2012 Hall of Fame : Carl Gerhardt - Exuding Trust and IntegrityOctober 2012 By Erik Cagle, Senior Editor
Never underestimate the networking potential of a party. One never knows when a little light conversation over a few hors d'oeuvres and some drinks can turn into a life-altering event. Just ask Carl Gerhardt.
It was the mid-1980s. Gerhardt, who grew up on a central Missouri farm, graduated from the University of Missouri with a degree in agriculture economics and had spent nearly 20 years in the agri business. He had done well for himself. But, this was a recessionary period, and the farm equipment industry had been impacted severely. Three years of successive contractions—10 percent to 15 percent layoffs annually—left Gerhardt at a crossroads.
Sensing a career change was in order, Gerhardt and his wife, Judy, attended a party. They fell into conversation with another couple who, a year earlier, had purchased a quick printing franchise. The couple simply gushed about their new venture. The Gerhardts made for a rapt audience. This was an ah-hah moment for them.
"They seemed to be doing well and were excited about their business," Gerhardt explains. "As we left the party that night, they drove off in a Mercedes and we drove off in my company car, which was not a Mercedes."
Judy, a graphic artist whom Gerhardt had met at work, loved the thought of working with her husband in the quick printing business, which ironically had been growing at 10 percent to 15 percent a year. They also shared a dream of living in Colorado.
Within three months, in 1985, the Gerhardts trekked off to Colorado Springs, CO, as the proud new owners of an American Speedy franchise. Instead of the franchise serving as an occupation destination for Gerhardt, it stood as a jumping off point. It paved the way to a career that saw him play a prominent role in propelling the Allegra Network to one of the nation's Top 25 printers, reaching a peak of $371 million in network sales for 2008. That alone is enough to punch his ticket as a 2012 Printing Impressions/RIT Printing Industry Hall of Fame inductee.
Moving Up the Ranks
Gerhardt presided over the height of Allegra Network's success, having taken the helm as president in 2004. Three years later, he added CEO to his resumé before transitioning into chairman in 2011, with Mike Marcantonio—who spearheaded the management buyout of the Plymouth, MI-based franchise in 2000—expanding upon his role by becoming CEO.