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Simon Printing Is True Calling

October 2002
BY ERIK CAGLE


The way Michael Simon sees it, retirement is not a light at the end of the tunnel. The executive vice president and co-owner of Publishers Press is already there, so to speak.

He's 42 years of age, enjoying the best that retirement has to offer without being retired.

"I was blessed with the opportunity to do something I love," says Simon, who is one of the youngest executives elected into the Printing Impressions/RIT Printing Industry Hall of Fame as part of the 2002 class. "When you truly enjoy what you do, work is less a challenge and more like a hobby."

Simon is the custodian, along with his brother, Nick, of the fifth generation of family owned Publishers Press of Shepherdsville, KY, a projected $160 million printer that debuted in 1866 under the guidance of his great-great grandfather, Nicholas, a German immigrant who published newspapers in his native language. Michael's contribution to the company started at the age of nine, when he earned $5 a day stripping pasteup flats. When he wasn't working, Simon enjoyed hunting, fishing and baseball.

Simon grew up in Louisville as the youngest of four children. The family lived off modest means; his father, Frank, invested much of his time and finances in helping to build the business. Frank's hard work and dedication would soon pay dividends for Publishers Press, which specializes in printing short- to medium-run business and special interest publications.

"By the time I reached college, the business was doing pretty well," Simon notes. "We had 300 employees and were doing $30 million in annual sales. It was a people business, both on the management and sales sides. It involved interacting with people, and I really enjoyed that. It was an obvious choice for me to join the company.

"I've always kind of known I was going to become a printer, which is nice," he adds. "When you set your sights on something early in life, you have a good advantage over a lot of other folks."

With that in mind, Simon obtained a bachelor's degree in printing management from the Rochester Institute of Technology in 1983. He had worked in the prepress department at Publishers Press during the summer for most of his teenage years before transitioning into sales and customer service.

"Initially, I did estimating and production planning," Simon remarks. "I managed most of the front-end operations, the customer service department, prepress services and the sales effort. (Those departments) still report to me directly."

His father made a crucial decision for Publishers Press in the 1950s when he changed his company's focus to publication printing. Commercial jobs had been erratic and difficult to schedule, but magazines were as dependable as clocks, and they represented repeat business. Business picked up considerably for the printer in the 1970s, when the elder Simon made the transition of turning Publishers Press from a sheetfed to a web offset operation.


In a photo from 1989, pictured from the left are: Nick Simon, Michael's brother; Frank Simon, Michael and Nick's late father; and Michael Simon.
In 1990, responding to the company's rapid growth, expansion plans were drawn for a second facility in nearby Lebanon Junction. Frank passed away in May of 1990, never seeing the plans that would materialize the following year. Following the death of their father, Nick was named president and Michael took over as executive vice president.

Publishers Press turned the technological corner in 1993 when it became the first publication printer to embark on computer-to-plate technology. Installation of the capability began in the summer of 1993 and came online in the following spring, as the May 1994 issue of Sports Car International marked the first filmless, full-color magazine.

"We actually originated computer-to-plate. We were the first company to print a four-color publication by computer-to-plate in the lithographic market," he adds. "We've been digitally adept and maintained an aggressive posture in educating our staff on digital workflows."

According to Simon, Publishers Press was at the head of the class in that regard, and it helped segue the company into a different sales approach. "It's been a natural progression of keeping up with technology. When I first got here, we were utilizing step-and-repeat machines for making printing plates. I transferred those efforts into Opti-copy systems, step-and-repeat on film.

"We dramatically altered our sales and service staffs, going from individual customer service representatives to a team concept," he adds. "We also added an additional level of service, which we call a technical representative. It allows our salespeople to sell, and it frees them of the duty of servicing. It's worked very well for us. Service is what definitely separates us from our competition in our customers' minds. We believe in going the extra mile for clients and providing them with superior service. That added level of service, the technical rep, is really the eyes and the ears of the customer."

That customer service approach has buoyed the growth of Publishers Press. Simon places great emphasis on customer retention: existing accounts represent half of the printer's annual growth. Another variable in its success is the status of being family owned and operated. Without shareholders making demands for instant gratification, Publishers Press can make decisions that speak to its long-term outlook.

It is an ongoing process. One of the toughest decisions Publishers Press needed to make was in response to a recent drop in revenues. Clients lost advertising pages—quite common within the magazine publishing community the past two years—and, coupled with computer-to-plate and the digital environment allowing clients to do work in-house, Publishers Press found justifying its staffing levels difficult. The company instituted voluntary layoffs, extending "very gracious" severance packages to those who chose to leave.

It was the toughest call Simon has needed to make, but it was done with an eye on the overall, and future, health of the company. It is a part of how Simon feels that his employees view him.

"I think they would say I'm driven. Forward thinking. Visionary," he says. "Someone who is always looking down the road, seeing how things might be done better. . . a person with an eye on today and on tomorrow."

Simon's intensity and desire to be on the leading edge of technology have garnered much attention.

"I don't know if I've ever met someone as intense and focused on the job as Michael is," states Ty Bobit, president/CEO of Bobit Publishing and a customer for more than 15 years. "He's always thinking about new ways to solve problems, new opportunities, ways to help his customers."

Bobit once split his printing between Publishers Press and another firm. But when Simon told him what direction he wanted to take technology-wise, Bobit took all of his work and gave it to Simon.

"Michael's impressed me with his foresight," he adds. "He really sees the future of his industry."

"Innovative, technical minded and customer-oriented," is how Tom Martin, vice president of manufacturing for Cygnus Business Media, describes Simon. Riding the CTP wave with Publishers Press, Cygnus went from having six publications printed there to more than 50 now.

Through it all, the proud lineage of Publishers Press is a stewardship he takes seriously, along with the obligation to build upon the tradition his elders have established. Simon left another footprint on the company's equipment dossier with the acquisition of two MAN Roland web presses he first saw during DRUPA 2000.

"Maintaining family ownership is paramount to all of it," Simon remarks. "In a business environment, when the company is five generations old, there's a great source of pride in the accomplishments of my forefathers and a great deal of responsibility to carry that forward."

To that end, Simon has used the principles passed down from his father. "It's not any one thing, but the 10,000 little things that make a difference," he says. "Things like acknowledging employees in the hallways, being genuinely concerned about customer problems and keeping up to date on technology. You try to do each of those right, and do them with honesty and integrity. In doing that you're not guaranteed of anything, but you greatly increase your odds of being successful."


Michael and wife Debbie pose with their children, from the left, Jackson, Michael and Carolyn.
Clearly, the late Frank Simon left his mark on the community, as well as on his children and business. The town of Shepherdsville renamed the street that Publishers Press is located on in his honor: Frank E. Simon Avenue, and dedicated a park in his honor.

Michael Simon and his wife, Debbie, are the parents of three children: Michael Jr., 11; Jackson, 9; and Carolyn, 6. While he enjoys golf and fly fishing, his primary choice of leisure time is spent with his children. "I try to spend as much time as I can with my family," Simon adds. "My kids are my greatest source of pride and accomplishment, and I realize the importance of instilling the principles in them that I learned from my father."

 

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