2009 Printing Industry Hall of Fame: A Forward Thinker
WHAT LESSONS can be gleaned from working at a 150-year-old business? First and foremost, where you've been is not nearly as important as where you're going. Secondly, there is no room for loyalty and tradition when it comes to products and services, which have a tendency to come and go from the business landscape.
In fact, no plan may be the best approach for some people, which certainly worked out well for Steve Hayes, CEO of Omaha Print in Omaha, NE. Hayes, who never had designs on becoming a printer, actually cut his teeth in the office supply division, wasn't really into the idea of joining the family business, nor did he have "a real passion" for the printing aspect of Omaha Print.
Yet, it was Hayes who made some of the company's most critical decisions, severing ties with the office furniture division as superstores Staples and Office Depot emerged. He looked to the 40˝ sheetfed offset arena but, when that market started to change, Hayes turned to web printing.
Hayes, 60, may not be one of those guardians of the printed world who claims to have ink in his veins or under his fingernails. But, as the steward of one of the industry's oldest continuously running printing establishments, he is very worthy of being honored as a 2009 Printing Impressions/RIT Printing Industry Hall of Fame inductee.
And for a company whose first dollar was earned during the Buchanan Administration, a debt of gratitude is owed to the man for taking measures that would increase its chances of surviving to its 200th anniversary, and perhaps beyond.
Hayes grew up in Omaha, but spent many a weekend and summer on his grandparents' farms out in the country. It was a golden age when young boys played sports that matched the seasons: baseball in the summer, football in fall, basketball in winter and golf in the spring.
"We traveled as far as our bikes would take us," he recalls. "You were lucky to have a car and nobody had two. You mostly took the street car or the bus. Everything was located within a two-block area, and that's where we stuck around."
Hayes' earliest memories in relation to printing include watching a parade in downtown Omaha; passing through the fourth floor pressroom to enjoy a bird's eye view of the festivities. But printing as a career...well, Hayes never ruled it out, but he didn't give it much consideration. In fact, he hadn't given any vocation much thought at all. Sure, the idea of law school was intriguing, but after attending the University of Northern Colorado (on a football scholarship; the team went undefeated in 1969), Hayes was ready to go to work.
Not Quite as Planned
"My father was more interested in finding me a career than I was, which is why he put me to work in the basement, filling office supply orders and melting old linotype slugs," Hayes says. "My famous line to him: 'I'm only going to work at Omaha Print until I find a better job.' Well, I've been here 37 years, and I've got a pretty good one now."
Most of Hayes' early work involved office outfitting. The supplies division was more sophisticated, and offered more sales and better margins. The printing end was relegated to business cards, business collateral and letterhead. But, around the mid-1980s, the big box superstores started to spread their wings and try to penetrate big retail office supply companies and national concerns.
When Hayes took the helm of Omaha Print in 1991, he decided it was time to re-evaluate the company's business model. The firm exited the office products business and sold off some of its continuous business forms equipment. It moved some of its collators, opting for roll-to-sheet.
"We had nine different plate sizes in our printing operation, so we looked at consolidating and getting more efficient," he says. "We went down to three plate sizes and chose the 40˝ format as our primary focus. In 1992, we bought our first 40˝, six-color Heidelberg, then purchased a four-color model in 1993, a five-color in 1994 and a two-color in 1995."
Hayes entertained the idea of selling his company during this period, which was ripe with consolidator rollup firms. Friends of his had sold their plants, but something about selling Omaha Print didn't feel right to Hayes. Instead, he used the proceeds from the sale of the office products business to buy out the remaining shareholders (many trusts that dated back to the 1920s) and went full bore into pure printing.
To grow, Hayes shifted the focus to web printing, which would carry the company to customers beyond the traditional 150-mile radius of Omaha. First came a five-color Zirkon half-web, then a full-web Baker Perkins G14 was obtained in 2005. A 30,000-square-foot addition was added to accommodate the new iron. A couple of the 40˝ sheetfed presses were sold.
Hayes' biggest challenge to date is the same one the rest of the industry—and the entire country— is facing: The Great Recession of 2009. "To say we weren't prepared for something like this would be half true," he admits. "We didn't think anything could be this severe. We did have plans in place for something happening that we had no control over, but I don't think anyone expected it to be this bad."
Throwback Yet Visionary
Hayes' biggest influence in printing has been his father, Harvey. As father-son business relationships go, Harvey and Steve Hayes have enjoyed a nontraditional experience.
"Working with him has been a wonderful experience; none of that competition between us like you see so often," he says. "We've always respected and advised each other. He's even let me make some decisions that he knew were wrong, but felt it was a better learning experience for me."
Hayes has also benefitted from the experiences gained through the Print America peer group. Visiting other printers' operations has provided immeasurable benefits for Hayes, who considers himself more of a "visual" person. He's forged longtime friendships with some of the biggest personalities in the industry, veteran printers such as Ralph Johnson, Tim Poole, Chuck Delaney and Bill Woods.
"Steve Hayes is a throwback in some ways and a visionary in others," notes Woods, a senior vice president with NAPL. "He's a maverick, a true entrepreneur. Steve makes his mind up where he is going, sets a course and takes everyone along with him for the ride. He is a leader and the kind of print CEO that employees love and rally around.
"On the other hand, Steve has built a state-of-the-art company and a competent, seasoned management team in a methodical and strategic way. I've known Steve for many years, and if I've learned one thing from him, it is to hold fast to your ideals and to weather the storms, knowing that by staying true to your vision and beliefs you will ultimately prevail."
In Poole's eyes, Hayes' passion permeates all aspects of his life, from work to his personal relationships. "He has a high level of compassion and energy, a love of life," says Poole, president of Dome Printing in Sacramento, CA. "He's a man of good character and, most importantly, a good friend."
A people person by nature, Hayes tends to look for the best in individuals. He surrounds himself with quality employees and encourages them to be creative, which allows for personal and professional growth. Profit-sharing enables employees to experience and take more ownership in their work.
Hayes has also been an active participant with the PIA, Printing Industries of the Midlands and NAPL. He's a past president and board member of the Print America peer group, and is involved with numerous organizations, including Ak-Sar-Ben, Boy Scouts of America and the Stephens Center. Outside the office, he enjoys golfing, fishing and gardening.
Steve and Kathy Hayes have been married for 33 years and have three daughters—Hillary, Molly and Betsy. They enjoy traveling and have visited Costa Rica at least a half-dozen times. All three daughters attended Texas Christian University (TCU) and took up residence in Dallas after graduating. In fact, Hillary Hayes marks the third generation of Hayes at Omaha Print; she operates out of the Dallas office. PI
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