2021 Printing Industry Hall of Fame Inductee Barry Green Embodies Grit, Passion, and 20/20 Vision
Call it karma, or call it coincidence, but hundreds of millions of copies of the document that best symbolizes America’s emergence from a public health disaster — the Center for Disease Control’s COVID-19 Vaccination Record Card — came from a printing company that was once rescued by its former owner from the business equivalent of a fatal illness.
The rescuer was Barry Green, who took an extraordinary step to save the company he started and the jobs he’d created — but more about that and the cards later.
Green’s six-decade career is studded with the kinds of achievements that distinguish the men and women inducted into the Printing Impressions/RIT Printing Industry Hall of Fame, an elite circle he joins this year. Green enters its celebrated ranks as the chairman of the Phoenix Group of Companies, an enterprise that has come a long way from its origins in the business he put safely back on its feet nearly 20 years ago.
Today, the Philadelphia-based Phoenix Group is a diversified network that includes Minority-Owned Business (NMSDC), Disabled Combat Veteran-Owned Business, and Woman-Owned Business (WBENC) entities. Under Green’s leadership, the group has risen to No. 41 on the most recent Printing Impressions 350 ranking of the largest printers in the U.S. and Canada, reporting most recent fiscal year sales of $128.5 million.
2021 saw another milestone for the group as one of its affiliated companies, Phoenix Lithographing, merged with ICS Corp. to form the privately owned Phoenix-ICS Group of Companies. Pairing Phoenix Lithographing’s strengths in commercial printing with ICS Corp.’s prowess in high-volume direct mail, the combined operation claims to be capable of printing more than 75 million pages per day, and mailing over 100 million pieces per month.
A Press and a Passion
Green naturally couldn’t have foreseen any of this when he entered the industry as an 11-year-old sweeping floors after school in a Brooklyn, N.Y., print shop. But, the trade was already deeply instilled in his young blood. After a move from Brooklyn to Philadelphia with his father in 1961, Green, still in his teens, bought and rebuilt a used Davidson offset press and began printing flyers and other work in a friend’s basement.
In 1964, at the age of 21, Green launched International Lithographing Co. in a 2,000-sq.-ft. garage. During the next 57 years, the business would go on to attain its present status as the largest privately-owned printer in Philadelphia, boasting a 300,000-sq.-ft. campus on Caroline Road, affiliated plants in Chicago and New Jersey, and anticipated sales of $135 million in 2021.
The business has surged in capability as well as in size — always a keynote of growth strategy for Green. Today, Phoenix Lithographing is a one-stop source of web offset, sheetfed offset, and digital printing, with full bindery; creative services; packaging and packaging design; and mailing and fulfillment. The idea, Green says, is to create a “supermarket for the salespeople:” an all-in-one emporium of products and services that lets them “take something off the shelf, and go out and sell it.”
Another of Green’s management principles is continuous reinvestment in the business and its production portfolio. “With advances in printing in recent years,” he observes, “the features and capabilities available in new equipment yield quality and efficiency that often far outweigh the cost.”
This was his rationale for investments in, among other things, three 40˝ Heidelberg XL 105 LED-UV sheetfed offset presses; HP and Fujifilm wide-format digital printers; a pair of 23x29˝ Fujifilm J Press 750S cut-sheet production inkjet presses with in-line UV coating; an HP Indigo 7K digital press; two four-color Xerox iGen-5 presses; Xerox Nuvera and iGen 150 printers; a BlueCrest Epic high-speed mail inserting system; a Vijuk pharmaceutical insert folder; and a 21-pocket Muller Martini PUR perfect binder.
Now, That’s Redundancy
Green also claims to be the only printer in the world who keeps an eight-unit Goss Sunday web press in a warehouse as a backup to an identical one running in the pressroom. “I got a great deal on the two of them,” he says, adding that he expects to bring the warehoused press online in due course.
The Caroline Road plant in Philadelphia runs a total of nine heatset and non-heatset webs. Evidence of Green’s ongoing commitment to investment is seen is his latest purchase: an additional four-unit web press that is scheduled to go into operation at the Caroline Road facility this fall. The group’s Chicago plant — Phoenix-Veterans Print Corp. in Woodridge, Ill. — has VLF (very-large-format) sheetfed offset printing capability in the form of 56˝ and 81˝ Rapida presses from Koenig & Bauer.
These highly diversified production assets are what saved Phoenix Group from the slowdown that hindered much of the rest of the industry during the pandemic, according to Green. The company had up to six web presses running financial and transactional jobs at peak times for that work, and political printing for both parties in the 2020 election year kept cylinders turning as well. Growth comes from being equipped to handle everything from high-end auction house publications, to simple one- and two-color printing, Green says.
“He invests in the business constantly,” affirms Steve Anello, vice chairman of the Phoenix Group, who, like most of the other Phoenix Group executives quoted here, is a veteran of a printing company brought into the network by Green. The investment, Anello points out, is also heavy in human capital. “He hires the best people. If you’re worth the pay, he’ll pay you top dollar.”
Green “never hesitates to invest in technology,” says one of his vendor representatives, Sandy Gormley, an account manager with Fujifilm. “He has always kept his business very diverse and on the cutting edge. He was an early adopter in bringing wide-format printing into his business portfolio. He also was the first to implement B2-format inkjet technology in the Philadelphia area.”
Green’s “strong, innate, intuitive” understanding of what production machinery can do sets him apart from other printers, according to Jay Rogers, who has known him for more than 40 years as a paper sales executive on both the merchant and the mill sides.
“Barry knows equipment,” Rogers, currently a territory manager for Finch Paper, says. “He always thinks about how to buy the right equipment at the right price, and then modify it to the client’s needs.”
“With Barry, you always knew you were dealing with someone who was invested in growing the business,” Rogers declares.
‘They Goofed It Up’
But, there was a time in the history of the company when its growth would have stopped dead had he not come back to resurrect it — a time that Green remembers as highly stressful, but ultimately triumphant.
In 1998, recovering from a health issue and planning to retire to the West Coast, Green agreed to sell International Lithographing to a group of investment bankers from New York City whose management abilities turned out to be far less impressive than their Ivy League credentials. “They had a little gold mine, but they goofed it up,” he recalls. By 2002, Green says, the company was a shell of what it had been, with idle equipment, a debris-strewn building, lost customer relationships, and longtime employees either out of work or snapped up by the competition.
After a few former employees appealed to him for help, Green decided that the only way he could give it would be to come out of retirement and re-acquire the company he’d sold. Green points out he did this at great personal expense and risk, given the precarious state that the business and its production machinery had fallen into. The presses had been so poorly maintained, for example, that “the rollers went flat,” according to Green.
He admits that he struggled to reboot the company, which had been closed down for nine months by the time he stepped in. The bank had repossessed the equipment, the plant building (which he still owned) was deserted, and the odds against a comeback seemed long indeed.
“There were no accounts, no salespeople, no employees — there was no one,” Green says. “I had to keep pumping money into it. If I would have known how hard it was going to be, I probably wouldn’t have.”
But his resolve held firm and, within months, he had cleaned up the building, repurchased and restored the equipment, reconnected with vendors, and built a new base of customers. He also rechristened the business with the name of the mythical bird that rises from the ashes of its destruction to live forever.
The rebirth set Phoenix Lithographing on a determined path of growth by acquisition. Starting in 2007, Green purchased a string of companies that included Colorlith Corp., Marlton, N.J.; CDQ, New York; Innovation Printing & Communications, Philadelphia; Connecticut Color, Meriden, Conn.; and All-Out Print Communications, Woodridge, Ill. Green also holds a partial ownership stake in HighRoad Press of Moonachie, N.J., an independently operating, certified Women Business Enterprise (WBE) company of which Hallie Satz, founder and CEO, is the majority owner.
Undaunted by the Great Recession
Satz points out that Green’s business “skyrocketed” during the 2007-2009 recession precisely because he wasn’t afraid to invest in companies and equipment in the midst of a downturn.
“He did defy the odds,” she says. “Barry was able to grasp the vision that this was an opportunity really to take” by acquiring resources that would leave the business stronger when conditions improved.
“He took the gamble, and it paid off,” Satz declares. “It made Phoenix Litho extremely attractive to salespeople, companies and, ultimately, to customers. That’s the end game, to make it attractive to customers.”
Ted Kosloff, chairman of Roosevelt Paper, has been a supplier to Green for nearly as long as his companies have been in operation. Kosloff’s estimation of Green’s propensity for staring down the odds is the same as Satz’s.
“We have always benefited from his seizing opportunities in difficult times, to grow together,” Kosloff says. “Barry always finds a way to make it work.”
Dean Baker, CEO of the Phoenix Group and president of the newly formed Phoenix-ICS venture, similarly observes, “One of the things that I admire most about Barry is that, even after 57 years in the printing business, he still has a passion for the printing process, a drive for perfection, and a tolerance to take risks that few owners his age would.”
The company’s success in the face of adversity didn’t go unnoticed. In 2012, Green was honored as a regional finalist for Ernst & Young’s Entrepreneur of the Year award, which recognizes excellence in innovation, financial performance, and personal commitment to the business and the community.
“He’s an excellent businessman — probably one of the best negotiators I’ve ever met,” says James J. Capuano, CEO of Phoenix-Veterans Print Corp. “He’s always been very trusting, loyal, and dedicated to our business.”
Fujifilm’s Gormley has the same high opinion of his business instincts. “I have had the privilege to negotiate many equipment deals with Mr. Green,” she says. “Though very fair to the vendor, he is the best negotiator in the business. Once he has decided what is needed for his company, he will get the best price and best deal from the vendor.”
Green believes that the merger with ICS Corp. of West Deptford, N.J., is a natural next chapter in the continuing story of Phoenix Lithographing. “We’ve known each other for years, and do business with each other, so we thought it would be a great idea to merge,” he says of the partnership, which includes the resources of ICS’s 200,000-sq.-ft. plant in West Deptford.
There’s no surer sign of the company’s present vitality than its production of two enormous orders for the COVID-19 vaccination cards, a job that Green describes as “the largest amount of pieces that we’ve ever done in 57 years.” The plant ran the first batch of 400 million from last October through mid-April of this year, and then got busy on a follow-up order of 171 million cards in May. Green says he invested $275,000 in a pair of high-speed banding machines to meet a requirement that the pieces be delivered in bundles of 50 and 100.
A business owner who was obliged to put his retirement plans on hold in order to save his company might be expected to revive them once the future of the business was secure. Green indicates that he has no such intentions, at least not for the moment. “I enjoy it,” he says. “I really do.” He looks forward to spending more of the spare time he has with grandchildren in California now that the pandemic-related restrictions are starting to ease.
Asked to identify the professional accomplishment he is proudest of, Green doesn’t hesitate to reply, “my honesty with my employees, my honesty with my customers, and my honesty with my vendors.” His integrity is amply vouched for by those stakeholders.
“I just liked him,” recalls Rick Herr, Phoenix Group’s executive VP of sales, and the former owner of Connecticut Color, of his initial encounter with Green. “When he says something, you can take it to the bank. You can trust him.” This applies, Herr adds, whether the deal is sealed in writing or just by a handshake.
“I have the utmost respect and admiration for Barry Green,” concurs Gormley. “He is a true icon in the printing industry.”
Job creation is an achievement for which Green especially deserves to be lauded, according to Rogers. “He put a lot of people to work. He was a huge plus to the Philadelphia and mid-Atlantic market because of that.”
Kosloff adds that Green’s nonstop work ethic is something else that distinguishes him. “It’s his life,” he says. “He loves the business. He works all the time, so you can always get him. Barry is always there to make a decision.”
If Not for Him
“I don’t think I would have started a business if I hadn’t met Barry,” reflects Satz, who launched HighRoad Press with Green’s backing in 2004. “He loves print. He has this constant, positive energy about print that you’re not going to get by going to the bank or private equity.”
Satz sums him up as “a self-assured innovator” who prefers to work in a quiet, behind-the-scenes kind of way. “He’s very hands-on, and he’s a perfectionist. His operational insights are invaluable.”
Green is also clear about his guiding principle of management: “We’re in the people business. People are most important.” Anello explains what this means in practice: “His door is always open for anyone who wants to come in, from the driver to the vice chairman.”
After 60 years of hard-won success in the printing industry, Green has accumulated a vast store of knowledge about almost everything it contains. Experience has taught him, among many other lessons, that some aspects of the business never change.
“I never saw a printing job that wasn’t a rush,” Green declares. Maybe his belief in always being ready for the rush is one reason why he still has the Davidson offset press that set him on a career path now culminating in a place among the greats in the Printing Industry Hall of Fame.
In this august company, he stands out as the figure that Capuano declares him to be, and what many, many others would second: “a cornerstone of the industry.”