industry's biggest asset is its size and diversity," he explains. "It offers a wide range of career objectives unlike any other industry. As the second-largest employer after the auto industry, people can own a business in their own community, branch out into a national company or work for a Fortune 200 corporation. Every day they are providing a service that people like and need—the printed page.

"Speed is critical. New companies like Noosh help bridge the gap in e-based commerce, the World Wide Web and print," Tevis adds. "The gradual merging of Web technology, digital print, offset and fulfillment will lead printers to be a one-stop solution, not merely an expeditor among a litany of suppliers."

While Tevis is proud of his accomplishments (the manner in which he's rescued some companies from difficulty), he is fiercely loyal to his employees and has compassion for those who have helped make these successes a reality. It has enabled him to divert necessary attention to the No. 1 business factor—the customer.

"By always focusing on the customer, I have stayed ahead of the curve," he says. "Listening to the markets led to my success in big companies and small. I am a good leader in that I have no problem making a decision or asking for input before pulling any lever.

"My passion for print, along with its need for change, is still very much a part of my life," he adds "Being selected to the Printers' Hall of Fame is ample evidence that my peers agree. It is quite an honor and I am deeply appreciative."


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