Belcher Came Prepared
BY ERIK CAGLE
Donald Belcher was groomed for success long before he was named Banta Corp.'s chairman, president and CEO in 1995. He was ready to assume the necessary leadership role even before his successful 24-year stint with Avery Dennison.
Degrees from Dartmouth, Stanford business school and two years on active duty in the Army—sure, they all helped Belcher mold the core competencies that would make him a success story in the commercial printing industry, and an inductee into the 2002 Printing Impressions/RIT Printing Industry Hall of Fame. But the nuts and bolts, the morals and values Belcher required to position the Menasha, WI, printer into a billion-dollar empire, were acquired even earlier. He benefitted from the earliest form of Leadership Training School. . .The Boy Scouts of America.
"The greatest thing scouting offers is the opportunity for young men to build a value system," Belcher states. "The scout oath and the scout law are very, very powerful determinants. I think about those values that I learned—trustworthy, loyal, helpful and friendly—every day. I often have the opportunity to speak to groups about the influence that the Boy Scouts have had on my life. The opportunity to lead, to work as a team with other people, and the concept of service to your country and your community—those are all powerful parts of the Boy Scouts experience that molds young men into leaders for the future."
Belcher is at a unique juncture, as his tenure with Banta Corp. winds down toward an April 2004 retirement date. Stephanie Streeter has assumed the role of both president and CEO, and Belcher will remain with the company as the chairman of the board for the next 18 months.
The transition process has been underway for two years, and Belcher is excited to have the opportunity to watch Streeter put her own mark of leadership on the company. "She is a terrific choice for our future," Belcher says. "The major role I can play now is one of counsel, continuity and support to both her and our senior management team—to be on call for them in any capacity where I can bring value.
"We've spent a lot of time and energy developing an orderly leadership transition plan, and I like to think that its successful completion is a strong and positive legacy I will leave behind. Certainly, the corporation will be in excellent hands with our new CEO, as well as her entire management team."
Belcher spent most of his youth in Kansas City, MO. When he was a sophomore in high school, his family moved to the Ozarks of "Missoura." It may have been a small, country setting, but he realized the opportunity to work in the family business: a trout hatchery. That helped provide an appreciation for small-town life and the great outdoors. On the trout farm, he performed various duties, from cutting weeds to cleaning fish and delivering them. He was also saddled with cleanup chores, which made him appreciate the value of a dollar and the effort that's put forth in earning one.
Unlike the other Hall of Fame inductees—Ray Scholler, Michael Simon and Rob Krehbiel, from companies with a combined 350 years of printing experience—Belcher does not come from a long and storied lineage of printers. But his love for the printed word—newspapers, books and magazines—at a young age steered him in that direction.
"In a lot of ways, printing kind of chose me," he says. "I was with Avery Dennison 24 years before coming to Banta. I moved all over the world, running various parts of their business. Avery Dennison is not thought of as a large-scale printer, but it is in the printing business, particularly in labeling and labeling materials."
When the opportunity to lead Banta presented itself, it fulfilled Belcher's dream of heading a publicly held company. "What attracted me were the people, the culture, and I was intrigued by the dynamics of the printing industry and the challenges of reacting to a rapidly changing marketplace," he says.
Belcher drew upon his experiences at Avery Dennison, particularly the importance of having a system of values and a vision for what he would like the business to become. While at Banta, he gained insight on the importance of never losing customer focus, as well as the vital importance of having a highly talented organization. "In the final analysis," Belcher says, "it's really all about people."
Thomas Gallagher, president and CEO of Genuine Parts and a customer for nearly 20 years, believes Belcher to be a man of great integrity. "He's a strategist who provides strong leadership to his organization," Gallagher says. "When there's a challenge or issue with his customers, Don maintains a steady hand and comes up with a reasonable solution."
Upon becoming president and CEO of Cadmus Communications in Richmond, VA, Bruce Thomas sought out Belcher's advice and was not disappointed. "Don...recognized early that our industry faced relentless commoditization and was able and willing to respond," Thomas says. "He respected the craft in our industry and the tradition and strengths of Banta, but he also knew changes needed to be made. What impressed me early on was that in making these changes Don focused first on markets—markets that provided opportunities for growth, opportunities for product/service extensions and opportunities to drive multiple expansion from a public market perspective. That is pretty unique in our industry."
The development and execution of a vision has been a catalyst for growth at Banta. Early in his tenure, Belcher met with the management team for a few days to create a specifically articulated vision for what direction the collective brain trust wanted Banta to take.
"That vision included our commitment to becoming a global enterprise, focusing as a niche player on leadership in each of the markets in which we compete, and developing a mindset that we, as a company, are in the business of information management," Belcher remarks. "That led us to focus on ways that we could create added-value solutions for our customers.
"We developed a business model, or value chain, for our customers," he adds. "While we are providing ink-on-paper, we work hard to provide value on the front end by helping our customers develop creative solutions for content management. We also develop solutions for fulfillment and distribution; either electronic distribution if they choose to distribute via the Web, or physical distribution for their printed or packaged products."
Belcher's challenge was in determining how Banta could expand its footprint, as a corporation, into the global environment, and how it could develop added areas of revenue for growth in a less-than-ideal economic environment.
The answer was supply chain management—assembly, packaging, fulfillment and distribution for its customers. "We felt we could leverage our core competency into a separate business arm, and use that as a springboard to become a global company," he notes. "That's been our focus the past few years. We acquired a company, based in Ireland, focused on providing supply chain management solutions to hardware, software and telecommunications companies. It has allowed us to create a global business. We are operating in several countries in Europe and Asia, and we are now serving world leaders in technology, including Dell, Compaq, Microsoft, IBM and Sun Microsystems. It's given us the opportunity to grow from being a domestic printer into a global player. We're very excited about our business model and about our progress thus far."
The energy, enthusiasm and passion that Belcher shows for his customers and employees each day is reflected in his love for the job.
"There's something special about the opportunity to work and interact with talented people that you like and respect," he says. "I love the challenges of dealing with difficult situations, of capitalizing on opportunities, of thinking strategically about where the business might go next. And I love interaction with our customers. I don't like spending a lot of time in my office; I'd rather be out with our team members or customers, or talking to people who might represent potential acquisitions for the future.
"As CEO of a public company, I have the opportunity to talk to the financial community—current and potential shareholders—about Banta. That is a lot of fun for me, because I believe so much in this company, its people and what we're doing. It's great to be able to tell the Banta story to other people."
After meeting in Germany more then 40 years ago, Donald and Marie Belcher remain a strong team.
His is most proud of Marie, his wife, friend and partner of 40 years, whom he met during his military stint in Germany. She has backed his every move—supporting the family while he was in graduate school and managing the 20 relocations the Belchers have endured thus far.
"She's always been a great partner and an incredible supporter for everything that I do," he says. "I do not leave a lot of minutes in the day unoccupied, yet she's always there for me, for our family and for our friends. Marie is the light of my life, as well being a terrific mother and grandmother to our three children (Devon, Eric and Kristin) and two grandkids."
It is Belcher's hope that part of the legacy he has left is the understanding that future opportunities for printers will be driven by the ability to add value to customer requirements. "I hope to have had some influence on reinforcing the importance of talent," he says. "Of having the right organization, with people of great integrity—people you can respect—who believe that this business, this industry, is all about serving the customer."
Although he promises to remain busy after retiring from Banta in 2004, Don Belcher will surely have more time for some of his favorite leisure pursuits—such as piloting helicopters.
In 2004, when Belcher winds down his Banta career, it will only mean a reallocation of his activities. The Belchers have traveled to exotic locales from Antarctica to Mongolia, the Amazon River and the Galapagos Islands. They both enjoy scuba diving and ocean sailing. He is a helicopter pilot to boot.
Spending time with his family will be a priority, and he'll continue to serve on other corporate boards. "I'll have more time to give back, especially to the Scouts and other volunteer organizations. When the time comes, retirement from Banta will not be retirement from life."