A Bullish Bowne
This financial printing stalwart embraces change and adopts cutting-edge technologies.
BY ERIK CAGLE
Back in 1775, when the rumblings of a young nation were only just beginning, a modest dry goods store in New York City called Bowne & Co. was trying to make a name for itself.
Unless you haven't read a newspaper or picked up a book in the last 225 years, you know the United States grew up through some drastic changes, dispatching the British forces, expanding to the West Coast and fending off enemies in two World Wars and numerous, smaller skirmishes. There was an industrial age, the first car rolled through town and our friend, the television set, began to raise America's youth.
Condensing 225 years of history into one paragraph is impossible, if not incomplete. Change, oddly enough, has been the one constant that has kept this country viable. So, too, has change allowed Bowne & Co. to survive for 225 years. From dry goods to commercial printing to financial printing, and now all the different modes of transmitting communication and information, Bowne & Co. has remained ahead of the competition by not being behind the times. After all, Bowne did not earn a name for itself by offering the same musket powder it had in 1775.
"Bowne was here during the American Revolution, witnessed the Industrial Revolution and now we're becoming very involved with the Information Revolution—the information age—and that's what is testing all printing firms today," states Kenneth W. Swanson, senior vice president, financial print manufacturing. "Our board of directors made a strategic decision to diversify Bowne so we'd be able to provide our customers with the types of tools they're going to need to communicate with their customers in the future.
"In essence, Bowne is in the process of changing itself once again in response to the rapidly changing marketplace," he adds.
Bowne & Co. still maintains its NYC roots and has managed to spread itself across the country—and around the world. That diversification led to the creation of five business units under a company umbrella that generated just over $1 billion in 1999, $700 million of which was derived from its financial printing unit, making Bowne & Co. the world's leading printer of financial documents. The other four units that comprise Bowne are Business Solutions, Internet Solutions, Global Solutions and Digital Solutions. The following is a brief look at each of the four units:
Bowne Business Solutions:
Located on-site at more than 150 offices of domestic and international law firms and financial services companies. Customers outsource their multimedia development, document creation, imaging, retrieval, storage or litigation resource management to Bowne. Customers include, among others, Bank of America Securities, Sidley & Austin, UBS Warburg and Winston & Strawn. The unit accounted for just under $159 million in net sales and boasts approximately 2,000 employees.
Bowne Global Solutions:
Provider of product localization, Web globalization, and content creation and management services to software developers, hardware manufacturers, entertainment publishers and other information technology companies worldwide. Features production facilities in every major language center. Delivers essential services that enable technology industry leaders to conduct global commerce with their international customers. Among its clients: 3Com, Attachmate, Compaq, Corel, Dell, Hewlett-Packard, Lotus, Microsoft and Netscape. Accounted for $58.7 million in net sales, with more than 500 employees at 18 offices, within 15 countries.
Bowne Internet Solutions:
Web consulting and development that balances business strategy, project management, usability and technical expertise without compromising speed, accuracy, security or confidentiality. Bowne Internet Solutions can engage clients at any stage of their e-commerce initiatives. Bowne quickly defines, delivers and evolves stable, scalable, highly technical Websites by unifying a pragmatic approach with strategic consulting and project management centered around clients' business goals.
The majority of Bowne's Internet work is rooted around its financial services client base, where the demand for technically complex, security-conscious consulting and development expertise is critical. It also does a significant amount of work with emerging e-business companies, where confidentiality, speed and technical information are equally important. Among its customers: Fleet, Merrill Lynch Asset Management, UNIBANCO and WRQ. The unit generates $11.4 million in sales, with 200 employees in seven locations worldwide.
Bowne Digital Solutions: Database-driven architecture transforms stored investor information into knowledge-based communications. A leader in targeting documents on a one-to-one basis, Bowne Digital can distribute large quantities of customized versions of a single document to many people. Also satisfies client need to add custom information, data-driven graphics and visually appealing layout to the communication. Its customers include Delaware Investments, Merrill Lynch, National City Corp. and Oppenheimer. Sales figures fall under the overall financial printing umbrella, which realized nearly $782 million in 1999.
Staying on Top
Duncan P. Varty, senior vice president of financial print operations and newly named president of Bowne's financial printing business unit, believes Bowne has been able to stay atop the financial printing industry with a basic tenet: solid customer service with enduring customer relations, backed by offices in more than 40 cities around the world.
"It's convenient for our clients, who can put working groups together in any one of our offices, and link to any other office and collaborate on that project," Varty says. "Our typesetting system is distributive in nature, and we can work the project in any location around the world. We do everything possible to support document creation and management and to make customers' projects go as smoothly as we can."
Last October, Bowne unveiled a new, 130,000-square-foot digital printing and fulfillment center in Carlstadt, NJ, reaffirming its commitment to providing innovative and customized digital printing and statement processing solutions for the financial services industry.
"Our marketplace is experiencing continual change in the document building process," Varty remarks. "Five years ago, our main focus was on electronic typesetting and enhancing our proprietary system—the Bowne Integrated Typesetting System (BITS). In the last three to four years we saw the move to electronic delivery and developed BowneLink. BowneLink fundamentally changed the way we receive customer files and send proofs. More recently, we added a major link in our worldwide distributive printing network with the opening of our South Bend (IN) plant."
Swanson notes that Bowne's print manufacturing centers are digitally networked, permitting the company to move or share work on a seamless and economic basis among facilities. This allows Bowne's customers to have their work printed and delivered nearest to their investors and customers, which is especially critical as lead times continue to come under pressure.
As the Internet and various modes of information transfer become more prevalent, the means of communication have become more personalized. Customers are telling Bowne they want to personalize certain communications—financial statements or shareholder communications—on a one-to-one basis.
"If the thrust of the Internet is to communicate to people, not only in a broadcast manner, but in a one-to-one manner... then the print world is going to have to follow suit," Swanson remarks. "That's why we created Bowne Digital Solutions, which is basically the bridge between traditional, financial print and the Internet. It is a key part of the reinvention of Bowne in the way we distribute our customers' information.
Strictly ink-on-paper has given way to information management and distribution; while the message remains the same, the delivery has evolved somewhat.
"Our core competency at Bowne is the ability to acquire or create a customer's data, then make that data into a communication," he adds. "In the past, our customers had always asked us to print documents and physically file financial documents with the SEC. Today, they're asking us to disseminate those documents that we helped create via BowneLink to our plants around the world; convert and file the documents in EDGAR (Electronic Data Gathering and Retrieval system) II format to the SEC; and convert them to html or PDFs that are placed on a customer's Website—sometimes before we print the job.
"As the Internet drives personalization, and as our clients learn and understand more information about their customers, the 'printing' is going to have to be done that way," Swanson remarks.
In February, Bowne was recognized for its commitment to helping its clients deliver personalized information when it was awarded first place in the One-to-One Communications Category of the Print-on-Demand Innovation Leadership Awards at the On Demand Digital Printing and Publishing Strategy Conference & Exposition. Bowne used database technology and its typesetting, composition and design savvy to process and produce the Merrill Lynch Group Employee Services' (GES) new "Millennium" retirement plan participation statement in print and electronic media.
"To qualify for an award like that takes an enormous amount of effort and commitment on both the client's and Bowne Digital's part," Varty says. "We work with our clients to improve not just what their statement looks like—the physical appearance—but also how they want to communicate with their plan participants. There's a lot of interaction between us and the customer—we work very closely throughout the entire process. We're very proud of receiving the award with Merrill Lynch.
"Once we have burned in all the technologies that we use to do personalized one-to-one communications—be it print-on-demand or the Internet—we plan to take that service out across the Bowne network to service our customers throughout the world. That's a major, long-term plan that we have. We didn't get into the digital printing business to build one standalone plant in New Jersey."
Bowne suffered a setback shortly into the new year when it lost its president, leader and good friend. James P. O'Neil passed away in January following a brief illness. According to Varty, it was O'Neil who recognized the need to broaden the managerial base at the New York headquarters, which prompted the company to bring in Swanson from the Secaucas, NJ, plant and Varty from Cleveland.
"Losing Jim so suddenly was a shock to us," Varty says. "Jim had a very strong financial background—came up as treasurer and ultimately became president. He was well-versed in the operations and manufacturing sides of the business.
"We have a very solid management team in place now and I think that has assisted us in how we've worked our way through this loss," he adds. "We're moving ahead, still focused on the tasks at hand, as well as those out there in the future."
Many changes lay ahead in the future, not only for Bowne, but for its customers—some of whom are unwilling or unable to dive headfirst into many of the technologies currently available. Varty sees these customers taking smaller steps.
"When we talk with most customers today, they speak of the change—the way they're doing things today and the way they'd want to do things in the future," he says. "It takes a real bold step for a customer to embrace change, not only for a key decision-maker at a company, but also for the staff doing the work. Our customers are embracing change at different speeds and in different ways. When they work with Bowne, we provide for them what they need to do business today. We also work very closely with them and help them build the bridge to where they want to be tomorrow."
According to Swanson, Bowne is making every effort to give customers a plethora of options. "They've asked for new ways to be able to communicate with their customers. In response, during the last three years we've developed digital printing, as well as Internet solutions," he says. "It's one-stop shopping. They don't have to seek out different types of companies just to get pieces of the total solution. We can piece the customer communication solution together for them, whether in the traditional financial printing world, the digital world or the Internet world."
Government regulatory changes are presenting new possibilities in the future—changes in the manner which companies are allowed to communicate with shareholders. The SEC is looking at electronic means of shareholder communications and whether that constitutes good delivery. "In the past, good delivery meant delivering documents to the post office," Varty says. "In the future, it's going to be push and pull techniques on the Internet and print-on-demand. Bowne is currently working on several offerings in anticipation of these changes."
For instance, the company offers an investor relations toolkit for online applications aimed at financial services customers. Bowne creates and—in collaboration with companies such as Stockmaster—builds turnkey IR Websites for customers. The company is also introducing Prospectus Pro, a prospectus-building system aimed at the mutual fund sector that allows a client to create its own database.
Swanson believes technology's evolution presents the company with a tremendous opportunity to once again reinvent itself.
"Strategic alliances, private networks, electronic and virtual collaboration are all initiatives that we believe are going to be part of our long-term plan," he says. "As Jim O'Neil said at our shareholder meeting last year, 'This is not your grandfather's printing company any more. It's your grandson's. And that's why it's changing. But it will always be Bowne.' "