Joe Davis, the Former King of Printing Industry 'Rollup' Consolidation, Passes at Age 79
Joe R. Davis, who founded Houston, Texas-based commercial printing industry consolidator Consolidated Graphics (CGX) in 1985, passed away Sept. 1, 2022, at age 79. CGX eventually went public and grew to more than 70 locations across 26 states and three continents via M&A transactions under his nearly three-decade-long tutelage as its founder, chairman and CEO, before he sold CGX to RR Donnelley (RRD) in 2013 for an estimated $620 million, plus the assumption of CGX debt.
(Read my commentary here about the CGX-RRD transaction, written in 2013 after the acquisition was first announced.)
Joe, who graced the covers of Printing Impressions multiple times over the years — including his October 1998 induction into the Printing Impressions/RIT Printing Industry Hall of Fame — easily served as the poster child of commercial printing industry "rollup" consolidators. CGX's business model was to primarily target standalone sheetfed printing operations for acquisition and encourage existing management to stay on and run their companies independently under their current names, while backed by the purchasing power and resources of a national organization.
Joe's consolidation strategy itself was conceived following his experience at the Arthur Andersen accounting firm, where he had observed other fragmented industries being consolidated. The strategy to keep each company's name and its management team was a no-brainer, Joe told Printing Impressions in 1998.
"If you've got a successful company, there's some reason why it's successful," he explained back then. "Typically, clients patronize a business because they are getting good service and a good product at a reasonable price."
Chris Colville, then-CGX's executive VP of mergers & acquisitions, revealed that this was part of Joe Davis' recipe for success. "There is a depth of experience from the individual company presidents and their management, and Joe is smart enough to step back and let those teams do their jobs," Colville pointed out in 1998. "He's very involved and gives significant input, but at the end of the day he is willing to let his management team in their areas manage and run their businesses. Instead, he has become a leader, mentor, and advisor."
"I don't run these companies," Joe maintained. "The company presidents do. If they achieve good results, I want the presidents to be able to take credit for that. If they have poor results, I don't want them to be able to say: 'I'd be doing better if it wasn't for Joe in Houston.' Key to our philosophy is giving the presidents what they need to run their companies," he noted.
Joe Davis was visionary in other areas, as well. He developed a formalized Leadership Development Program to attract college graduates to pursue an accelerated path to management within the CGX companies — a novel concept long before today's current skilled labor and future leadership crisis, which is partly caused by the lack of bright young people entering the printing industry.
Whereas several other printing industry rollups failed during that period — including the likes of Master Graphics, Printing Arts America, Nationwide Graphics, Kelmscott Communications, and IGI/EarthColor — Joe proved printing industry rollups could be successful, if they followed the successful operational formula he developed.
Strong Foundation for Business Success
As noted in his obituary, Joe was born on the March, 11, 1943, in Texarkana, Arkansas, and was raised in nearby Ogden. He spent his early years carefully observing his father and mother grow their small country store into a thriving business, eventually leading to a large family farm, managed by his older brother.
Joe learned to negotiate with sellers and buyers, to discern good customers from bad, and to extend charity to those in need. His business interest and acumen were born at an early age, and in later years he regaled his friends with funny tales of business deals at the country store and produce sales negotiated from the back of his truck.
Joe was also exceptionally bright and an excellent student. He attended the University of Arkansas, majored in mathematics and accounting, and graduated high in his class of 1965. Upon graduation, Joe was hired by one of the nation’s top accounting firms, Price Waterhouse. Within three years, another of the “Big 8” firms, Arthur Andersen, recruited him. Joe progressed rapidly at Arthur Andersen and was admitted to partnership in 1976. He led many audits of the firm’s top clients, all with his commanding presence and deep, unmistakable voice.
All who knew Joe respected him for his high standards, fairness, business judgment, and leadership skills. His exceptional business acumen contributed to his success, first at Arthur Andersen and certainly later when building CGX into a national printing industry powerhouse.
Joe Davis was preceded in death by his parents, J.B. and Lucille Davis; his older brother, Kenneth Davis; and his nephew, Donald Davis. He is survived by his wife and best friend, Rickie P. Davis; his children, Phillip Davis and his wife Anne, and Mike Davis and Carrie DeLaRosa; his grandchildren, Whitney Davis Lombardy, Lauren Davis, Connor Davis, Cameron Davis, Carson DeLaRosa and Mayson DeLaRosa; and numerous grandnieces and grandnephews.
Friends are invited to a visitation with the family from 6-8 pm on Wednesday, September 7, in the library and grand foyer of Geo. H. Lewis & Sons, 1010 Bering Drive in Houston.
A funeral service will be held at 2 pm on Thursday, September 8, in the Sanctuary of Second Baptist Church, 6400 Woodway Drive in Houston. Immediately following, attendees are invited to greet the family at a venue to be announced during the service.
The family will gather for a private interment at Ashdown Cemetery, in Ashdown, Arkansas, at a later date.
Joe R. Davis was a true icon and innovator in the printing industry. Although he is now gone, he will never be forgotten by the many people he encountered and whose lives he touched during his industry career.