John Fosmire Born to Print
BY CHRIS BAUER
It is often said that lifelong printers have ink flowing through their veins. If this is true, John Fosmire's blood type must be CMYK.
One of four inductees into the Printing Impressions/Rochester Institute of Technology Printing Industry Hall of Fame for 2001, Fosmire, president of Los Angeles-based Anderson Lithograph, comes from a long line of printers—himself marking the fifth generation of Fosmire to make his living by putting ink on paper.
Born in Rochester, NY, but living in California for most of his life, Fosmire remembers going to work with his father, a Linotype operator, and helping to set lead type on a Linotype machine by the tender age of seven.
His grandfather owned a newspaper on Long Island, while all his aunts and uncles were employed doing some type of printing work. This early exposure to the industry helped Fosmire realize that printing was the profession with which he wanted to be involved.
As a teen-ager, he had a press in his family's garage that he used to print letterhead and other small jobs for extra money. This would be just the beginning of a long and illustrious career in the graphic arts.
After a stint in the military in the mid-'50s, Fosmire went to work as a sales/service representative for a glassware company. But that did not stick. He decided to go to trade school in Los Angeles and return to his true love—printing.
Fosmire joined Anderson Lithograph in 1961 as an apprentice stripper. During his 40 years of service, he has served as foreman of the film assembly and manufacturing departments, and ultimately became president in May of 1993.
That same year, the company purchased its current plant location, containing the 170,000-square-foot facility placed on seven acres of land, which houses all manufacturing operations, including the web and sheetfed departments, all pre- and post-press activities and a co-generation power plant.
Now Part of Mail-Well
Anderson Litho is a high-quality commercial web and sheetfed printer now owned by Mail-Well. Fosmire serves as general manager of the Mail-Well California region, which consists of Anderson Litho plants in Los Angeles and San Francisco, and an Armstrong/White retouching studio in Detroit. All the while, he likes to remember where he came from.
"I try to be a hands-on guy; I am not a sit-in-the-office-type person," Fosmire explains. "I spend a lot of time walking around the plant and talking to people. I am not big on titles—I think everyone is here to do a job, and every job is important, from the top guy down to the guy that delivers the job. There is not a business day that goes by that I don't go through the plant at least one or two times."
Mark Tennant, Anderson Litho vice president and national sales manager, has spent 26 years as Fosmire's co-worker. He describes his boss as a strong-willed individual who cherishes loyalty—a person who, once you understand the way he works, you will have a relationship with forever. Part of this can be contributed to Fosmire's personal relationship with employees throughout the company.
"He knows the name of everyone on the floor. He knows personal things about the people, asks them questions and he is geniunely sincere," Tennant says.
Tennant also credits Fosmire with being a visionary on the equipment decision side of the business, citing gutsy moves like purchasing Anderson's first web offset press to be used for commercial work in 1977—something that was looked at as a real risk at the time.
"My objective was to print on a half-size web press to be able to get the larger jobs to go on web presses and provide our customers with the same or better quality as on a sheetfed press," Fosmire recalls. "That was the overall objective. But there was a real stigma at that time towards web offset printing. It was thought of as low-grade, pretty generic work and we wanted to change that," he points out. "And I think we did."
Anderson took large automobile brochures that were being run on sheetfed offset presses and moved them onto web presses, and got amazing results, Fosmire says.
Over the years, one of the biggest factors to Anderson Litho's success has been to focus on taking on high-quality segment work—business that a lot of other area printers did not want to touch. According to Fosmire, that is where Anderson has focused and flourished.
Fosmire also spends part of his day in the customer lounge, seeing how things are going with the company's clients, which he admits can sometimes be a rocky road to travel, but very important nonetheless.
"Believe me, it isn't always a pleasant experience," Fosmire confides. "Printing is not an exact science. You can go in and ask a client how everything is going and he can unload on you, but it is important to take care of and solve problems."
Keeping on the leading edge of technology has been one of Fosmire's main objectives—and ways of keeping customer concerns to a minimum. Also keeping a well-trained, experienced staff helps the company offer the marketplace the best quality work, he adds.
After four decades with the company, Fosmire states he faces some of the same challenges in his work today as he has in the past. One of the largest challenges is meeting sales numbers, year after year, for a company the size of Anderson Litho.
This year's sales goal stands at more than $200 million—none of which comes from contract work—and presents a major goal for the company to reach, especially in today's economy, he reports.
Economy aside, Fosmire is obviously proud of his company and his role of president. This is understandable after learning that he started at Anderson Litho making $1.77 per hour.
But he feels his past experience as a lower level employee and then working his way up to the top of the company has been an important piece to Anderson Litho's role as a leader in the industry. "It would be very difficult for someone from the outside to come into a company like Anderson Lithograph and be successful," Fosmire stresses.
Fosmire was an owner of Anderson Litho before it was purchased by Mail-Well in 1998, and he served as chairman of the board of directors. He has also served on the board of directors of the Southern California affiliate of the Printing Industries of America. In 1998, he was honored by being named the PIA-SC Executive of the Year.
Keeping with the Fosmire family tradition of printing, John's three sons have followed his footsteps into the graphic arts industry. Sons Richard and David are members of the Anderson Litho sales department, while Steve is a salesperson for a paper merchant.
In addition to his printing achievements, Fosmire has also been active in, and honored by, charitable organizations, including the Casa Youth Shelter and St. Mary's Medical Center.
As of now, the 65-year-old company executive says he has no plans to retire. He resides in Huntington Beach, CA, with his wife Patti, whom he gives much of the credit for his achievements.
"To be successful, you need a good family and a wife that stands behind you, or you will be in trouble."