60 Memorable Years of Printing Impressions - Covering the Good and the Bad
The year is 1958. America is in the midst of a recession - with unemployment hitting more than 7% (5.3 million people). The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) is formed and America’s first satellite, the Explorer 1, is launched from Cape Canaveral. Elvis Presley joins the U.S. Army. The microchip/integrated circuit, a key invention for modern-day electronics, is co-invented by Jack Kilby of Texas Instruments and Robert Noyce of Fairchild Semiconductors. And, in Philadelphia, a 34-year-old named Irvin Borowsky decides to launch Printing Impressions, despite the fact there are already a dozen or so well-established publications serving various segments of the printing industry.
Now, six decades later, we look back at some of the printing-related editorial content that chronicled the triumphs and tragedies that occurred since 1958. Like any major industry, it’s the people who bring it to life. So, not surprisingly, many of the most memorable articles revolved around industry movers and shakers - throughout different eras.
Consolidated Graphics (CGX) - whose chairman, CEO and founder, Joe R. Davis, graced the covers of Printing Impressions three times - served as the poster child of commercial printing industry roll-up consolidators. Founded in 1985, the Houston-based company grew to more than 70 locations across 26 states and three continents in its heyday.
CGX’s business model was to primarily target standalone sheetfed commercial printing companies and encourage existing management to stay on and run their companies independently, backed by the purchasing power and resources of a national organization. As Davis aged, however, and sought an exit strategy, the publicly held CGX was sold to RR Donnelley in 2013 for an estimated $620 million, plus the assumption of CGX debt.
The fate for other printing industry roll-up enterprises has been much less noteworthy. Remember Master Graphics, Printing Arts America, Nationwide Graphics, Kelmscott Communications and IGI/EarthColor?
With that said, however, the printing industry has come back into favor among various private equity firms. Two current examples are ICV partners, which acquired controlling interests in Hartland, Wis.-based commercial printer OneTouchPoint in September 2014, followed by Wheeling, Ill.-based direct mail specialist SG360° in December 2016. Current SG360° President and CEO Mary Lee Schneider (above right) - a 20-year RR Donnelley veteran - appeared on our July 2016 cover. In the book manufacturing space, Printing Consolidation Co., backed by Blackford Capital, acquired Dickinson Press and Kingsport Book, and is looking to make further acquisitions.
Top executives from countless printing companies - leaders of firms whose once-prominent names disappeared as the result of consolidation and M&A activity - have graced our covers during the past 60 years. Consider Wallace Computer Systems, World Color, The Beddor Cos., Banta Corp., Cadmus Communications, Bowne & Co., Courier Corp., Perry Printing, Judd’s, The Hennegan Co., Graphic Industries, Publishers Press, Williamson Printing, Foot & Davies, Lehigh Press, Moore Corp., Standard Register and Anderson Lithograph, to name a few. Many of these former industry powerhouses still exist in some form, but their respective brands have become footnotes in the passage of time.
Printing Impressions has also kept a scorecard on the major industry players through its Printing Impressions 400 ranking of the top printing companies in the U.S. and Canada. This year’s list, to appear in our December issue, will mark the 35th year of publishing the venerable Top 400 list - which, longtime readers will recall, was the Printing Impressions 500 for many years until it, too, became a sign of massive industry consolidation.
The majority of these firms, frankly, were led by middle-aged men, but our editorial team has made a point to profile women, and younger, industry up-and-comers of both sexes, through the years. While still a minority, the graphic arts is increasingly drawing more women among its ranks - in roles ranging from the corner office, to sales, to those managing and operating equipment on the production floor. As workforce demographics keep evolving and data-driven print persists, women will continue to play even larger roles.
Similarly, our industry continues to face a shortage of young people who will become tomorrow’s leaders. We’ve devoted several cover stories over the years to showcase rising stars who are making their mark in a “mature” industry that still presents a wealth of career opportunities - especially for those with strong computer, analytical and problem-solving skills.
If the U.S. printing industry had a royal family, no doubt the Quadracci family, of Quad/Graphics fame, would be the top contenders. But, its founder, Harry V. “Larry” Quadracci (below) - who was profiled by our publication numerous times - wasn’t born with a silver spoon in his mouth. In fact, his rags-to-riches story of taking a $35,000 second mortgage on his home in 1971 as a building block to turn Quad/Graphics into a multibillion-dollar printing concern still serves as the ultimate industry entrepreneurial success story. Considered by many as the printing industry’s greatest visionary, in many ways Quadracci was bigger than life.
He was an industry forerunner in technology adoption and development, color quality control, Lean manufacturing principles, and building a “Quad” culture that also included onsite child care and health clinics at its larger facilities. Unfortunately, he died just a few weeks after a fire caused by the collapse of a racking system at Quad’s Lomira, Wis., plant also took the life of a contract worker.
We were able to honor several members of the Quadracci clan with induction into the Printing Impressions/RIT Printing Industry Hall of Fame. Quad/Graphics founder Harry V. was a member of the second Printing Industry Hall of Fame induction class in 1986; followed by his father, Harry R., who helped him build the company, in 1998; his brother, Thomas, who led Quad/Graphics following Harry’s death, in 2006; and his son and current chairman and CEO, Joel (shown above), in 2011.
Other notable Hall of Fame inductees who were family members included brothers Michael Simon (2002) and Nicholas Simon (2003) of Publishers Press, as well as Donald Samuels (2005) and Gary Samuels (2007) of Pictorial Offset.
Unfortunately, we would go on to later chronicle the eventual sale of Publishers Press, which had been run by five generations of the Simon family, to LSC Communications, as well as the closure of 78-year-old, family-owned Pictorial Offset, which couldn’t recover from a post-Sandy Superstorm legal dispute with its insurance company after the hurricane dumped more than a foot of water into Pictorial’s building. Despite the best intentions, continued longevity of a printing company is no guarantee in what remains a highly competitive, capital-intensive business.
Even more tragic, just a year after being inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1986, in 1987 Printing Impressions covered the death of Cecil Previdi, the 44-year-old president of Danbury Printing & Litho, who was among eight people killed - including five other Danbury managers - when their Beechcraft airplane crashed in southern Wisconsin as they were on their way to check out some equipment in operation at another printing facility.
Two years later, in March of 1989, we profiled Danbury again as his widow, Melissa Previdi (shown at right), attempted to maintain the Previdi family legacy. Her efforts were ultimately unsuccessful and the company was sold to RR Donnelley, which then closed the facility in 2012.
Similarly tragic and making national tabloid headlines - including a made-for-television movie, “Murder in the Hamptons” - was our coverage of the 2001 murder of Ted Ammon, the non-executive chairman of the former Moore Corp. Daniel Pelosi, who married Ammon’s ex-wife, Generosa, three months after Ammon’s murder, was found guilty and sent to prison for life (Generosa died of cancer before charges were brought against her).
Ammon had a hand in the development of some of the biggest printing industry names. He founded Big Flower Press/Vertis Holdings in 1992, which grew to a $1.98 billion company, and later founded and chaired a venture capital firm, which purchased a share of Moore Corp. Moore eventually merged with Wallace Computer Services and, in 2004, joined RR Donnelley in the industry’s largest-ever merger.
Mark Angelson, a former business partner and close friend of Ammon, became the CEO of Donnelley.
Another story that made national headlines was the tragedy that took place at Standard Gravure in Louisville, Ky. On Sept. 14, 1989, Joseph Wesbecker - on disability leave from the company due to mental illness - stormed into the Standard plant armed with an AK-47 semiautomatic rifle and other small arms. He went on a shooting spree that lasted 30 minutes, killing eight people and wounding another 12 before taking his own life.
Standard Gravure prevailed and the following year Printing Impressions chronicled the recovery and healing process at the company, which has since been closed for several years. Recent mass-shootings make our April 1990 “Courageous Comeback” cover story about Standard Gravure that much more poignant.
Robert G. Burton Sr. has graced the cover of Printing Impressions twice. He appeared as the May 1993 cover in his role as chairman and CEO of World Color Press, a title he held from 1991 to 1999 after a stint as CEO of Moore Corp. By the time Burton took over World Color Press, the company had become a major publication printer. Under Burton’s watch, World Color continued to grow as it purchased George Rice & Sons in 1991, Alden Press in 1993, Ringier America in 1996 and Rand McNally’s Book Services Group in 1997.
In 1999, the company merged with Quebecor Printing in a $2.7 billion deal to create Quebecor World. Burdened with debt, Quebecor World would go on to file Chapter 11 bankruptcy in 2008 and, after changing its name back to Worldcolor, was ultimately acquired by Quad/Graphics in 2010 for $1.3 billion.
That wasn’t the last time Burton would appear in the spotlight. We profiled him again in May 2006, following his September 2005 hostile takeover of Mail-Well (which was then renamed Cenveo), a printer that was also an amalgamation of several acquisitions - and the heavy debt load that resulted.
Under Burton, Cenveo continued making roll-up acquisitions, including the $430 million it paid for journal printer Cadmus Communications in 2006. Cenveo sought Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in February 2018, citing liabilities of more than $1.4 billion. Several Cenveo plants have been shuttered both prior to, and during, its pre-packaged Chapter 11 period, which is still ongoing. It's also been announced that Burton will retire once the company exits bankruptcy, although his two sons will continue to run the company.
In the end, Burton’s legacy at Cenveo will remain clouded in controversy over excessive executive compensation and lack of corporate governance.
Speaking of large industry conglomerates, Printing Impressions has tracked R.R. Donnelley & Sons - the largest printing company in North America - throughout our 60-year existence. In fact, former RR Donnelley Chairman John “Jack” Schwemm - at the time, only the second person outside of the Donnelley family to lead the company - was a member of our first Hall of Fame class in 1985.
Traditionally publicity-shy with the trade press, our magazine scored a coup when it profiled RR Donnelley and its then-new CEO, John R. Walter (above left), in 1989 - the same year the company was celebrating its 125th anniversary. We went on to conduct a followup cover story in May 2003, just months before William “Bill” Davis (below) ended his six-year run as CEO there.
Printing Impressions also led the way in analysis when Donnelley split into three separate, publicly held companies in 2016. Driven by an attempt to unlock shareholder value and bring greater singular focus for each entity, so far the companies have not delivered on their lofty expectations and, consequently, Wall Street has remained disinterested.
As Printing Impressions matured, I, too, grew up alongside the publication and printing industry these past 36-plus years. I remain eternally grateful to our faithful readership base. Throughout that journey together, we’ve enjoyed the heydays of rapid growth and dominance, mixed in with periods of retraction and consolidation. Printing technology and industry paradigms continue to evolve, even though it does seem like the pace of change is exponentially faster today than before.
But, the one constant that hasn’t changed is the solid core of hard-working professionals - individuals driven by a common entrepreneurial spirit that burns brightly - who make the graphic arts such a special community. Print is a historically noble profession, performed by the salt of the earth. It requires a unique elixir made up of part craft and science. As they say, once you get ink in your veins, you are forever drawn to stay in the printing industry. After covering this great industry for so many years, it’s readily apparent to me why this rings so true.