Jon Budington's Willingness to Embrace Change Earns Him a Place in the Printing Industry Hall of Fame
Don't let the tinges of gray hair fool you. Behind the conservative, mature visage offered by Jon Budington lies a man full of youthful exuberance, unflinching in the eye of constant change and excited about the possibilities that the future holds.
Budington is young in CEO years but, at 45, he has catapulted his way through the ranks at Alexandria, VA-based Global Printing. During this 23-year pilgrimage, leveraging new opportunities showcased Budington at his best and most creative.
His forward-thinking, creativity and willingness to embrace change—not to mention his deft guidance of Global Printing through a challenging economy and the industry's paradigm shift—punched Budington's ticket as a 2014 inductee into the Printing Impressions/RIT Printing Industry Hall of Fame, co-sponsored by the Rochester Institute of Technology (RIT) School of Media Sciences.
One thing's certain about Budington's managerial style. The shifting tides of the printing industry will never catch him off guard.
"Our business model embraces change. Change creates opportunity," he philosophizes. "There's no going back to where we once were, so it's not worthy of our time to dwell upon it. This is a process…the industry is evolving. When things are changing, economies are tough and you have new competition—that's when we have the best opportunity to grow. We have to expand services, make investments that are tough and cut losses on things we don't think are part of our future anymore."
Garnering a Taste of Business
Budington experienced a small-town New England childhood, the type James Taylor may have written about, while growing up in Somers, CT. He spent a few summers working on his grandfather's farm, and it was around that time that his grandfather taught him the photography ropes. Budington parlayed the experience into a small business in high school, taking in-action photos of prep sporting events such as football, and then selling them to parents. When he was old enough to drive, Budington hit the road, covering area high schools while getting to know coaches and making contacts.
Also around this time, Budington would accompany his grandfather, who owned an art brokerage, at auctions to procure pieces for clients. He learned about the various classical printing processes and gained an appreciation for both art and craft. The overall experience also fueled his decision to attend RIT for its graphic arts photographic reproduction classes in the school of printing.
Around his second year at RIT, Budington came to the realization that his true strengths were more entrepreneurial than artistic, and that apprenticeship with his grandfather helped set the stage for his printing career upon graduating in 1991.
It didn't take Budington long to meet his destiny, as Global Printing President Jerry Dreo—himself an RIT grad—tabbed him for the estimating department that summer. Just six months later, Budington—somewhat bored with estimating—pounced on an opportunity when the copy services office manager left the firm. He even wrote out a business plan that he presented to Dreo, who was impressed enough to give Budington the gig.
"The first year we doubled sales; the second year, we opened another office," Budington notes. "It was an exciting time, and it was less about the printing and more about the entrepreneurial aspect: How do we land these clients? How do we work with sales and quote these jobs? It was actually a lot of fun."
In a matter of a few years, Budington coveted running the printing plant. He'd transformed the copy end into a third of Global Printing's overall business and sought to implement some of his ideas on the commercial printing end. He did just that, running the main plant until 2000, but found himself at a crossroads. The industry had become mature, and Budington relished bringing ideas to the customer rather than vice versa.
For Budington, 2001 provided the perfect storm with new online technologies. It also was the year he became CEO, and the new position greeted him with dotcom busts and clients going out of business. During the 2001-2002 timeframe, Global Printing lost about 30 percent of its revenue. A recession had arrived, but the game-changing technologies were only beginning to take shape.
"This was when industry disruption really started to happened," he observes. "We suddenly were competing with the Internet, and that really intrigued me. Coming out of this recession was going to be difficult, and how we were going to live with these technologies was going to forever change."
Putting a Plan Into Motion
When Budington became CEO, he worked quickly to implement cost-cutting initiatives. He carefully pored over the customer roster, identifying firms "that were entrenched a bit, but had a future," and finding ways to deepen those relationships. Last, and certainly not least, Budington tirelessly studied the new technologies, charted out the impact they would provide over time and sought ways to leverage them to Global Printing's advantage.
"In 2002-03, we focused downstream with clients, areas like fulfillment and mailing," he says. "We started thinking less about what we made and more about how our clients were using what we produced. For me, that was the light bulb that clicked. The printing and distribution were great, but the idea was to get further upstream and figure out how and why they were designing printed products, and how they were planning on using them."
The solution came in 2004, when the firm launched Global Thinking, a strategic agency to help get the company in front of key executives and get involved earlier in projects. Global began staffing up with specialists—programmers, strategists, copy writers—with no printing industry experience. Between 2004 and 2014, the company's sales output skyrocketed from $4 million to $22 million.
Herein lies the secret to Budington's master plan—it is less about the equipment on his shop floor. "Opportunities come from ideas. My equipment is less important than the ideas I bring to my clients," he says. "We used to lead selling with our equipment list, to get print buyers excited about what we owned. Now, growth comes from ideas we have—the new ideas that are going to sell the next project."
Budington is thankful for the faith, time and wisdom invested in him by Dreo. "Jerry was incredibly patient and inclusive on how he was making decisions," he notes. Another key influence was financial advisor Joe Becker, who helped Budington navigate various fiscal issues.
Chris Bondy, RIT professor, notes Budington has led transformational growth at Global Printing for more than 20 years by strategically repositioning the firm through Global Thinking, while also maintaining and growing Global's core printing business.
"Jon has the ability to closely monitor business trends and align Global's service offerings to be relevant to the communication and content needs of the businesses he serves," Bondy remarks. "Through Jon's leadership, not only has his company experienced growth during recessionary times, Global has also changed its business model from a job shop to higher-margin, project-based work. Jon has migrated the company using a unique blend of traditional graphic communications skills coupled with information technology and software development skills."
It is Budington's can-do attitude that enables him to stand out from the crowd of executives, notes Paul Kaminsky, print sales director for distributor Veritiv Corp. Kaminsky, who has known and done business with Budington for roughly 14 years, takes note of how the executive tends to go against the grain.
"When the market goes sour in business, the attitude of a lot of printers reflect that feeling," Kaminsky remarks. "Jon goes the opposite way, almost as if he enjoys it. When conditions are down, he sees an opportunity to pounce.
"Jon's full of energy and new ideas. He's the kind of guy you like to be around, because there's never a dull moment."
That high-octane positivity from Budington is infectious, and Kaminsky is quick to note that the exec never disappoints—he delivers on a promise. "Jon loves to say, 'The answer is yes...what is the question,' " he chuckles. "He's very loyal as a customer, as well. Jon is committed to making things work, and when he does that, things get done. I value that about our relationship."
Budington is still active with RIT. In addition to lecturing, he has joined the President's Roundtable. Global also aggressively recruits candidates from all of the colleges at RIT. On the Printing Industries of America side, Budington has worked with the association's bonus depreciation lobbying group.
Away from the office, Budington enjoys sailing as it "walks the fine line between exhilaration and terror, much like the printing industry." The Chesapeake Bay and the coast of New England are two of his favorite haunts.
Jon and Susannah Budington have five children, including twins, and reside in Chevy Chase, MD. PI