Heidelberg USA’s President Reflects on the U.S. Printing Industry
As the printing industry slowly recovered from one of the most difficult business climates ever, Harald Weimer stepped into his new position as president of Heidelberg USA in the fall of 2011. While Heidelberg fights back and defends its market-leader position, Weimer now faces some unique challenges and new opportunities in these drastically changed market conditions.
It brings me great pleasure welcoming him to my blog to share his outlook on the U.S. printing industry and its position on a worldwide basis.
Nick: Compared to newly industrialized countries such as China and Brazil, North America is quite a mature market. As one of Heidelberg’s six top markets worldwide, what unique contributions do you see us bringing to the global table?
Weimer: First of all, the United States is still the biggest commercial printing market worldwide at approx. $80 billion, plus the converting industry with around $15-$20 billion in sales, is huge. Therefore, it is also for Heidelberg very important to have a strong presence here, making sure that we accomplish what is expected from a market and technology leader. And it is encouraging to see that more and more customers have found their way out of the crisis, which we could measure with an increased order intake of 40 percent year-over-year.
U.S. commercial printers these days are looking for technologies with the highest efficiencies to allow addressing the margin pressure they have. That includes people and processes. Therefore, the need for services, uptime and consulting is getting more important.
The converting industry—folding carton and labels—is much more industrialized (here) than, for example, in Europe. Converters are always looking for scale effects and a permanent need for retooling for highest productivity.
Nick: You come from a background in international business experience in Europe and Mexico. During those times, what assumptions did you have about the U.S. printing industry that you now find untrue?
Weimer: I thought about a need for companies investing not only in peak performance technology, but also in processes and in people. I find this true while now being a year responsible for the U.S. operation. That is the reason why Heidelberg is permanently increasing its offering in service, consulting and education. Today’s technology is so advanced, printers need to take care about this part too to get the utmost out of their invest.
Nick: The surviving “commercial printers” in the United States are becoming “marketing service providers” in the business of effectively managing content across print, Web, mobile and social media outlets. As Heidelberg is a mirror of its customers, how are you responding to these changes?
Weimer: Our offering today compared to 10 years ago is completely different; beside the changes in offset technology, which have been massive, we have invested heavily in our digital printing offerings. Beside our strategic partnership with Ricoh, we have our Anicolor technology—best in class for short-run printing—and signed an agreement with Landa for Nanography technology.
Stay tuned; there’s much more to come! We are continuously increasing our offering in performance services and consulting, helping our customers in this transition.
Nick: What are the biggest challenges and opportunities you face when it comes to the current state of the U.S. printing industry?
Weimer: America is a big country. Therefore, we are challenged to have our offering available all over the country. We are doing fine, but it is not easy. On the other side, we need to increase our offers constantly. Just machines are not enough these days. Therefore, we invested in our infrastructure for selling consumables in North America.
Nick: Being president of a highly respected, major press manufacturer is quite an impressive accomplishment. Looking back on your career, what is the biggest lesson you learned that helped you reach this position?
Weimer: We are working in a people business—stay close to your employees and your customers. You always need to improve this working relationship.
Nick: When I worked in Germany and Brazil, I found the cultural differences to be quite interesting, especially when it came to the workplace. What cultural differences in America do you think makes Americans unique in the way we work?
Weimer: The professionalism and optimism of the Americans is really amazing. I enjoy working in the United States and in this industry!
Thank you, Harald, for sharing your insight and taking the time to be part of my blog.