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HOF 05 Groomed for Success -- Thomas Engdahl

September 2005
By Erik Cagle

Senior Editor

Though he didn't realize it at the time, a path was being laid for Thomas Engdahl that would eventually lead to the dual roles of president and CEO of Brown Printing in Waseca, MN. Obviously, short of a crystal ball, there was no way for him to foresee such a future.

But fate left an early calling card for Engdahl, a 2005 Printing Impressions/RIT Printing Industry Hall of Fame inductee, and he would later gain a friend who would show him the way to the top.

"It was totally coincidental that I happened to get into the printing business," Engdahl says, in reference to the fact that his grandfather, Charles, opened a bookbinding business in Chicago at the turn of the 20th century. Thomas Engdahl's father, Alfred, then took the helm of the company following World War II.

Engdahl's earliest memories of the bindery include watching female workers sew the backbones of the books together, and watching folders make signatures out of the flat sheets that came from the printer. As an early teenager, Engdahl worked the bindery on weekends.

However, this wasn't the road that led Engdahl into a career in the printing industry. Alfred died when his son was only 16 years old, and his mother sold the bookbinding business.

"There was never an opportunity for me to go to college, graduate, then come back and work in the family business to succeed my father," he notes.

Turning Points

The tragic loss of his father marked a childhood that otherwise featured a "Leave it to Beaver" quality in the suburbs of the Windy City. After graduating high school, Engdahl enrolled in the University of Michigan, where he went on to earn a BS in industrial and operational engineering. He followed that up with a Masters degree.

Engdahl's first job out of college did involve paper, but not quite of the printing variety. He joined the fold at Procter & Gamble Co., working various positions in the paper products division in Green Bay, WI, that manufactured diapers, toilet and facial tissue, paper towels and fabric softener. That began an 11-year stint, with responsibilities including shift supervisor, manufacturing department manager and operations manager.

The opportunity to move into the world of commercial printing came in 1984, when Brown Printing was looking for a pressroom manager. Engdahl was fortunate to have a contact at Brown, Dan Nitz, who had worked with him at P&G and called Engdahl when the Brown position opened. Engdahl got the post.
 

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