2006 PRINTING INDUSTRY HALL OF FAME — KEEPER OF THE FLAME
AS MUCH as we’d like to think we control our own destinies, fate often lends a guiding hand to the future.
Take Tom Quadracci. He’d just obtained his undergraduate degree at Regis University in Denver and had moved on to Stanford for postgraduate work toward what he’d intended to be a career as a marine biologist. His future was set.
“When you’re that age, you have visions of sailing around and collecting specimens,” Quadracci says.
Then he got a call from Uncle Sam. Even though the war was winding down, Quadracci’s country (and the U.S. Army) needed him. Or so it seemed.
Quadracci went home to the Milwaukee suburb of Wauwatosa, WI, and waited for his marching orders. During that wait, he helped his older brother, Harry, get the ball rolling on a startup printing business called Quad/Graphics. Tom Quadracci had worked at another printing plant, W.A. Krueger, with his father every summer during high school and college, so it was hardly foreign territory to him.
As it turned out, the Army didn’t need him after all. And Tom Quadracci’s name would never become synonymous with Jacques Cousteau.
“I guess I had more ink in my veins than I realized,” he admits. “I don’t know if marine biology would have been all that glamorous. I think most people end up working in a lab.”
Science’s loss turned out to be the printing industry’s gain. Quadracci, 58, played a pivotal role in helping his brother develop Sussex, WI-based Quad/Graphics into the ideal privately held business model with $1.8 billion in annual sales, and co-founded auxiliary press equipment manufacturer QuadTech.
Those credentials more than qualify him as a 2006 inductee into the PRINTING IMPRESSIONS/RIT Printing Industry Hall of Fame, which is co-sponsored by the Rochester Institute of Technology.
The award further underscores the staunch reputation of the Quadracci clan and status as the first family of the printing industry. Tom’s father and older brother—Harry R. and Harry V. Quadracci, respectively—are past Hall of Fame inductees and viewed as pioneers. And now Tom, the chairman of the board who is retiring at year’s end, hands off full leadership to nephew Joel Quadracci, Harry’s son.
Quadracci experienced what he termed an uneventful childhood. He was by far the youngest of three boys—13 years separated him and Harry, and the gap was 10 years with middle child Len. “I came on as somewhat of a surprise,” he laughs.
He enjoyed individual sports as a youth, competing on his high school swimming team, as well as skiing whenever the opportunity presented itself. He also liked going to work with his father at W.A. Krueger on Saturdays.
“Dad would go to Krueger to check how things were going at the plant,” Quadracci says. “When he went in for color OKs, he would sit me on the pressman’s table and the press operator would feed me ice cream while dad did the approvals.
“The smell of the printing plant back then really sticks with me. I can still remember the smell of deep etch plates, the alcohol and fountain solutions, all the unique smells that printing companies had in those days.”
Impressions from Youth
W.A. Krueger proved to wield a great influence over Tom Quadracci, as well as helping to shape the kind of printing establishment Quad/Graphics was to become. Quadracci picked up a great deal of experience in his time there, performing the role of lead pressman during a labor dispute and strike.
He eventually became familiar with every aspect of the operation. W.A. Krueger, he says, was highly innovative when it came to embracing new technologies—a mantra that was picked up and incorporated into the Quad/Graphics fabric. But although it was also a family owned operation, W.A. Krueger’s management style was somewhat dated—even for the era—and the labor strife only served to polarize management and shop floor workers.
“When we started Quad/Graphics, we decided we never wanted to see that happen to a company that we worked for ever again,” Quadracci says. “The management style that we developed here is very egalitarian—everyone’s job is important. We do our best not to build up walls between any departments, certainly not between supervisors and those on the shop floor.”
Quadracci started off at the helm of Quad/Graphics’ first web press, then worked his way to plant manager, vice president of manufacturing and executive vice president of the company. The latter position groomed him to eventually take over the leadership helm from his brother.
It was under the most difficult of circumstances that Tom Quadracci took over as president and CEO of Quad/Graphics, following Harry’s drowning in July of 2002. His elder brother had died only weeks after a devastating fire at the Lomira, WI, plant that took the life of a contracted worker. Not only did he have to deal with Harry’s passing on a personal level, Tom needed to assure shareholders, lending institutions, clients and employees that Quad/Graphics was going to endure and prosper.
“We’ve built a very strong foundation for the business that we expect will last for generations,” Quadracci notes. “Our employees stepped up and proved that we could go on and be very successful.”
Tom Quadracci left a legacy on the manufacturing end, as well, when he co-founded QuadTech in 1985. He had generated some product ideas that were pitched to some leading equipment manufacturers. However, the companies decided to pass on his auxiliary equipment concepts.
“Quite frankly, they didn’t see a lot of value in the ideas,” he says. “Our company was young enough—and we were perhaps dumb enough—to think we could do it all ourselves. So we gathered our IT guy, Jerry Kirby, and some electricians and began prototyping some of the ideas. They were successful, so we started hiring engineers and developing more products. Today, QuadTech is the largest manufacturer of auxiliary press equipment in the world.”
QuadTech soon became a household name in web offset printing circles, with popular products that include its closed-loop color control and register guidance systems.
Angelo Rivello, senior vice president of marketing and distribution for Newsweek, and a customer since Quad’s inception, calls Quadracci the “technical power behind the throne” of the family’s printing empire. Rivello believes Quadracci’s greatest contribution to the world of printing lies in his work with QuadTech.
“We did not have good register control systems back in the day; they were all terrible,” Rivello says. “And as far as the first pinless folders...what a disaster! (Quad-Tech) came along and made it better.
“Today, there are no bad printers because the mechanics have changed thanks to people like Tom. In my experiences, in my world, I never saw anyone more brilliant at figuring that stuff out and solving problems as Tom was.”
Quadracci credits his brother Harry’s people-handling skills and philosophy for the company’s reputation as a worker’s paradise—a style borrowed from the Japanese business culture. Despite his ahead-of-the-curve management style, Harry may have been a riverboat gambler at heart, “going too far, too fast and being too aggressive, perhaps to the point of betting the farm,” Quadracci says. But Quad/Graphics’ business plan, and the philosophy of the elder Quadracci, kept the company on track.
“He used to say that the way to manage a printing company was to hold it in the palm of your hand,” Quadracci says of his father, who passed away in 1999. “That influenced my management style of always wanting to be out on the shop floor, and letting everyone in the plant know what is happening.”
Tom Quadracci is involved with Waukesha County Technical College, which in recent years has built the Harry V. Quadracci Printing & Graphics Center, and has plans for an applied technologies center for the printing industry. It is his hope to make Waukesha, WI, the “Silicon Valley of the printing industry.” He is also on the board of directors at Carroll College, which has developed printing management programs.
An ardent scuba diver who has explored the Galapagos Islands, the Philippines and the Caribbean, Quadracci and his wife of 35 years, Susan, love to adventure travel. The couple plan to visit Antarctica this winter, the only continent they have yet to explore.
The Quadraccis have two sons, David, an automation engineer at Quad/Graphics, and Mario, an assistant editor at the company-owned Milwaukee Magazine. PI
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