1998 Hall of Fame--Giving Back to The Industry
Suttle Press' John Berthelsen loves to impart his experience on others.
BY ERIK CAGLE
John R. Berthelsen has been inspired and motivated by many people in his professional life.
Whether it's speaker Zig Ziglar or his high school shop teacher, Berthelsen—co-owner of Waunakee, WI-based Suttle Press and a 1998 inductee in the Printing Impressions/RIT Printing Industry Hall of Fame—has made a habit out of taking nuggets of wisdom from influences in his life and incorporating them into his own work experience. Now Berthelsen is returning the favor whenever possible.
"Zig Ziglar has a great statement, that you can have everything in life you want if you just help enough other people get what they want," Berthelsen says of the motivational speaker. "I think that's a nice guiding principle. Whether it's inside my company, organization or industry, I've always tried to be a positive influence. Present ideas or methods of doing things, or create opportunities for people or organizations and, hopefully, everybody benefits."
It seems Berthelsen has benefitted as well. Suttle Press has an impressive track record of 19 years of successive growth, yet there are no management secrets he will keep for himself.
"John brings a level of commitment that is very important to our industry," says Gregg Van Wert, president of the National Association of Printers and Lithographers. "The contributions that industry associations make to the advancement of management expertise are only as good as the people who agree to share what they know. John has been a willing partner in that."
Berthelsen dropped into the world of commercial printing quite accidentally. As a freshman attending high school in Albert Lea, MN, he needed two semesters of industrial arts. He signed up for electronics and the then-high-tech world of transistors for the first semester. Instead of woodworking or automotive mechanics the second semester, he tried his hand at printing.
"I just have ink in my blood, and it hasn't left since," Berthelsen admits. "Part of the credit goes to my instructor who was enthusiastic about the graphic arts. And I just thought it was a neat thing to be doing—creating different kinds of works and producing them. The rest is history."
Berthelsen didn't know it at the time, but he was just getting his first taste of the industry. He began working for an in-plant printing operation his sophomore year of high school. The following year, Berthelsen and a school chum purchased an old duplicator and started their own company.
As a senior, Berthelsen participated in the Vocational Industrial Clubs of America (VICA) and was the national first place winner in its U.S. Skill Olympics.
After graduating from high school, Berthelsen proceeded to learn as much as he could about the industry. He worked at small printing companies in Albert Lea and Red Wing, MN, and in Sioux Falls, SD. During that period he worked in all phases of the printing process, including typesetting, camera, film assembly, small presswork and the bindery. Berthelsen then concentrated on the prepress process and became a journeyman stripper. He was prep department supervisor at Modern Press in Sioux Falls.
"Learning all the phases certainly gives you a base of experience and production knowledge," Berthelsen adds. "I have done everything, from composition and typesetting through bindery and finishing work, so it gave me a greater understanding of the whole process. The broader your knowledge, the better prepared you are to meet the challenges that can come up: production, planning and running a business."
He landed at Suttle Press in 1979, a period that began considerable ascension. He became general manager that year and was named president of the company just two years later. In 1985, Berthelsen became a part-owner.
During this period, Suttle Press' sales skyrocketed from $375,000 in 1979 to $8.7 million in 1997. In 1992, the company completed construction of a 42,000-square-foot building, which was expanded to 52,000 square feet in 1995.
Berthelsen insists the growth is more than a result of his desire to build the company. "The key to having that kind of growth is focusing on establishing long-term relationships with our customers," he says. "It's listening to what they want us to provide, what kind of products and services they require and then trying to match up our production capabilities with those for which our customers are looking.
"We've obviously added numerous products and services over the years, and we do a lot more than we did five, 10 or 15 years ago. So it's been growing, adapting and changing with the market and with our customers."
In terms of its products and services, Suttle Press made perhaps
its biggest leap in 1993 when Berthelsen brought in the company's first four-color press. Suttle Press had added a wrinkle to the flat-color printing for which it had developed a solid reputation, and it went to 100 percent waterless printing, certainly a technological mark of distinction.
The result was a catapult from $3.2 million in sales for 1993 to $8.7 million last year.
"We held off making the move into process color work for a long time," Berthelsen reveals. "We realized when we got to $3.5 million in sales that if we were going to continue to be a flat-color printer, this was as big as we were probably going to get.
"We had a lot of customers asking us to do more than flat-color printing and we just kept holding back," he adds. "But in 1992, we made the decision that we were going to take the next leap forward and put up a new building, get into process color and continue to grow the company. It was a very conscious choice we made at that point, to change our focus and add to our product line and capabilities."
Berthelsen is looking into other growth areas as well. He says Suttle Press is in the early stages of expanding its laser imaging, personalization and fulfillment capabilities. "We see a lot of demand from our customers for that type of work now," he notes.
Suttle Press has been honored as one of the outstanding printing operations in North America by the NAPL. It received three gold awards and one silver award in the NAPL Management Plus program. The company was inducted into the NAPL Printing Hall of Fame in 1990, only the sixth printer at the time to be recognized.
My Fellow Printers
For his part, Berthelsen has made an individual impact in The International Association of Printing House Craftsmen. After serving two years as president of the local Madison Club, he went on to serve two years as governor of the 6th District. From 1987 to '91, he served as international treasurer and then vice president. He served one year as president and, in 1996, was honored as International Craftsman of the Year for service to the industry.
"Part of the participation in industry organizations, whether it's the IAPHC or the NAPL, is giving something back to the industry," Berthelsen contends. "It may sound a little altruistic, but I really believe in putting something back into the industry. Printing—both the industry and its people—has been great for me.
"The other benefit, for myself and our company, has been the network that has been established with other printers, as well as manufacturers, suppliers and vendors. I've done a lot of traveling and every time I visit another printer, I can come away with at least one good idea that I can bring back and adapt to our operation. Several procedures that we have established at Suttle Press started out as seeds taken from other operations."
Marty Krebs, retired owner of Sells Printing in Milwaukee, met Berthelsen at an NAPL planning session in Georgia 13 years ago and was soon impressed by what he saw in him.
"I used to marvel at how John stayed so organized," Krebs remarks. "He runs a good ship. John is hands-on and keeps tabs on his growing company. He really communicates well with his employees and that helps him run his business really well."
Berthelsen also completed the NAPL Executive Certification program in 1993, which made him one of only 18 Certified Graphic Arts Executives (CGAE) in the nation. He completed studies in business planning, financial management, production management, and sales and marketing.
Berthelsen feels the course in business planning has had the most impact on him.
"Our focus on strategic planning and having a clear path and course of action are why Suttle Press is so successful," he contends. "We have a specific plan; we're very focused on what we do and how we do it.
"One of our sayings here is that we don't try to do five things 100 percent better, we try to do 100 things 5 percent better. It's a lot of attention to details and small things that may, to some, seem unimportant. But it's all part of the Suttle Press culture and attitude."