Hall of Fame--Canzano - Riding Technology to the Cutting-edge
By Erik Cagle
When Francis Canzano Jr. wasn't looking for technology, it seems technology went looking for Canzano.
It all started in the mid-1960s, when Canzano was walking the floor of a trade show in Chicago. He had been looking for a conventional camera and had visited a separation house for a demonstration. The camera was fine; nothing extraordinary. So it was back to the show.
Ironically, it took a trip to Hell to land Canzano, president of Acme Printing/World Color New England, in technology heaven and ultimately a place in the 1999 Printing Impressions/RIT Printing Industry Hall of Fame.
"I'm roaming around and I see HCM Hell," he says. "They have this scanning device, so I pulled out a transparency I brought with me and asked if they could scan it. Inside of 20 minutes, the man had scanned it and came out with films. They suggested I take it to DuPont and get them to make a proof."
Before he knew it, Canzano was plunking down a $100 deposit for a $150,000 scanner. A scary proposition, since he obviously didn't know, for sure, what the technological future would hold for the graphic arts industry. The scanner was a largely unknown commodity, and Canzano still had to answer to somebody for the leap of faith.
"I was kind of aghast—this is where we wanted to be," Canzano says of his introduction to the scanner. "I remember putting down a $100 deposit on the machine, then laying in bed that night thinking, 'What am I going to tell my father when I get back?' I figure I'm really going to get it when I go back."
Francis Canzano Sr. reacted quite matter-of-factly when his son informed him of the major purchase. Little did they know at the time that the acquisition would be the first of many cutting-edge technologies that would take Acme Printing from being a local printer to a corporate national printer.
The transformation was a gradual one as opposed to the now-familiar overnight leap. What helped cultivate Acme's reputation as a national printer was a penchant for servicing out-of-state clients with top-quality printing as quickly as possible. It was an effective game plan; Acme currently serves corporations such as Bermuda, Bose, Coca-Cola, Fidelity Investments, General Electric, General Motors, Pfizer and Tiffany.
Acme has long since shaken its regional label and has gained worldwide recognition from the commercial printing community. In 1998, it was selected Sappi North American—and International—Printer of the Year from a pool of 1,300 other national and worldwide printers. Acme repeated as North American Printer of the Year for 1999 and has advanced to the international finals, which take place this month.
All in the Family
Francis W. "Fran" Canzano Jr. began cutting his teeth at family owned Acme Printing, which opened its doors in 1930 (it was acquired by World Color in April of 1998, which became Quebecor World in August). He graduated from the Rochester Institute of Technology in 1964, when linotype and Ludlow machines were chic and a prepress revolution was just beginning to stir. Canzano was elevated to vice president of sales in 1969.
Canzano reaped much of his inspiration from a founding father of photographic reproduction, Polaroid founder Dr. Edward Land. It was Land who influenced Canzano to follow the path of technology and believe in accomplishing the seemingly impossible.
"He was a man at the leading edge of technology," Canzano says of Land. "I got to work with him directly on a lot of printing projects. He always pressed me to do better. If you ever said to him, 'I don't think we can do that,' he'd say, 'What do you mean? We just put a man on the moon, so we can do it.' That was his attitude, and I think it rubbed off on me. For me to have been able to spend time with Dr. Land was quite a privilege and honor."
Perhaps it was partly Land's encouragement and a dose of geographical factors that paved the path for Canzano and Acme. During his formative years with Acme, Boston was known as a hub (among other things) for companies on the leading edge of advancements. Route 128 was dubbed "Technology Highway," and Beantown boasted the likes of Digital Equipment, Lotus, Polaroid and Wang. Those heavy hitters were looking to play technological hardball; Canzano and Acme were game.
Acme played host to the first Scitex scanner installation in North America, and Scitex literally built the CPIC inside Acme's facility. Another first was the acquisition of computerized Miehle CIC on-board controls. Canzano ushered in an era that saw Acme become the alpha or beta site for innovations from Scitex, Kodak and Agfa.
"I remember when we got the Scitex stuff," Canzano recalls. "My father would say, 'What are we doing in front of all those tubes?' As a traditional printer, you're so used to walking by a printing press or a folding machine and hearing, 'ba-bump, ba-bump,' and you can see and hear what's going on. Now, you walk by people in front of these boob tubes, staring at pictures."
Not all technologies Acme took on were success stories. With its DC300 Hell scanner taking in about 14,000 jobs and obviously quite busy, Acme turned to a New York company that had installed servo motors on the scanner to set the color image on the machine. The user would put the image on the machine, off-line, and the image would appear on screen, where adjustments could be made, and it would output with a punch-card. Another operator would feed the punchcard into the scanner to produce twice as many scans. The unit cost $75,000.
"Two years later, I donated it to RIT because I couldn't get it to run," Canzano recalls. "Neither could they."
Yet, were it not for taking chances in the early stages, buying into ideas others may have deemed fly-by-night, Acme Printing may not have differentiated itself from the rest of the commercial printing crowd. Thus far, Canzano notes, the risk-taking has served Acme well.
"There are arrows, paths, you take along the way, and some things don't make it," he adds. "If you're not willing to try, not willing to take educated gambles, you will not be successful. Our gambles on Hell and Scitex were successful. However, it is essential that you have the right kind of personnel with you who buy into it and want it to succeed. I was fortunate enough to have people who would prod me, people who were deep into technologies. If you want it to succeed, 99 percent of the time you'll be successful. The rewards and benefits we reaped were incredible."
Willing to Share
Jim Middleton, the former president of New England Book Components (now retired), always admired how Canzano not only placed his company at the fore of technological endeavors, but also shared knowledge with contemporaries.
"Fran always tried to be active in various organizations, was always willing to speak regarding technology trends," Middleton notes. "He's been a good printing citizen, always willing to take the time and extend his efforts to help others understand what's going on."
Canzano has another long-time admirer in Bob McVoy, the senior graphics production manager with Polaroid. The two were classmates at RIT and their business paths have crossed over the past 35 years.
"Fran's been a leader in the printing industry for a long time," he remarks. "An important part of this industry is sharing knowledge, and Fran has always been willing to share his information."
It is Canzano's compassion for the men and women who have toiled over the years in his employ that led to one of his toughest business decisions. In April 1998, Canzano sold Acme Printing to the Commercial Division of World Color. He felt that to maintain Acme's standing within the printing community, substantial capital investments needed to be made.
Canzano sold the business, remained on board and, to this day, doesn't have an ounce of remorse.
"When you get to be the size of an Acme Printing Co., what you have to look at is resources: people, talent, technology," he says. "After getting to know the World Color family, there is no question that's where we belong. And there's no question that once you've made that decision, you don't look back, you look ahead. For the security of our loyal employees, for the benefit of our customers and certainly for the Canzano family, it was the right decision."
It is his hope that the Printer of the Year award becomes an on-going symbol of the company's commitment to excellence. While he feels Acme is very good at what it does, resting on laurels will do nothing to maintain that image.
"We continually have to show what we can do," Canzano says. "We have to be sure that the things we do bring value to our customers. If we continue to do that, we'll be at the top of our game. If I can instill this in the next group of managers that comes along, this can be a strong facility for a long, long time to come."