Hall of Fame--Gillispie - A Survivor
BY ERIK CAGLE
It didn't take long for C. Stephenson Gillispie Jr. to appreciate the importance of swift and certain decision making. On one occasion, his life and those of several other people depended on it.
Gillispie developed a love of flying in his twenties. During that period, he was piloting a single-engine aircraft out of St. Thomas, in the U.S. Virgin Islands, when the engine stalled at 600 feet during takeoff. It would take approximately one minute for the plane to return to earth.
He had three landing options: a mountain on the left, the town straight ahead and a bay on the right. Naturally, he chose the bay, but that was hardly the end of his crises management, nor would it be the last time he'd need to make critical decisions.
"It was like any number of crises. You focus very intensely on what is important to come out all right," remarks Gillispie, whose decision-making talents and accomplishments have earned him a place as a 1999 Printing Impressions/RIT Printing Industry Hall of Fame inductee. "In this case, a good landing plan was the first job, preparing the plane and the passengers was the second, attempting to restart the engine was the third, and successfully landing on the water was the fourth.
"I credit my success to very good training, and then to discipline of procedure," he adds. "For example, I always went through the drill of what to do in a water landing with the passengers before we took off. This proved to be a deciding factor [no passengers were injured]. We landed about a minute after the engine failed, but the door was wedged open and all the passengers had their life jackets on before the plane hit the water."
When he's not averting aeronautical disasters, Gillispie is better known in printing industry circles as the chairman, president and chief executive officer of Cadmus Communications, headquartered in Richmond, VA. He has been a pivotal member of the organization since 1978, when he was in charge of booking and flow management of work through the plant at William Byrd Press, the genesis of Cadmus Communications.
Variety of Vocations
Born June 4, 1942, Gillispie opted for variety in his early vocations. He spent five years in the Peace Corps, from 1964 to 1969, before joining the Sterling Institute as a management consultant. After leaving Sterling in 1972, he became director for the National Drug Abuse Training Center/Abt Associates, a post he maintained until 1975.
It seems Gillispie sought out the diversity of different cultures, as well.
"There seems to have been several strong themes throughout my career," Gillispie notes. "First, I have sought to do things that would somehow make the world a better place in which to live. Second, I have had a strong interest in how and why different cultures work and have sought the stimulation of cultural, ethnic and religious diversity. At the same time, I have gravitated toward leadership and the management of change. The Peace Corps presented a natural avenue to pursue all of these themes.
"Later, as a result of my work with publicly funded enterprises, I decided to focus my energies on the value-added side of creating jobs and building the revenue and tax streams that are the underpinnings of any great quality of life," he adds. "This led me to business school at the University of Virginia, which led to a meeting that resulted in my joining the William Byrd Press in 1978—and a third career in printing with Cadmus."
Gillispie interned at the William Byrd Press while still a student at the University of Virginia Business School and took on a full-time role upon graduating. It was his duty of booking and workflow management that provided him with a good grounding in every aspect of the printing operation. Among the finer points he learned were the difficulties of selling a job and the challenges of getting it produced on time, making it profitable and ensuring it resembles the customer's original order.
To the Rescue
He moved on to the operational responsibility for the pressroom and bindery. Gillispie spent a year in charge of litho prep and was then asked to restore the company's flagging composition operations.
"This was almost at the beginning of the cold type revolution," Gillispie recalls, "and I had the good fortune to be part of speccing and installing what was to become the composition system of the future for Cadmus—the Xyvision system."
Gillispie believes "a little luck" was involved in rising to the ranks of president at the William Byrd Press, then later CEO for Cadmus. As the president of Byrd, Gillispie formed a solid professional relationship with Wally Stettinius, Cadmus' former chairman and CEO.
"There was a substantial, mutual respect between us and the working relationship was very effective," Gillispie points out. "I think every career is part preparation and part luck. Certainly, the opportunity to have substantial responsibility in virtually every area of the printing operation was great preparation."
It was more than a little luck that allowed Gillispie to make a name for himself at Cadmus. According to Stettinius, Gillispie played a pivotal role in Cadmus' growth in the scientific, medical and technical journal segment of the industry. One move that catapulted the company's stature was this year's acquisition of The Mack Printing Group, a leader in journals, magazines and periodicals. Previous acquisitions of Waverly Press and Lancaster Press enabled Cadmus to gain a sizeable chunk of the market share.
"He's helped generate $250 million to $300 million in a market that's around $600 to $700 million," Stettinius points out. "He has had a very broad view of what kind of technology and business position it takes to survive in these times."
Another industry figure who has worked closely with Gillispie on certain projects is Ted Hutton, CEO of Lippincott, Williams and Wilkens. Hutton worked with him on the Waverly Press deal and found Gillispie to be a no-nonsense professional.
"He has worked his way up through the composition side of Cadmus," Hutton notes. "He just didn't land his way on top."
That feeling appears to be universal among those who have done business with Cadmus or worked side-by-side with Gillispie. Bruce Thomas, chief financial officer for Cadmus, believes Gillispie has had a profound impact on the commercial printing industry in general and Cadmus, in particular, in three specific areas.
- He made operational the concept of "single-source" or "one-stop shopping," an approach that saw its roots in the early part of this decade and is now commonplace.
- He initiated the concept of market focus—identifying niche markets and then creating services and capabilities that are uniquely designed to meet the needs of customers in that niche.
- He utilized "in market" acquisition to enhance or extend market leadership positions. This approach is best exemplified by Cadmus' journal services business, which currently enjoys a 40 percent worldwide share of the market—courtesy of shrewd acquisitions and internal growth.
"Steve had the idea to organize our strategy to achieve dominant positions in the markets we chose to serve," Thomas points out. "He has a unique combination of two often-disparate skill sets: He's strategic in approach and a visionary by personal inclination. However, he thinks effectively at a tactical level."
Making of an Executive
The early hands-on experiences served Gillispie well during his ascension within Cadmus' ranks. And perhaps the diversity afforded him from his years in the Peace Corps and his consulting experiences played a vital role in his executive development.
"The experience of working with different cultures, and the respect that teaches for the dangers of ignoring the true differences within cultures, has been invaluable in the printing plants as well as in working with the very different companies that are ingredients of Cadmus," Gillispie remarks.
"Probably, the consistently most valuable experiences came from consulting, where I had to learn to help individuals and groups find solutions to their problems, and then develop the plans and behaviors that would lead to their solutions," he points out. "More than anything, this seems to be the role of senior management today. We don't know what the problems are, and we probably aren't the best qualified to find the solutions. But we are accountable for getting problems defined and solved. This can be done only by leveraging the expertise of individuals and teams, which is a good consultant's stock in trade."
Gillispie speaks fondly of the industry's general high level of honesty and integrity. Similarly, he feels the men and women working in the printing plants are the industry's biggest asset and believes it places a high value on the well-being of its workers, more so than any manufacturing field.
Change in the Air
However, Gillispie feels it is imperative that the dynamics of selling and buying print be changed. He believes the industry may be reaching the limits of what can be done, by forcing printers to accept lower margins and returns through today's highly competitive pricing process.
"Yet, there is still tremendous cost in the system that could be reduced if printers and their customers could develop the kinds of partnerships we have seen emerge in other industries, where both customer and supplier work together for lower cost but mutually satisfactory profits," Gillispie explains. "When I entered this industry, customers were genuinely concerned about their suppliers' profitability and often would ask in our negotiations if we were making enough profit. They were eager to modify procedures or alter what they were doing to help us. I would like to see some of that return because I think we could do a better job for our customers if it did."