HOF 05 Groomed for Success -- Thomas Engdahl
In hindsight, it's easy to sympathize with the hornets nest Engdahl walked into when he accepted the COO post in January of 2001, considering that the economy was starting to bottom out, exacerbated by the events of 9/11. Advertiser spending followed the economy down the well, taking with it precious ad pages and volume. Without volume, expensive equipment could not be filled to capacity.
"There was a tremendous amount of people issues associated with the slowdown," Engdahl remarks. "There are a lot of fixed costs in the printing industry, and if you don't have volume, there's no way to make up for that."
Despite the fiscal setback, Brown Printing has rebounded nicely in the period from 2001 through the midway point of 2005—growing 40 percent. Much of the growth came from added capacity in the Woodstock, IL, and East Greenville, PA, divisions. And earlier this year, Brown Printing's parent company—Gruner + Jahr—gave the green light for a $57 million expansion initiative at the Waseca facility. The project is aimed at increasing capacity and replacing older equipment.
As the company grows, Engdahl's perspective continues to evolve, buoyed by the wealth and diversity of his business experiences.
"I've grown to understand the importance of striking the right balance between the needs of the business financially—what they need to have good results—and get support for growth," he says. "At the same time, there's nothing more important than satisfying existing clients and attracting new customers. It's a real balancing act.
"We've learned that we need to apply the latest and greatest technologies in order to be successful over the long term. It's really not a business for the timid investor. There are companies that will run equipment into the ground. We see that as a trap."
The biggest influence on Engdahl's career, not surprisingly, is Dan Nitz, the man who preceded him as the top executive at Brown Printing, and the person who ushered him in from P&G. Engdahl believes Nitz helped shape his leadership and management style, one he describes as inclusive.