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March 2002

Brenda Slacum, COO of Specialties Bindery, has a favorite saying: "We are a brand new company with a 30-year history." It's a statement that might leave you scratching your head if you're not familiar with this trade bindery, which specializes in mechanical (Wire-O, spiral wire, plastic coil and plastic comb) binding, perfect binding, as well as folding, rotary scoring, collating, fulfillment and related services.

But this $6.5 million, 85-employee trade services company, which is located in a 108,000-square-foot facility just outside of Washington, DC, in Hyattsville, MD, has a bit of a Cinderella story to tell—thanks in part to its COO.

Specialties Bindery was founded in 1971 by Ronald Ridgeway and Bill Schroder. Mark Lee and Joe McAllister joined the firm seven years later as partners. In the beginning, the operation primarily finished pamphlets, but evolved into a specialty house focused on mechanical and adhesive binding services before it was sold to Quebecor World in 1988.

Only the First Chapter

You might think that the story ends with the sale to Quebecor, but in fact that's when the tale starts to get interesting. The sale of the company brought problems. The bindery's niches did not fit into Quebecor's core businesses, nor did local commercial printers want to give work to a finishing operation owned by a national printing concern, so Specialties Bindery languished with no new equipment or expanded capabilities and a dwindling customer base.

"We found that, during the Quebecor years, other printers viewed us as competitors," admits Slacum.

So, in 1997, when the opportunity to buy the bindery back surfaced, Lee and Ridgeway jumped at the chance. Ridgeway came out of retirement to become president and Lee served as general manager. The company was slowly beginning to get back on track when tragedy struck: Ronald Ridgeway passed away, leaving a hole in the company's leadership.

At that time, Mark Lee was named president and Brenda Slacum became operations manager. Two years ago, she was promoted to COO—perhaps making her the only woman in the country to head a trade bindery operation.

"It was a natural progression for me. I started in the MIS department eight years ago," Slacum explains. "I oversaw the MIS department and provided analysis on what direction each department needed to go, which sort of evolved into overseeing operations."

For Lee, though, it was Slacum's work ethic and managerial skills that made her the natural choice for the job. "She has the drive, the ambition, the persistence and the willingness to take on anything that needs to be done," remarks Lee.

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