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2008 Printing Industry Hall Of Fame : 2008 HOF -- From Grip to Graphics Arts

October 2008 By Erik Cagle
Senior Editor
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NO ONE can blame Michael Keene for having grandiose dreams. Who among us, in our youth, didn’t dream of becoming a professional athlete, a rock star, an astronaut, or perhaps a fireman? Maybe that dream was to run away and join the circus.

Keene started working toward his quest of becoming a filmmaker after getting a BA in studio art from the University of Minnesota. He managed to get a job as a grip (moving equipment around) with a film company. The gig paid $1.50 an hour, not exactly big bucks even in the early 1970s. Plus, he had a young wife and child to support.

On the other hand, Keene was making $3 an hour working in shipping and receiving at The John Roberts Co., a printing firm co-owned by his father, Robert Keene (John Chelberg was the other half of the namesake). Before long, the younger Keene found himself heading up the prepress department. The movie business would take a back seat.

“Making $1.50 an hour as a grip, I realized I wasn’t going to be able to pursue that,” notes Keene, the president and CEO of Minneapolis-based The John Roberts Co. “It took a while to come to the realization that (printing) was what I wanted to do. There was no defining moment...sometimes it’s the things you have no control over that have more of an influence on you.”

The film industry may have lost out on an award-winning director, but look at it this way: Had he opted to make movies, John Roberts would have lost a future leader, and the printing industry would’ve missed out on a 2008 Printing Impressions/RIT Printing Industry Hall of Fame inductee. 

Keene, 58, has deftly guided John Roberts, a general commercial printer, into an upper echelon company since taking over as president in 1986. The firm posted sales of $69 million in 2007 to earn a rank of 85 on the Printing Impressions 400 list. But it was Keene who helped guide the company through two events that would’ve spelled the end for many businesses.

“What strikes me about Michael has been his ability to guide John Roberts through some tough economic years and still have a thriving company,” notes John Olson, a sales rep for Midland Paper who has known Keene since 1987.

“He’s done such a fine job growing the company. And people love working there. Everyone talks fondly about John Roberts. It’s one of the nicest places to work in Minnesota, and I attribute that to Michael.”



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