2007 Printing Industry Hall of Fame — Appreciation for People - David TorokSeptember 2007 By Erik Cagle
Young employees are like children in the sense that they are at an impressionable stage in their careers, and can develop good or bad habits that will grow with them—particularly their attitudes regarding their work. And, after all, one never knows when a future company president is going about his or her day on the shop floor.
George Kaplan of Western Publishing in Racine, WI, didn’t know it at the time, but he was shaping the perspective of a future printing company leader. Little did he know the impact he would have on David Torok, president and CEO of Padgett Printing in Dallas and a 2007 PRINTING IMPRESSIONS/RIT Printing Industry Hall of Fame inductee.
“George had some letters on the wall behind where he sat— M-M-F-I. It stood for ‘make me feel important,’ ” explains Torok, 60. “Whenever you went into his office, George did a good job of making you feel important. He had an unbelievable work ethic.”
Torok was influenced by a number of executives along the way, which helped mold his appreciation of employees and their hard work. And the man knows a little something about hard work himself.
As a youngster, Torok moved frequently. His father was in charge of manufacturing for Chrysler International. One of the more exotic locales young David had the opportunity to see was Adelaide, Australia, where he spent his early teenage years.
“I learned to play tennis, cricket, squash and Australian rules football,” Torok says of life in Adelaide, which is roughly the size of San Diego. “It’s a slower pace there and everything shuts down at noon on Saturday.
“I went to an English school, so I wore the short pants, knee socks and little Eton cap. I had a really good time.”
Upon returning from Down Under, the Toroks moved to Detroit, where David got his first taste of printing. He took a course in printing, learned the California type case, and became involved in setting type and doing silk screen work.
Assembly Line Roots
It was also during this time that Torok got a true taste of the real Detroit. During summers between semesters at Michigan State, he worked the second shift assembly line building Dodge trucks. At a rate of 45 times per hour, he would assemble the steering components.
“To this day, I can still pick up steering gear, install it, put the bolts and washers on, bring down my torque wrench and tighten them, and put a ground on,” he says. “It was probably the worst job I ever had.
“Later, I transferred into inspection because I could spell words like license plate. There wasn’t much free time in the summer, but it made you appreciate going back to school.”
After graduating from Michigan State, he joined the U.S. Army and went into officer candidate school (OCS). Upon leaving the military at the rank of captain, Torok returned to Chrysler as a receiving dock supervisor. While there, he also finished getting his MBA.
The oil embargo of the early 1970s chased Torok out of the auto industry and led him to Kaplan and Western Publishing. Over a 12-year period, his assignments included inventory control, production control and distribution. Toward the end of his tenure there, Torok handled sales and marketing for the diversified products printing division.
Torok left Western Publishing for Hurst Printing in Dallas, where he worked for two years and rose to the position of general manager prior to its sale. He credits Nolan Moore, who headed up the local PIA affiliate at the time, with getting him in touch with Win Padgett. In 1989, Torok accepted the role of Padgett Printing president amd CEO.
In the 18 years since Torok assumed the helm at Padgett, the company has grown from an $8 million a year performer to north of $30 million. The company’s plan is to reach the $45 million range over the next five to six years. Torok’s willingness to get on board early in the development of a technology has kept Padgett Printing at the industry fore; the company entered the digital printing realm in 1998 and has been offering mailing and fulfillment services for the past five years.
Mary Garnett, executive vice president at PIA/GATF, notes Torok has been an “outstanding member and resource to PIA/GATF.” Garnett points out that Torok has served as chairman of the Digital Printing Council and is frequently called upon by the association to provide feedback, a printer perspective on trends and their impact, as well as answers to business issues.
“Dave is at the top of my ‘go-to’ list for member perspective,” Garnett says. “I can depend on his thoughtful, candid insight and observations. He knows the printing industry from the traditional offset point of view through the latest in variable data and personalization in the digital printing arena. Dave has shared his knowledge in informal meetings, as a panelist and as a seminar leader.”
Don Clampitt, CEO of Clampitt Paper in Dallas, has known Torok well since his Hurst Printing stint. Clampitt sees Torok as a focused man driven by results.
“He’s not someone who flies by the seat of his pants,” Clampitt emphasizes. “The people who work for David know exactly what job needs to be done. That’s the reason he’s so successful.”
Life’s Ups and Downs
The journey has been dotted with ups and downs. On the plus side, Padgett Printing’s growth over the years hasn’t added overhead, and the company is operating at about $250,000 per employee. Without the benefit of ample operating space, it has tested the company’s ability to construct highly efficient workflows.
And regardless of how well an executive can encourage and support the employee base, it only takes one thief to put a firm’s reputation to the test. A major embezzlement case at Padgett Printing involving a former employee has worked through the court system for two and a half years. Torok immediately contacted all suppliers and has spoken with a number of PIA/GATF executives on the subject.
“Employees are like a family. And, with any family, a member occasionally does something that’s not right,” Torok says. “We stressed that it didn’t affect the total family—the Padgett employees. Our company was still strong.”
Torok would rather spend his time on the production floor or in front of customers rather than sitting in his office. Nothing is more exciting to him than taking a customer’s idea at the concept stage and seeing his people “produce a printed piece that sizzles.” That entails listening and learning, and doing better than the previous day, he points out.
Torok is very active within the Dallas community, donating his time and pro bono printing. He is on the board of directors for Captain Hope’s Kids, which meets the critical needs of homeless children. Another annual highlight is “Christmas in July,” a project with the Texas Scottish Rite Hospital for Children, where the kids draw Christmas card images. Padgett produces the cards, and Torok brings Santa to the hospital while they’re creating them.
“The Padgett family believes in giving back to the community, and we’re suckers for anything that has to do with kids and communication,” Torok says.
Torok is an avid car enthusiast and races his two Dodge Vipers in club events. When he’s not traveling to major cities with his wife Shirley, Torok enjoys spending time with his four granddaughters. The Toroks have three daughters, Sara, Amy and Mara.
Sitting by a large koi pond filled with 22 of the colorful fish is a good way to relax for Torok, as is golf. He may not be a top-flight linkster, but as a young man, he caddied for Bruce Crampton when he won the Motor City Open at Detroit in 1962.
“There was a big first prize of $5,300,” he recalls, “of which I got $300.”
Torok expresses his appreciation to the Padgett family for giving him the trust, environment and opportunity to lead the company. PI