2010 Hall of Fame: Joan Davidson - Setting a Blazing PaceSeptember 2010 By Erik Cagle
Ask anyone who knows Joan Davidson, and they will tell you that she has a lot on the ball—an excellent work ethic, top-notch people skills, a strong manager and a positive leader. But she'll be the first to admit that when it comes to patience...well, let's just say she's still working on that.
"People who know me well would say, 'She never stops asking questions, pushing for results, improving approaches,' " notes Davidson, the group president of Sheridan Publication Services in Hunt Valley, MD. "So, it is challenging for me when we can't move as fast as possible."
Perhaps it is because Davidson has set such a breakneck pace for herself in only 15 years in the printing industry, rising to group president at Sheridan while becoming a major figure among the printing industry's associations. As group president, she has responsibility for four of Sheridan's six companies—The Sheridan Press, United Litho, Dartmouth Printing and Dartmouth Journal Services. On the association end, Davidson has served as chair of the NAPL board and received the prestigious NAPL Soderstrom Award in 2008.
That Davidson has accompanied and helped guide such a prosperous period in the constantly-evolving Sheridan organization after a heralded career in the marketing and finance divisions of Procter & Gamble makes her an ideal choice as a member of the 2010 Printing Impressions/RIT Printing Industry Hall of Fame. She becomes the fourth woman to enter the hallowed honor roll, joining Judith Booth (1994), Diane Romano (1996) and Janet Green (2009).
Davidson was part of an executive triumvirate, along with Sheridan CEO John Saxton and CFO Bob Jakobe, who made the leap from the consumer products heavyweight (where she worked in the cosmetics and fragrance division of Cover Girl Cosmetics). She arrived in 1995 as vice president of finance at The Sheridan Press, and was promoted to president and COO a year later before making group president in 2007.
"I was fortunate to have worked with Bob and John at P&G, so I was accustomed to their excellent management and leadership capabilities. Given their achievements and my desire to be working with a strong management team at a smaller organization...I am glad to have made the change into printing. All the experiences and challenges have made me a better person and leader."
The third of six children born to Jerome and Jeanne Beach, Joan Davidson relished her childhood years in Maryland, where she played basketball, soccer, softball and lacrosse. Between school, athletics and part-time jobs, "We all learned multitasking at a very young age." She enjoyed the love and support of a large family unit.
Not a Family Affair
Though she doesn't boast of a print lineage—her father worked in sales for 7-11 parent Southland Corp.—Davidson did receive early exposure to ink on paper by working as a proofreader at The Aegis, a small-town newspaper where her mother keyed in copy and wrote her own community column.
"My mother had many followers with her newspaper column. Many times her kids were the focus of her column, which could prove to be rewarding or just simply embarrassing," Davidson recalls.
She earned her undergraduate degree from College of Notre Dame in Baltimore, then attained an MBA from Loyola University. From there, Davidson embarked on her Procter & Gamble career, with the world of printing not even a consideration until the mid-1990s, when the opportunity to switch industries afforded itself.
Davidson joined an organization that, although paled in size to P&G, was enjoying a dynamic flux, fueled by acquisitions that escorted The Sheridan Group's product and service menu into new directions. Braun-Brumfield (1988) added books, and United Litho (1994) ushered in magazine printing. Dartmouth Printing (1998), which specialized in journals and magazines, and BookCrafters (1999), also gave the organization more depth. Catalog printer The Dingley Press joined the fray in 2004, and The Sheridan Group is now 1,500 employees strong.
Davidson believes the company has been able to thrive due, in large part, to its solid management team, a dedicated employee roster motivated by continuous improvement, and a customer focus bent toward partnership and goal realization.
"I've been able to work with employees throughout all of The Sheridan Group companies, and they all possess the same qualities that make companies successful—they understand the importance of our customers, they understand that the business world is changing, and they help our team accomplish our goals," she says.
Through the years, Davidson has honed her coaching skills and sharpened her ears. She tends to focus more on strategic issues, such as technology and customer needs, and driving sales growth year after year.
Joe Truncale, president of the NAPL, is amazed by Davidson's ability to effectively balance a strong focus on business objectives, while simultaneously fostering and developing meaningful relationships with members of her team.
"I have seen people who excel at one or the other," Truncale notes. "Joan has the rare ability to accomplish both."
David Branch, president and chairman of Branch-Smith Printing in Ft. Worth, TX, adds that Davidson has been a solid asset to NAPL in various capacities, and has thrived in an industry dominated by men. "It's certainly wonderful to see a woman having such great success in several different roles at The Sheridan Group," he says. "Joan is certainly qualified, and I've enjoyed working with her at NAPL."
Davidson was put to the test early in her Sheridan Group career when a major server crash handcuffed the entire system—which provided journal typesetting—creating a bottleneck in the front end. The company worked day and night to rectify the situation and ensure that production for its clients continued. No customers were lost, and the experience prompted the implementation of increased redundancy.
"This was one of my first true tests of being able to rally the employees toward a common cause, while asking many employees to work long hours to help us get the problem fixed," she notes. "Their support was incredible."
Davidson's biggest influences, not surprisingly, include Saxton and Jakobe. "John is simply a calm, steady leader who is smart, focused and personable. He has always said that it is important to concentrate on what you can control.
"Bob has a unique ability to be impartial to a situation, thereby not clouding judgment on a decision," she adds of Jakobe. "His humor keeps us laughing and lightens any situation."
In addition to her past board chair, vice chair and secretary/treasurer positions with NAPL, Davidson has served on the NAPL's nomination committee and strategic planning committee. She was inducted into the R&E Council of NAPL Nonpareil Society, and in the past has sat on the boards of both the Print & Graphics Scholarship Fund and the Graphic Arts Show Co.
A fitness enthusiast who can be found at the gym on a daily basis, Davidson is a frequent runner in events that support the fight against cancer, from 5Ks to relay marathons and half-marathons. Recently, she participated in her first sprint triathlon in support of the Melanoma Foundation. Davidson also gives of her time at Camp Sunrise, a pediatric cancer camp in Maryland, where she is a camp counselor for 11- and 12-year-old girls.
Joan and Tom Davidson have been married for five years, though they have been together for 16. They enjoy road biking together and are season ticket holders of the NFL's Baltimore Ravens.
Her son, Ryan Weisman, earned both an undergrad and masters degree in aeronautical engineering from the Rochester Institute of Technology, and is now attending Texas A&M en route to a PhD in the same field. At home is Hunter, a 4-year-old golden retriever who is considered part of the family. PI