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2012 Hall of Fame : Volker Petersen - Smooth Sailing to Success

October 2012 By Erik Cagle, Senior Editor
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For someone who craves control in his/her life, the very thought of spending a great deal of time on a sailboat, in the ocean, in the middle of nowhere and at the mercy of Mother Nature, has to be more than a little disconcerting. That the president and CEO of a multimillion-dollar concern is able to let nature call the shots is most curious; after all, chief executives need to maintain command in order to guide a firm.

Volker Petersen doesn't spend a lot of time pondering the psychological correlations between business and sailing. The president and CEO of Brown Printing, a magazine and catalog producer based in Waseca, MN, just enjoys being at the whim of the water.

"I go wherever it takes me," Petersen says. "Whenever I have the opportunity to find a crew and a boat, that's usually where I go. Sailing gives me the opportunity to be grounded again. Mother Nature is in control, and you quickly understand that within five minutes on a sailboat."

He does see a parallel with business. "If you are five minutes ahead of what happens, then sailing is very easy," he notes. "If you're five seconds behind something that happens, you're too late."

Petersen spent part of this past summer sailing across the Atlantic Ocean—an impressive feat in boating circles—but it pales in comparison to the job he has done staying a few steps in front of the competition during the past five years. While the magazine and catalog printing markets have shrunk 40 percent since 2007, Brown Printing has nearly doubled its market share during that time frame. That Petersen has guided such growth during the most repressive economic atmosphere in modern history—making his firm the No. 3 industry provider behind only RR Donnelley and Quad/Graphics—well qualifies him as a 2012 inductee into the Printing Impressions/RIT Printing Industry Hall of Fame.

While magazine advertising pages have been drastically reduced and many publishers have witnessed the sometimes-drastic declines of their circulation base, Brown Printing has managed to grow. It posted sales of $421 million according to its most recent fiscal year sales, or 8 percent growth over the previous campaign.

"The challenge is to find the right balance to satisfying the needs of customers, employees and shareholders," Petersen notes. "The past five years have made that focus even more important. Because the market is shrinking, you have to figure out how you can gain share to remain relevant and successful in a changing landscape."

 

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