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REMEMBERING SEPTEMBER 11 -- Picking Up the Pieces

September 2002
BY ERIK CAGLE


It could be said that Doug Stone, co-founder of Odyssey Press, was a frugal man. He booked his own flights and almost always took the cheaper connecting route, no matter how circuitous.

Stone was saving the company money, particularly when he was flying from his company's headquarters in Dover, NH, to Trend Offset Printing in Los Alamitos, CA, the home of his former employer. He was close to Anthony Lienau, one of Trend's founders, and still did consulting work for Lienau. So Stone would fly into Texas, where Trend has a plant, and visit there before continuing to California. Out there, he would also spend time with his son, Zachary.

Stone paid a $100 exchange fee to switch his September 11 flight from American Airlines Flight 486 to Flight 11. That plane would eventually strike the North Tower of the World Trade Center.

"The whole thing seemed sur-real, seeing the planes hit the towers," said Stone's business partner, Tad Parker. "And to think that not only were there people on board, but someone I know."

Upon receiving confirmation from Zachary Stone that Doug had been on one of the ill-fated flights, Parker gathered the 40-some-employee staff and broke the news. "It was devastating for everyone. We're like a family here."

Getting Back To Normal

Business is only now getting back to normal for Odyssey Press, a book printer specializing in journal work, newsletters, custom publications (lab manuals and course packs) and print-on-demand services, among other areas.

Tad needed to learn the ins and outs of Doug's job, particularly manufacturing and financing. For a guy specializing in sales and public relations, it was a tall order.

"We had a huge base of customers in New York City, and nothing happened for six weeks," Parker says. "We're only now getting back to some sort of normalcy."

Stone didn't live to see his professional dream realized, but it has been fulfilled. On July 1, Odyssey Press moved into a larger, true manufacturing facility in Gonic, NH. The company plans to dedicate a flag pole in Stone's memory.

At local Dover High School, a scholarship fund has been started in his name. Criteria includes character, a good work ethic inside and outside school, and a good sense of humor—all Stone trademarks.

Still, Parker did not relish the thought of the one-year anniversary. "A lot of positive acts came out of (September 11) that showed there is a lot of humanity left in the United States and the world," he says. "The price we paid to find that out was very dear."

*******

The first shift, about 50 employees, was going about business as usual at The Fitch Group (130 Cedar St.), a general commercial printer that also does financial printing and research reports. Their building was 100 yards away from the South Tower, separated by only a parking lot.

John Fitch, president of the company, was running late and commuting on the Gowanus Expressway. While talking to someone at his office, the second plane struck.

"The office didn't seem too disturbed (after the first plane hit)," Fitch relates, then believing a small plane had hit the tower. "After the second plane hit, someone had presence of mind to evacuate the building."


With the skeletal remains of the World Trade Center looming in the background, bindery gear sits covered in debris and soot from the fallen buildings neighboring financial printer The Fitch Group.
The Fitch Group, which had offices on the 11th and 12th floors, as well as the basement, was able to account for all of its employees, but collateral damage was considerable. The north side of the building was "blown out," according to Fitch. A blanket of ash was everywhere. Steel beams from the crumbled towers impaled the roof. The company was able to rescue computer hard drives containing critical customer information, and some personal belongings were retrieved.

The business, with the exception of a midtown office, was essentially homeless. But there were options that have helped The Fitch Group get back on its feet: grants from the city and state, fellow printers willing to provide manufacturing space and a loyal list of customers. Employees have been understanding; 35 are back to work, and in six months Fitch expects to have his full complement of 70 on the job.

Its new headquarters on 28th Street were nearly 100 percent ready at press time. The new plant will have a few technologies the old one didn't.

"We're putting the company back together stronger than ever before," Fitch vows.

*******

Perhaps no company in the commercial printing industry was in closer proximity to the disaster site that soon became known as Ground Zero than R.R. Donnelley Financial. At 75 Park Place, this customer service and sales office for financial printing is across the street from WTC No. 7, which left a blanket of dust everywhere when it collapsed.

The company quickly mobilized, calling each of its 300 or so employees. It took about a week to verify that everyone was safe. They would take up residence in RRD's midtown office at 99 Park Avenue for six months.

Once the company had ensured that its own employees were fine, Donnelley faced a tough task with its customer base, particularly catalogers on a schedule.

"We convened a task force for senior officers in Chicago, and we plotted out what needed to be done over the next few weeks," says Ronald Daly, president of R.R. Donnelley Print Solutions. "We knew catalogers couldn't deliver in the East, and then we were getting a lot of requests to turn around quick publications (regarding September 11). The meeting was productive."

Daly notes that RRD did a good job of keeping open lines of communications with its employees and customers, which helped to allay fears.

Consideration was given to leaving the 75 Park Place address, as the view from its windows "was not pleasant," Daly relates. Since the financial district is in lower Manhattan, Donnelley decided the best move was not to move.

Donnelley's challenges were only beginning, however, as the largest mailer in the U.S. postal system felt the sting of the Anthrax scares cropping up in several parts of the country. Like many printers, Donnelley used corn starch as a slip agent to keep pages from adhering to each other. Employees at book and magazine distribution outlets were soon recoiling in horror as measures of corn starch, mistaken for the deadly virus, fell onto the floor.

And because of its relationship with American Media (AMI), a few Donnelley employees needed to take antibiotics to ensure they didn't have Anthrax.

"With the Anthrax scare and the economy, people aren't sending as much through the postal system as they used to," Daly comments. "It's had an impact on the post office and on R.R. Donnelley."

*******

The Association of Graphic Communications (AGC), the metro New York City affiliate of the Printing Industries of America (PIA), dedicated a great deal of energy on post-9/11 recovery efforts for its constituents. According to Vicki Keenan, vice president of public affairs, 50 printers sought some level of assistance from AGC in the aftermath, be it relocating, garnering grants, applying for local, state and/or federal aid, finding temporary accommodations or printers willing to loan out their facilities or other resources. Of those companies, 48 are still in business.

"It's a testament to the tenacity of these people," she says. "Not just recovering from the damage, but also the emotional toll. It was a struggle for people to do their work.

"Their competitive spirit will save the day. It makes me proud to be a part of this industry."

*******

From a business standpoint, the events of September 11 proved to be a "significant catalyst in amplifying a process that had already begun," according to Jonathan Fogel, senior vice president and director of marketing for Clifton, NJ-based Sandy Alexander. That process, of course, was the economic downturn that was, and still very much is, handcuffing U.S. business.

"We, like everyone else in the industry, have seen an impact on our business, and we have been managing our operation similarly to how we would during any economic downturn," Fogel says. "Fortunately, even though many of our clients are not spending at the peak levels of two years ago, and the dotcom segment has all but vanished, our business is still very strong and well-positioned to grow for many years to come.

"More importantly, from a people standpoint, obviously the impact of what occurred on September 11 has been significant for a variety of reasons," he adds. "Two of our employees experienced the tragedy first-hand, as one had a brother and another a son-in-law who were NYC fire fighters lost at the WTC collapse. While the economic cycle will turn at some point and business will return, these people won't. And that's a challenge that the families will face for the rest of their lives."
 

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