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The One Constant Is Constant Change

May 2003
As human beings, we're all creatures of habit. Many of us follow routines in how we complete tasks and respond to certain situations. We seek comfort in being around people we know and trust, and in believing that we can control our destinies. We get married, often have kids and remain intact as family units. We buy houses with white picket fences located in safe, often suburban, neighborhoods. We choose fulfilling professions that will carry us steadily to retirement.

But wait a minute. For most of us, life doesn't play out like families on "Leave It to Beaver" or "The Dick Van Dyke Show." In reality, marriages sometimes fail, we relocate more times in our lives than we ever could have imagined, and our careers face both triumphs and hurdles. Our lives are in a state of constant flux, truth be told. And we learn, the hard way, that things we worry about the most often end up not being what we should be thinking about.

The same correlation holds true for the printing industry. Aside from the sluggish economy, perhaps more unnerving for those in the graphic arts is the feeling that we can't predict the future of our industry. Fear of the unknown is even more debilitating than fear about maintaining clients, making payroll or even defaulting on a loan payment.

We're more comfortable with being reactive rather than proactive. In tough economic times like today, where it seems that fickle customers are loyal to no one, printers begin to question the commitment they made to this profession. Industry suppliers begin to ponder if anyone will start buying their products and services again. And Wall Street begins to discount publicly held printing companies on the false assumption that print is dead due to growth of electronic communication, including the Internet.

Let's not lose sight of the fact that almost all businesses are struggling in these tough times, not just those in the printing industry. Companies, across the board, have been hunkering down, reducing head counts, increasing efficiencies and curtailing capital investments. Buyers, of all types, are asking their vendors to sharpen their pencils while still maintaining superior service—often at commodity price levels. And concern over terrorism is leading American consumers to avoid international travel, to spend less and to become more wary of other cultures.

But, as our latest war in Iraq has taught us, good eventually conquers evil. Democracy wins over tyranny. Economic cycles eventually turn for the better. And change, both good and bad, is one constant that we can always count on.

Take RR Donnelley—this issue's cover story—for example. With 30,000 employees working in 45 facilities, this 138-year-old commercial printing industry stalwart is not resting on past laurels. It is in the midst of a transformation and cultural shift that began several years ago. Customer service models are being rewritten. Salespeople are being transitioned from traditional roles to that of business consultants. Continuous improvement methodologies have replaced antiquated production techniques. Equipment upgrades, once implemented primarily to increase capacity, now drive greater efficiency. Digital, standardized workflows replace analog, proprietary systems.

Or take the changes afoot within some of our most important industry associations. Be sure to read the question-and-answer article conducted with recently named Printing Industries of America President and CEO Michael Makin. On a similar note, the annual meeting of the Web Offset Association, being held this month in Nashville, marks the end of an era for its retiring executive director, Tom Basore, who so admirably led this organization that annually brings together executives from large web offset printing companies. Perhaps in Basore's most crowning glory, featured speakers at this year's conference include George H.W. and Barbara Bush.

So, I guess what I'm trying to say is remain cognizant that constant change is inevitable. Don't fear what you can't control. But face the challenges and embrace the opportunities.

Mark T. Michelson

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