2011 Hall of Fame: Joel Quadracci - The Next Generation
A man and his high school-aged son are on a flight in the mid-1980s when they strike up a conversation with a businessman sitting next to them. The businessman was clearly successful, and he wasn’t shy about relating that fact as he detailed his many accomplishments.
Finally, his resumé fully shared, the businessman politely inquires as to the vocation of his fellow traveler. The high schooler can feel the pride welling up, knowing that his father was easily more accomplished in his line of work and could easily slam dunk on the stranger’s braggadocio.
“I’m a printer,” said Harry V. Quadracci. The teenage son, Joel, was struck by the simplicity of his father’s response. Dad’s firm, Quad/Graphics, was generating nine-figure annual revenues and growing at an impressive clip. But, at the core of his essence, Harry Quadracci viewed himself in this simple term; he was indeed a printer.
“He didn’t try to expand or brag about his role as a printer and what he had achieved over time,” Joel Quadracci recalls. “That simple answer had quite an impact on me.
“My father used to say to me that business is pretty much common sense. If business seems too complicated, it’s because you’ve made it too complicated. When you get into these multi-layered companies and see the analysis paralysis going on, it’s because they forgot that business is fairly common sense and they started ‘playing office,’ as he called it.”
Joel Quadracci, 42, may be the luckiest man in the printing industry: the heir apparent in commercial printing’s royal family, the successor to a multibillion-dollar empire hatched through the blood, sweat and tears of his industrious father. One could say he was predestined for greatness at the helm of the Sussex, WI-based firm.
Still, heavy is the head that wears the crown. Quadracci may also have the most pressure of any industry executive—a very young man holding the fates of nearly 25,000 employees in his very young hands, guiding a behemoth through the most technologically violent period during printing’s existence, and stepping into the shoes of a father who defies simple definition and transcends industry.
“The last thing I want to try to do is become my father, because they broke the mold with him,” says Quadracci, a 2011 Printing Impressions/RIT Printing Industry Hall of Fame inductee. “The company is in a different stage, and it’s about empowering more people to do more. I give people the leeway to take the ball and run with it. Having the level of talent that we do and not having a big ego is an asset.”
A Mover and Shaker
Joel Quadracci’s reign has lasted less than seven years (he became president in January 2005), but he has added his signature to Quad’s legend during that time. In 2010 alone, he helped engineer the biggest acquisition in the history of the U.S. printing industry with the addition of the Worldcolor/Quebecor World franchise. Simultaneously, he took the company public to avoid levering it up with debt, while maintaining voting control through ownership of high-value stock.
Quad/Graphics is quite literally not his father’s printing company; it nearly tripled in size, expanded its reach in Latin America and is in the midst of an ongoing platform restructuring. The younger Quadracci didn’t simply take the torch when his uncle, Thomas (a 2006 HOF inductee), retired from the helm. Joel Quadracci rekindled a still-growing flame.
Make no mistake about it: The challenge facing Quadracci is immense.
“The world is changing so quickly, and the printing world is changing,” he says. “You get a little fearful of how slow the economy is growing, because print seems to be a negative GDP-growth industry. It becomes difficult to manage under tight pricing pressures. You think you’ve pulled out all of the cost you can, but we continue to see pricing pressures. Even so, it’s still fun to look at this Rubik’s Cube and try to figure out the next step to take.”
Printing has been an integral part during all of Joel Quadracci’s life. He was only two years old when his father’s business opened. Quadracci would visit his father at the plant on weekends, running and hiding behind rolls of paper and generally enjoying the atmosphere.
Play time ended around the time that Quadracci received his driver’s license. The company had just acquired an old canning facility in Lomira, WI, and he was tasked with being part of the electrical maintenance crew that prepped the plant and helped with installing gear.
He continued to work at Quad in varying capacities during his college summers from Skidmore College in Saratoga Springs, NY, where he studied philosophy. “My father told me that college undergrad is not a time to specialize; it’s a time to learn how to think,” Quadracci explains.
Initially, Quadracci planned to “gain credibility” by putting in time with a Wall Street investment banking firm first, but then saw the merit in joining Quad’s two- to three-year training program, which delighted his father.
Harry Quadracci had taken a hands-off approach, not wanting to pressure his son when the time came to decide about a career.
“It was like he was waiting for me to come to that conclusion, whereas I felt I had to go somewhere else to get some credibility,” Quadracci says. “I think I would have, but I gained credibility by working on the plant floor the way that I did. Most of the people who knew me at the time knew me as Joel, not Harry’s son. I never considered myself this silver spoon-type of kid. I love to work, love to be on the floor and to get my hands dirty.”
Quadracci transitioned from corporate trainee to sales between 1991 and 1995. He became a sales manager for the next three years, then took over as manager of New York City sales in 1998. His responsibilities quickly grew in scope, becoming a regional sales strategy director, then vice president of print sales.
Trial by Fire(hose)
“It was like learning with a fire hose,” Quadracci remarks. “My father turned up the heat and I was put into some leadership roles. I’d done well in sales and he wanted to keep letting out the line to see where it went. ”
The turn of the millennium meant big changes in his life: Married in 2000, first child in 2001, the 9/11 attacks later in the year, and the death of his father in a drowning accident the following year. Quadracci became president in 2005, added CEO responsibilities a short time later and, within two years, the economy hit rock-bottom.
“It was a young age to be doing that, and a pretty condensed time frame,” Quadracci relates. “Every year, I was in a steep incline of learning experiences. But, I was fortunate to have great people at all levels who have been very supportive of me.
“We managed well, the whole team, by having good people in all the right places, managing for the times and not being shy. Despite some tough decisions, including layoffs for the first time. I’m proud of what our team has accomplished.”
Even without his father there for support, Quadracci has always been able to draw upon Harry’s wisdom.
“The whole foundation of our culture is based on treating people with respect, regardless of name, rank and serial number,” Quadracci says. “My father didn’t hang in CEO circles. His comfort zone was wearing the blue uniform, talking to people on the floor. The way he treated them, brought them into his home; it was a pure relationship, not a CEO to underling one. And, a lot of our best ideas come from the floor. That humbleness influenced me.”
Industry involvement and philanthropy have long been Quadracci family hallmarks. He is past chairman of the Direct Marketing Association’s committee on government affairs and is also involved in the Mail Moves America coalition. The company’s two charitable giving programs, The Community Fund and The Windhover Foundation, have contributed tens of millions of dollars to causes in the communities where Quad has operations.
Joel Quadracci and his wife of 11 years, Caran, have three children. Outside of the office, he enjoys driving vintage race cars, both water and snow skiing, along with tennis and golf. PI