NEW EXECUTIVES - At the Helm
These recently named company presidents are rolling up their sleeves to catapult their companies to new heights.
BY SCOTT POLK
President and CEO
Cadmus Communications, Richmond, VA
When Bruce Thomas was 18 years old, his father thought a factory job would be a positive experience for his son. So Thomas, who had recently graduated from high school, went to work for a stamping factory in Cleveland.
About the same time, there was a sanitation worker strike in Cleveland and the uncollected garbage was beginning to pile up in bins at the stamping factory. Finally, the company arranged for dump trucks to come and ship out the trash. The only problem was that the trucks didn't have the prongs necessary to lift the bins and deposit the trash in the bed of the truck.
The unenviable task of loading up the trucks fell to the junior employees of the plant, of which Thomas was the newest.
"It was a unique experience," Thomas recalls with a laugh. "My first two weeks of work were spent from 7 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. inside garbage bins."
Thomas has since gone from the bottom of a garbage pile to the top of the Cadmus Communications mountain. The 44-year-old was promoted to CEO of the Richmond, VA-based company on July 1 after previously serving as COO, CFO and general counsel.
Cadmus is the world's largest producer of scientific/trade/medical (STM) information with 35 percent of the market share, thanks to acquisitions of its three largest competitors during the past four years. Its four primary markets are scientific/technical publishers, special interest magazine publishers, professional book and directory publishers, and specialty packaging and marketing.
"We have gone through a period of substantial restructuring and repositioning," Thomas notes. "The challenge that faces our company is to take the four market focus businesses that we have today and to regain our external focus. (We need) to significantly improve our differentiation from our competitors and to bring to those markets truly innovative solutions."
Thomas earned his undergraduate degree at Kenyon College (OH) before obtaining a law degree from the University of North Carolina. He says his idea of an effective executive requires someone who is determined and externally focused.
"In our business the pace of change is absolutely unbelievable," he stresses. "The one question I am constantly asked is, 'Where are we heading and what are we going to be when we grow up?' In a leadership position, you are the one person who can provide a destination or a clarity of purpose that your customers can understand and that your internal associates can understand."
Barbara J. Wolak
Robot Printing & Communications, Redford, MI
Barbara Wolak's business strategy is best described as pedal to the medal. That foot on the floor aggressiveness has helped her company see an increase in sales from $13 million in fiscal 1998 to $18 million in 1999.
In October of this year, Wolak led Robot Printing & Communications' acquisition of Trade Graphics, and the company is looking to expand even further. It has already broken ground on a 70,000-square-foot plant that will open in the spring and hopes to reach its sales goal of $50 million within two years.
Not bad for someone who readily admits she doesn't have ink in her blood.
"I had to become mechanically inclined over the years," laughs the 49-year-old, Dearborn, MI, native. "You don't find too many women with machinery like we have here."
Nor men, for that matter. Robot Printing recently purchased a 10-color, 40˝ Heidelberg Speedmaster 102 perfector and a six-color, 40˝ Speedmaster 102 CD LX with in-line coater. The sheetfed presses are part of Robot Printing's desire to be a one-stop destination for its customers.
"Anything you want to communicate, we can do," Wolak points out. "We can print it, we can put it on a CD, we can put it on their Website and we can e-mail it. We also do a lot of programming and offer a cross media workflow for our clients."
Wolak started with the company in 1975 as an accountant after earning her MBA in finance from the University of Michigan. She eventually worked her way up to CFO and, later, vice president before purchasing more than 50 percent of the company's stock and assuming the role of president.
Her biggest challenge as the year comes to a close, like many other executives, is keeping up with the technological changes in the industry. That's why Wolak has an employee, Rick Rys, whose sole responsibility is to make sure Robot Printing stays on the cutting edge.
"I believe I know programming and technology, but if you get away from it for six months, it changes," Wolak remarks. "People say, 'What return do I get for having him?' My return is that I'm going to make the right purchases with my equipment and his salary easily pays for that. A lot of people make the wrong purchases and spend a lot of money. Then they spend even more money trying to fix it and make it fit for their company."
And even the most aggressive of leaders wouldn't want that.
MPI Label Systems, Sebring, OH
There are seven manufacturing plants that fall under the MPI Labels Systems family and new president Randy Kocher is doing what he can to ensure customers get the best service possible from any of them.
That's why Kocher, who was promoted from executive vice president in May, has expanded MPI's sales force and added a sales development group with an eye on regional sales management.
"General managers have additional decision-making capabilities in order to better service our customers without bureaucratic red tape," Kocher notes. "Each plant, for the most part, has the ability to make decisions to get customers what they want, when they want it and how they want it."
Among some of Kocher's other plans are implementing cost reduction initiatives throughout the entire operation and developing exciting product lines to help customers become more innovative and increase their exposure to their consumers. It's all part of his idea of what makes a good executive.
"A good executive surrounds himself or herself with good people and gives them the opportunity to be creative and succeed," he explains.
Kocher, 45, joined MPI in 1981 after graduating from Youngstown State University with a double major in computer science and accounting. The Alliance, OH, native was MPI's first computer programmer before moving on to serve as controller, treasurer and vice president of finance.
The company, which does 90 percent of its business producing labels, tags and flexible packaging, had minimal growth this year, Kocher reports, in part because of the transition at the top.
"Unfortunately, we have had to deal with unfounded rumors about MPI's stability since the president and founder retired," he declares. "(But) we have purchased several new presses, adding capabilities that we previously didn't possess."
That will change in 2001, Kocher predicts, as he projects promising sales figures and plans on continual growth internally, as well as looking for acquisition opportunities. He sees MPI's biggest challenge coming from customers' increasing demand for lower prices, which is driven by retailers and then passed on to manufacturers.
"While the Internet is certainly a valuable tool and MPI will use e-commerce and Internet selling, it is our challenge, and honor, to continue to work with our customers directly in order to totally understand their product lines, materials, constructions and printing requirements," Kocher promises. "This is extremely difficult to do by just selling stickers over the Internet at the lowest price. We must continue to work with our customers to show them that, with the additional value-added services that MPI offers, the customers' lowest price is not necessarily their lowest cost."
Informco Inc., Scarborough, ON, Canada
As a youngster growing up in Canada, Carolyn Horan participated in the same activities as most children. She enjoyed swimming and sailing, and had a variety of summer jobs. Unlike some of her peers, however, Horan had definite plans concerning her career—even at young age.
"While I had a variety of interests growing up and a variety of different careers I wanted to pursue," she recalls, "by the time I was a teen-ager I knew that I wanted to run Informco one day."
Informco was co-founded by Horan's grandfather and a partner in 1947, and has remained in her family's control ever since. After graduating from the University of Western Ontario's School of Business in 1985, the 39-year-old Horan started as a marketing assistant to the vice president of sales. She later became a sales manager and eventually ascended to vice president of marketing and business development.
Her childhood dream came true in August when she replaced her father, J.D. Stephens, as company president. Her father remains on the company's board as chairman, while her brother, Sandy Stephens, is vice president of operations.
The family business is just that, Horan points out, even for employees who don't share a surname. She feels that all 130 employees are part of her family, and that's why she has scheduled quarterly reviews with employees to keep the lines of communication open.
"We're very much an old organization that is a new organization at the same time," Horan explains. "We've got a great team here, and we really want to involve everyone and help them understand the important role they play in our future."
The foresight that led Horan to pick her career at a young age is paying off as she is billing Informco as "integrated graphic communication specialists" and is using the Internet to the company's advantage. Last year, Informco put its warehousing and fulfillment services online, and is currently working on some innovative projects with clients where they will be able to order, customize and view proofs online.
"We're following our integrated graphic communications strategy where print is just one of the services we deliver," she declares. "We are currently delivering some of our services in electronic form and we see that expanding. We're also expanding our marketing strategy and database management capabilities."
Robert Johnson isn't the type of person who is willing to rest on his laurels. Johnson, 46, joined AdPlex as CFO in 1986 after serving with the prestigious "Big 8" accounting firm of Peat Marwick. Since joining AdPlex, he has successfully managed operations and sales organizations, in addition to multiple accounting divisions.
But in October, the University of Houston graduate requested to leave his CFO post to take a leading operating position in AdPlex's direct marketing product area, AdDirect. Despite working with a much smaller revenue base, Johnson relishes the opportunity.
"I believe there is a tremendous opportunity to implement my way of doing business in targeted marketing and advertising solutions," he notes.
Johnson's way of doing business is both optimistic and successful. AdDirect generated $9 million in sales in 2000; he anticipates that number reaching $13 million next year. He also expects revenue growth of 50 percent annually for the next three years with a profit growth of 100 percent.
"In my opinion, leadership is selecting the correct game or vision, enrolling people to enroll into and enhance the vision, and allowing people to learn and grow as a result of being associated with the leader," Johnson remarks.
His vision of a good executive is someone who is decisive, of strong moral character, able to grasp a clear field of vision, an excellent communicator, and held accountable for results and failures.
Upon taking over the position, Johnson implemented several changes. The group is now a deliverer of bundled solutions based on "practical, results-oriented products and services delivered with exemplary service and voracious focus." Johnson wants people to know AdDirect is not only a printer, but an extension of its clients' marketing department. He also keeps things simple with a focus on results.
"Customers aren't interested in technology, content, products and services, either individually or as a package solution," he explains. "Customers are interested in how to improve their businesses."
The typical AdDirect customer employs fewer staff members, has a smaller capital budget and needs to stay on top of ever-expanding ways of reaching customers such as through target marketing and one-on-one marketing. Johnson and AdDirect focus on how to get them there.
"We understand how to participate to help our clients win the ultimate end game, of which the printed piece is one part of the solution," Johnson declares. "Our clients, just like us, want more customers with each customer buying more. We all have a tendency to make it more complex than that; often it is not."