Hall of Fame--A Major Leaguer
BY ERIK CAGLE
The Cleveland Indians baseball team may have the commercial printing industry to blame for having one less star player.
Dave Bracken, president of The Press of Ohio and a 2000 Printing Impressions/RIT Printing Industry Hall of Fame inductee, was a pretty good player in his heyday, at least good enough to set a hitting record for his college team. He played alongside and against future major leaguers such as Mike Hershberger and Bill Halter, and was even offered a professional contract following a tryout at old Cleveland Stadium. Alas, a career in pro baseball was not meant to be, according to Bracken.
"When I graduated from college, I looked at pro baseball, but I realized that the competition was taller, faster and better," notes Bracken, who was elected into the Mount Union College Baseball Hall of Fame in 1991 and Star County Baseball Hall of Fame in 1998.
Thus, he would not become the next Dale Mitchell, and the Indians were doomed to suffer through three more decades of losing, the polar opposite of what became of David Bracken. He eventually made it to the Hall of Fame without the help of baseball. Rather, it was his work with Danner Press, The Press of Ohio and 38 years of industry experience, not his batting average, that has earned him kudos.
Both baseball—sports in general—and printing were critical elements in Bracken's formative years in Akron, OH. His father, Fred, was one of the founders of Danner Press, and the younger Bracken started working there during summers at the age of 12. One of his earliest memories there proved to be unpleasant; as he was cleaning scrap off the inserting machines, he managed to lose his day's pay of 75 cents while playing around the scrap.
Bracken stuck with commercial printing after graduating from Mount Union College in 1961 with a BA in business. He took a position in the prep department working the 4 to 12 shift for $220 a week, which was decent money at the time. This was good, since he'd just graduated and his wife was expecting their first child.
At this point, Bracken had a tough decision to make. He saw an opportunity to take a customer service job, which could be a gateway into more of a managerial position (not to mention offering a straight day shift). But the pay scale was virtually cut in half, from $220 to $115 a week. Much like his decision to forego baseball, Bracken considered the long-term benefits of such a move over the short-term, instant gratification of making more money. Staying put was not taking the direction he envisioned career-wise.
It proved to be the right choice. Bracken remained a CSR for two years, then became plant manager in 1963, vice president of manufacturing in 1964 and president in 1975. Mission accomplished, but it was hardly a happily-ever-after proposition.
"In 1975 when I became president, the company had ran into tough times," he recalls. "We worked for the bank the first couple of years, and that worked out well for us. I had a good relationship with Bob Danner, who was chairman of the board. With his help and with the employees' help, we made the company turn around quickly."
A few years later, Bracken took his management goal to another level. An electrical storm had zapped Danner Press of electrical power, leaving Bracken, Bob Danner, Mike Patterson (VP of sales) and Bernie Mount (VP) sitting in the dark. Right then and there, Bracken offered to purchase the company from Danner, who was receptive to the idea. In 1979, ownership of Danner Press exchanged hands.
Work to Do
But while Danner Press had escaped the clutches of the bank, there were still considerable competition issues that needed to be addressed, according to Bracken. No one ever worked through lunch and six men would operate a four-unit press. The "fat" needed to be trimmed.
"Frankly, we weren't very competitive," Bracken states. "Both the union and the company went through some tough negotiations, and both sides gave in a lot."
While Danner Press was able to right itself, another challenge was ready to rear its head. The company's primary market, the education niche—where inventory was being held in check more than ever—was moving more and more toward short runs. Danner Press was designed as a long-run company, which did not bode well for Bracken and his associates. A decision was made to build a facility that could handle the short runs while leaving Danner Press to tend to longer runs.
Enter fellow 2000 Printing Industry Hall of Fame inductee Oscar Carlson, then the CEO of the Beddor Group under owner Frank Beddor, himself a former Hall of Fame inductee. Bracken and Carlson began negotiating the sale of Danner Press to the Beddor Group, and the sale was completed in 1983. That paved the way for Bracken, in tandem with the Beddor Group, to construct The Press of Ohio. The company was sold to Hess Management Co. in 1991 along with Danner Press and the D.B. Hess Co.
"Where we used to have 100,000, 200,000 and 300,000 print runs, almost all at once they became runs of 25,000, 15,000 and 10,000," Bracken comments. "We didn't have the necessary equipment and our people weren't trained to handle these shorter runs. That's how The Press of Ohio was developed."
Secret of Success
And what has enabled The Press of Ohio to grow so quickly? The Hess management team invested in construction and equipment to support Bracken's vision for growth in the company, as they have with Danner Press and D.B. Hess Co.
"I've been a part of two great companies that are both still growing today," Bracken notes. "Employees are number one in the scheme of things. Buildings are important, but nothing's more important than your employees and your management team."
One person who fully appreciates how much Bracken cares about people is Steve Carson, president of Carson-Dellosa Publishing in Greensboro, NC. It was Bracken who took Carson under his wing when the latter was getting into the supplemental education business; the production and distribution of elementary school aids for teachers.
"He's been a great mentor to me and I look up to him, call him for advice when I need it," Carson says. "His greatest asset is his ability to deal with people. He's known for his honesty and forthrightness. He's not only our biggest and best supplier, but he's one of my best friends and someone I have great respect for.
"He's also a lot better than me at golf," Carson adds.
Bracken has been a longtime member of the Web Offset Association, and in recent years has held several executive posts, including vice president and president. Along the way, his company was an early adopter of automatic splicers and was among the first companies to welcome one-shot hotmelt applicators and ink-jet printers. Keeping up with these innovations, Bracken believes, has allowed his companies to remain competitive.
Bracken is drawn to the numerous and varied challenges he faces on a daily basis. Obviously he has already weathered a storm or two, but as it translates into baseball-speak, Bracken just took it one game at a time. (Golf, not baseball, is now his present and future recreation of choice.) It helps that Bracken genuinely enjoys his work.
"I can't wait to get to work every day," he says. "When you have almost 500 employees, you have a collage of issues and challenges you deal with every day. I get up every day for the competition—it gets tougher all the time, but it changes all the time. That's what drives me."
As for the future, Bracken hopes to put in another five to seven years, as long as the challenges and excitement remain. He feels the $80 million sales mark is the next goal for the company, and he would like to see his employees also be a part of that growth on a personal level.
"This company has many growth possibilities," Bracken remarks. "We have almost 500 employees today, and with the technology that's available to us, I'd like to provide that opportunity for the employees to grow and prosper."