These 20-Under-40 Up-and-Coming Printing Industry Executives Share Their Success Stories
One look at our 20-under-40 list of up-and-coming printing industry executives reveals several truisms. One, the family-owned printing company is not under siege; subsequent generations of men and women are being entrusted to continue the mom-and-pop shop (though we generally don't think of multimillion-dollar companies in mom-and-pop terms).
Secondly, there is a solid core of young men and women at the helm of longstanding, successful companies. Not all of them were destined to become printers, but gradually each saw a path to a prosperous future in an industry that combines old-world craftsmanship with cutting-edge, modern technologies.
So sit back, kick off your shoes and get engrossed in 20 examples of why the printing industry is in good hands for the forseeable future. We think you'll agree.
John Gadd, 28
President and CEO
John Gadd was destined to set the world on fire, even if he had to burn a few people in the process—which isn't as bad as it sounds, but then again, maybe it is.
The president and CEO of Hotcards.com in Cleveland got his start right out of high school, when a family friend asked him to try a little cold calling at Graphco, a printing equipment dealership also located in Cleveland. Being a tech junkie, Gadd felt the printing industry was the perfect target for some 21st century disruption, especially with the onset of the World Wide Web.
Then again, perhaps Gadd was simply destined to become an entrepreneur of one flavor or another, with successful startups in the software, printing and marketing industries. He launched his first startup, flozio.com, at the age of 22, and went on to raise more than $5 million in angel and venture capital. Gadd and a few partners formed Quez Media Marketing, then founded Gadd Corp., which counseled C-level executives at Internet, graphic arts and marketing concerns.
In 2012, Gadd and a group of investors acquired Hotcards.com, an online postcard, flyer, and general commercial printing and design company. Today, Gadd still brings with him that unbridled enthusiasm and relentless energy that moved him to start a neighborhood landscaping company at the tender age of 10. Through all the ups and downs offered by the business world, he fully believes that the joy is in the journey and refuses to miss out on it.
"Optimism is critical," Gadd notes. "I work hard to infuse my team with energy. I also place a lot of trust in the people around me and let them do what they do best. I stay focused like a laser beam on our goals and plow through to completion—giving up is not an option. Luck helps, too."
A tireless community activist, he is a board member of Big Brothers/Big Sisters, sits on the 2016 Republican National Convention Advisory Council, co-chairs Cleveland Rocks New Year's Eve and was named to Crain's Cleveland 40-under-40 list for 2014. And, in October of 2013, he organized a charity event that saw 21 people (himself included) do a full-body burn that earned a "Guinness Book of World Records" entry while raising $10,000 for two local charities. Yes, 21 people were set on fire.
Gadd is single and living the dream in the Cleveland suburb of Chagrin Falls. He is known around town as Uncle John.
Mark Levenson, 36
Production Operations Manager
Thousand Oaks, CA
OK, let's get this out of the way. If the last name rings a bell, it should—Mark Levenson is the son of legendary professor Dr. Harvey Levenson, professor emeritus and director of the Graphic Communication Institute at Cal Poly State University in San Luis Obispo, CA. Lest you think the younger Mr. Levenson has been afforded special consideration due to his obvious pedigree, let us quickly disabuse you of that notion.
Mark Levenson's career is as impressive as his educational background, which is considerable. He earned a Masters degree in management and leadership from Pepperdine University, a Bachelors degree in graphic communication from Cal Poly and an Associates degree in liberal arts from Alan Hancock College.
Before joining SAGE Publications in 2011, Levenson held positions with increasing management responsibilities at the former Quebecor World (now Quad/Graphics) as account manager for TIME Magazine. His other stops have included Ventura Printing, T/O Printing (a Consolidated Graphics company), plus Edwards Associates and Communications—Edwards Label.
Graphic communications was destined to become an integral part of Mark Levenson's life. He credits his father's emphasis on focus, accuracy, patience, fairness and consideration of others as guiding principles. Plus, the value of education was not lost on the younger Levenson, who also places a premium on empathy. This he counts among his strengths as a manager.
"I know what the people who report to me face," he says. "I've been there, I've worked my way up, I understand the jobs and the challenges of the positions leading to mine. I provide support, but also listen to and carefully consider the ideas and opinions of all members of my team."
This isn't Mark Levenson's first appearance on an under-40 list; he was chosen to be honored in the 40-under-40 list published by the Pacific Coast Business Times in 2013. His propensity for earning high-level achievement was evident in high school, when Levenson participated in the U.S. Marine Corps Devil Pups program at Camp Pendleton and was chosen as the No. 1 Devil Pup out of a field of 300. The program was designed to build physical stamina, as well as leadership skills, elements he implements in his daily life, even today.
A motocross enthusiast who enjoys sports and spending time with family and friends, Levenson has a wife, Jessica, daughter Brianna (a freshman at Indiana University) and son Alec (a high school freshman).
Seth Newman, 38
It didn't take long for Seth Newman to appreciate the value that the Internet age offered to his family's modest envelope business. Today, Envelopes.com is anything but, serving more than 500,000 customers nationwide—a far cry from the 200 local clients it formerly served as a brick-and-mortar firm.
Action Envelope debuted as a brokerage in 1971 behind Seth's father, Ken Newman, and transformed to a trade envelope printing establishment in 1983. In 1993, Ken Newman died of a heart attack at age 51, leaving his wife, Sharon, to take control. Seth was just 17 at the time, and had two sisters, but Sharon Newman ensured that all three would go to college.
Working alongside his dad in the family business was Seth's dream, but he teamed with Sharon to take the company to new heights. "Working with my mother, although hard the first couple of years, has been the best thing for our business and our personal relationship," he says.
Seth Newman came on board in 2000 upon graduating from Long Island University with a degree in marketing, knowing Action Envelope needed an edge in the competitive New York market. The company launched its first professional Website in September of 2001 and became completely dedicated to online commerce a year later. Rebranded Envelopes.com in 2010, the firm invests in a new Website every other year.
Newman notes that, having himself done virtually every job within the company, he has a unique understanding of the business. "As president of the company, it is my job to build the team and provide them with what they need to be successful," he says. "I pay close attention to the culture of the company and try to create a place where people enjoy coming every day and feel good about the work we are doing."
There's an interesting subplot to the Envelopes.com domain name. It had once been owned by Mike Panaggio, owner of Daytona Beach, FL-based DME, and Newman longed to own it. During a six-year period, he met with Panaggio in an effort to acquire the name. Though his efforts were fruitless, Newman learned a wealth of information from Panaggio through the meetings and e-mails they shared. In fact, he counts Panaggio as one of his greatest influences within the printing industry.
The name ultimately changed hands via a third party and Newman was able to purchase its rights. "The experience of chasing this domain name taught me to never give up and go after what you want, even when people are telling you that you will never get it," he observes.
In 2009, Newman was named to Long Island Business News' 40-under-40 list. The company garnered Top 500 distinction from Internet Retailer and Inc. 5000 Fastest Growing Private Companies honors from Inc. Magazine for four consecutive years.
Newman enjoys boating and fishing in his spare time. The professed tech junkie is married with three children, all under the age of seven. He is active in the Young Presidents Organization and has his hand in the activities of Printing Industries of America and The Envelope Manufacturers Association.
Tim Blackburn, 38
Santa Ana, CA
Speaking of Blackburns...Foster Printing has its share. Dennis Blackburn entrusted the future to his sons Tim and Kris. In hindsight, it appears to have been a shrewd decision.
Oftentimes, fate plays a role in the direction we ultimately take. In the case of Tim Blackburn, his goal was to become a professional baseball player. Perhaps he'd one day take his place alongside Hideo Nomo in the Los Angeles Dodgers pitching rotation. However, a shoulder injury during Blackburn's freshman year of college put an end to his baseball playing days. But, he still had a shot at making the big leagues, so to speak.
"After the injury, I decided I was done with school and ready to enter the workforce," Blackburn notes. "So I started my new education as an employee at Foster Printing."
He has worked in every department of the company, starting in shipping and ultimately making his way to the president's chair. The company had been a part of his life since age 12, when father Dennis first hung his shingle to do business. It became ingrained in his life experiences; he learned to drive a car by practicing on Foster Printing forklift trucks when his dad needed to come into the plant on weekends to finish up work.
"As kids, our parents taught us that commitment and communication are key elements to being successful in life," he says. "I've applied that wisdom to everything I do."
Blackburn takes pride in the team that has been assembled at Foster Printing. He also relishes every opportunity to build a new mousetrap.
"My best strength is my ability to problem solve," he adds. "I enjoy finding new and better ways for us to do things. I also feel that we have done a great job of hiring through the years. Our best strength at Foster Printing is the team we have around us."
Tim and Courtney Blackburn have two daughters, Makayla and Hayley. In addition to spending time with his wife and kids, Tim enjoys hitting the links with his father and brother.
Kris Blackburn, 36
Vice President of Sales
Santa Ana, CA
The world was Kris Blackburn's oyster. He had attended Cal State San Marcos on a golf scholarship and studied communications. He traveled abroad, then tried his hand at a number of jobs, including physical therapy.
"A friend's father was a head therapist and he was looking for a new assistant," Blackburn recalls. "I have always enjoyed working with others and meeting new people, so I saw this as a great opportunity to learn a new occupation and work with new people every day."
In the end, family and the printing industry ultimately became the center of Blackburn's universe. And it's safe to say that some of the traits that originally drew him to physical therapy—working with others, meeting new people—translated well in his switch to sales.
"I consider myself a good listener, which allows me to understand the needs of our salespeople," he relates. "It is important to me that I maintain an open door policy with our staff, so we all work together to achieve our goals as a team."
Along the way, Blackburn has learned the importance of knowing customers and understanding their needs in order to give them the best service possible. As sales manager, he has worked intensively to teach his reps the "Foster Way" and ensure that customer needs are met.
Printing has always been a major part of Blackburn's life. His brother, Tim, is president of Foster Printing, which was purchased by their father, Dennis, 25 years ago. Dennis Blackburn's influence on Kris has colored his personal and professional point of views.
"It's a simple adage—treat people the way you want to be treated," Blackburn notes. "I truly love my job and the people I work with, both customers and co-workers. It's important that they enjoy working with me, as well."
At home, Blackburn's "team" consists of wife Heather, son Charlie (age 10) and daughters Paige (6) and Molly (six months). Kris Blackburn enjoys spending time on the links and watching sports.
Michael Marcian Jr., 39
The phrase "Following in the footsteps of a great man/woman" is often bandied about, particularly when a family member is involved. The adage couldn't be more true than in the case of Michael Marcian Jr., current president of Corporate Press, whose legendary, soft-spoken father was inducted into the Printing Impressions/RIT Printing Industry Hall of Fame in 2005.
Still, the younger Marcian is fast carving out his own image on printing's Mount Rushmore. He joined the company in January of 1997 as part of its sales team and went on to post numerous company sales records. Wanting to augment the company in other areas, including marketing, he later became executive vice president of sales and marketing.
Now president, Marcian drives the vision and diversification for the company while supporting the needs of 15-plus Corporate Press/Colorcraft salespeople. An active supporter, he recently was appointed to the Printing Industries of America's board of directors, and is involved at the affiliate level with Printing & Graphics Association MidAtlantic (PGAMA), where he serves as treasurer.
"I never gave much thought to anything other than going to work with my father," Marcian admits. "I don't spend much time thinking about other industries, even after years of working hard and dedicating myself to making the best out of challenges the industry would face. I align the industry challenges with the managers I've had in the past, who were hard on me because they knew what I was capable of. Diversify the offering of Corporate Press, acquiring companies—both in the printing industry as well as technology-based companies—forced me to invest my energy and passion in the company, rather than look for career opportunities in other industries."
Marcian considers himself blessed to have a strong management team, populated with people focused on advancing the interests of the company. To that end, he relishes getting in the trenches and rolling up his sleeves as opposed to cultivating a corner office culture. Passion, creativity and an entrepreneurial spirit are driving forces in his managerial style.
The elder Marcian did not coddle his oldest son in those early years. Knowing what was at stake, the senior Marcian passed along some tough lessons to his son.
"I believe he saw a potential that even I didn't realize and, at times, it was very difficult. But one thing is for sure. I wouldn't be half as effective had he not risked our personal relationship to mold me as a leader for the good of the company, our employees and their families," Marcian notes. "My father's not a man of many words, but when he talks, people listen. I often remember one question he asked me early in my career when I told him something couldn't be done, which was, 'Are you telling me you are unwilling or unable?' I didn't answer. I just turned around with an understanding—the only answer was that I was definitely willing."
One of Marcian's objectives is to change the way clients view Corporate Press, and he is motivated to build a team that has "a very diverse set of core competencies." The key, he says, is a strong desire to build loyalty from ideas that bolster customers in every aspect of their business.
An avid cyclist, Marcian enters as many cycling events as possible to achieve a desired level of fitness heading into his 40s. He also enjoys golf and following the Maryland Terrapins and Washington Redskins. Marcian and his wife of 17 years, Angie, have two children, Collin, 12, and Erin, 9. Another beloved family member is April, their 6-year-old golden retriever.
Taylor White, 38
Intelligence and creativity are among the common bonds that unite young executives, and those who ply their trade in the specialty niches truly find themselves put to the test. That holds true for Taylor White, president at Performance POP, which produces said printing and displays for retail and event promotions. Crafting innovative displays that stand out from the competition is extremely difficult, and calls on unique print effects, structural dimension and collaboration to produce a satisfied customer.
White, a 2000 graduate of The University of Texas, where he picked up a degree in economics, had thoughts of going into finance. But the desire to join the family business was strong, as White's father was extremely encouraging about the notion. Since Taylor White had worked there during summers at UT, the move was seamless.
He began his tenure as a business development manager, where he conducted R&D for new target markets. In 2002, White became a national account executive, a post he held before getting elevated to vice president of sales and marketing in 2008. He moved to New York in 2010 to open a sales office there before moving back to Dallas to take over as president in June of 2012.
According to White, his greatest managerial assets revolve around sales and marketing strategy. "One of the things I've done to modernize our business is to elevate the responsibilities of my senior management team and to enable them to become leaders for their divisions, rather than working managers who are too heavily involved with day-to-day problem solving," he says. "This has allowed us to accomplish a great deal of change in a short amount of time. The changes we are making include implementing Lean philosophy throughout our company, changing our company branding, updating and fully implementing our ERP system, and developing a target marketing plan."
Not surprisingly, White's father (John) wielded the greatest impact on his professional life. An intellectual man who analyzed all possible outcomes in the decision-making process, John White also boasted a great deal of patience and humility.
"He cared deeply for the people in our company," White says of his father, who passed away in January of 2013. "I learned by watching how he managed our business for years and I try to fill those big shoes every day."
Family ties are strong at Performance POP, where one of White's brothers works as a creative director, and a brother-in-law is employed in sales. An uncle is the firm's vice president of sales.
In his spare time, White enjoys reading anything he can lay his hands on, from business to fiction, and enjoys playing tennis and golf. Taylor and Lindsay White have three children: Maddie, 7, and 4-year-old twins John and Elle. White's family is rounded out by an enormous black-and-white Goldendoodle named Charlie.
Jim Flaherty, 36
Allegra Marketing Print Mail
St. Paul, MN
The path to the world of printing was a less than direct one for Jim Flaherty. A graduate of the University of Wisconsin-River Falls (with degrees in communications and business), his professional working history includes stops with Play It Again Sports—where he was a manager—and Amoco Corp., where he was lead painter. He'd attended college with plans on becoming a teacher, but his interests soon shifted to business.
Flaherty got his first break in printing from Dale Beane (his future father-in-law) at Insty-Prints of Falcon Heights, MN. "Under his tutelage, I learned everything I know today about the printing industry," he notes. "I served in every position in the company except press operator."
After being a delivery driver for Beane's shop, Flaherty worked his way up to production manager. It was apparent, however, that sales was a true calling for Flaherty, who upon becoming an account manager, won an award for having the highest sales volume in the Allegra network for three consecutive years.
When the St. Paul, MN, Allegra franchise became available in 2007, Flaherty and his wife, Kari, pounced on the opportunity. In short order, the Flahertys grew the business from $280,000 to $2 million, relocated twice, acquired a small promotional products company and, in 2013, added Image360, a new signs franchise offering. In its first year of operation, Image360 is on pace to reach $500,000 in sales for 2014.
The franchise has won the sales achievement award for being in the top 10 in sales growth on a monthly basis a whopping 18 times since taking over. The company was cited for being one of the top emerging businesses by its local chamber of commerce and, earlier this year, won a Spurgeon Award for contributions to the community as a volunteer and for its service as a role model for youth.
"My goal is to have everyone in the company know and understand our vision—where we are now and the long-range plan for the business," Flaherty states. "When everyone is clear on outcomes and headed in the same direction, it makes it so much easier to reach our goals. I'm not a micro-manager, and I look to hire people who have strong leadership skills, too.
"As the business has grown, I'm unable to manage all of the day-to-day details like I could years ago. As a business owner, it's comforting to know I have smart, talented people working with me who do a fantastic job making the companies look good."
Mike Marcantonio, CEO of Alliance Franchise Brands (franchisor of Allegra), has proven to be a great mentor for Flaherty, as he has pushed for franchises to broaden their scope and become marketing service providers. "Mike's forward-thinking optimism and investments in new technology and training, in particular, have influenced the ways in which we seek to capture a larger share of untapped business," Flaherty adds.
An ardent baseball fan who also enjoys football, basketball and racquetball, Flaherty also counts continuing education among his interests, particularly those opportunities that can help him improve as a leader. The Flahertys have been married for 12 years and have two sons, Shawn, 10, and Ryan, 6. They also have a Maltese dog named Macie.
Tonya Kowa-Morelli, 34
Tonya Kowa-Morelli will be the first to admit that, as printing industry education and experience goes, there are still many opportunities for her to expand the frontiers of knowledge. Given the wealth of experience that surrounds Kowa-Morelli, there are plenty of resources to tap, as well.
"As president, I'm still in the early stages of learning, but I'm very open minded and motivated," Kowa-Morelli notes. "People here at Huston Patterson have a lot more experience and have been in industry a lot longer. So I am willing to listen and let people help me, rather than say we need to make changes or do something differently. I work well with people."
A 2001 graduate of the University of Illinois-Chicago, Kowa-Morelli didn't plan on getting into the family printing business. She'd graduated a few short months after 9/11 with a degree in broadcast journalism, but discovered that the entry way into sports broadcasting is extremely narrow. In the meantime, she decided to sell supplemental insurance for AFLAC, which she found to be challenging.
Around the time she started to investigate getting into a new line of business, she was contacted by her father, who advised of an opportunity that had became available at Huston Patterson. Kowa-Morelli honestly had not considered working for the family business; even in college, she had waited tables and worked at summer camps to earn extra money. Printing was not on Kowa-Morelli's radar, but it quickly grew on her.
"It's never the same; every project is different, every project we get with a new client is a different opportunity," she says. "There's variety all the time and it's ever-changing.
"We are very innovative, a forward-thinking company, which is exciting to me. Other companies have the same types of equipment, the same processes and are calling on the same people as us, but it's our employees who make the difference and help us stand apart from competition."
Kowa-Morelli counts her father, Thomas—Huston Patterson's chairman and CEO—as having a great influence on her from a business acumen standpoint. Steve Frantz, the company's COO and a 50-year veteran of the printing industry, has served as a repository for a remarkable volume of knowledge.
"There are a lot of mentors in the packaging side of the printing world," she says. "I try to take away pieces of what everybody says. There are some amazing people in the industry who are just a phone call away."
Her efforts have not gone unnoticed. In 2012, the Label Printing Industries of America (LPIA) honored Kowa-Morelli with its LPIA Emerging Leader Award. The Business Journal of Mid-Central Illinois also chose her for its list of "20 people under 40 who make a difference in Central Illinois."
Family ties run deep at Huston Patterson. In addition to working with her father and brother, Kowa-Morelli's husband, Joseph, is the firm's vice president of sales. The couple has two daughters, Josephine (5) and Gabriella (3), and a newborn son, Gianluca.
John Sommers Jr., 28
President and CEO
Printing is, in the words of John Sommers Jr., located at the inflection point between art and science. It deals with the subjectivity of color, devising solutions and working with creative marketers. Printing also entails the limitations of physics and the substrates that are being employed. It's where the manufacturing process meets the artistic flair of its creators. And Sommers is fully engaged in this world.
A 2009 cum laude graduate of Stonehill College in North Easton, MA, Sommers worked in the plant since the age of seven. In his younger years, he mowed the lawn and did some painting and hand work. Sommers worked his way through the plant as a prepress and press operator, then in estimating, production planning and marketing. A four-year stint in sales preceded his elevation to president and CEO.
"You learn a lot from the ground up, and that was always my father's philosophy—the same way he did it," notes Sommers, who represents the third generation of leadership at Allied Printing. "You learn how to get things done and about the capabilities of the company. It's a whole new world when dealing with customers and competitors, a whole new paradigm when you get exposed to that side of the business."
A forward on the NCAA Division II National Championship Stonehill College NCAA hockey team who was on the NE10 conference honor roll and athletic director's honor roll, Sommers was a playmaker, much like his hero, retired Hartford Whalers star Ron Francis. The NHL Hall of Famer exhibited leadership qualities, a sound work ethic and humility—traits Sommers admires, as they are applicable to the printing world, as well.
Sommers is advanced well beyond his 28 years. He likes to surround himself with the best people and let them do their job, as opposed to micro-managing.
"I'm a big believer in empowerment and autonomy," he says. "I think I have a pretty unique style in that I'm very open minded and intellectually curious. I always want to figure things out and understand why things go wrong or how they can be fixed. I'm always interested in how we can improve that, how can we be better and what can we do differently to separate ourselves.
"This is a people industry; no one person can do it all by themselves. It's important to understand people and share common values and goals. Then you can really accomplish a lot together. That element of team building and collaboration is important."
In October of 2013, Sommers' father lost his battle with cancer. John Sr. was not just a father, but a mentor and best friend who taught John Jr. everything about printing. The elder Sommers was able to strike a balance between work and family life that many business people are unable to master; he coached his son's hockey team for a number of years and never missed a college game.
"Despite the pressures and responsibilities he had at the plant, he always put his family first," Sommers notes. "He was definitely a huge influence on my life. The last few years we had together, with his transition to chairman, we had a lot of fun running the company side-by-side.
"It's a humbling concept to me, how a man can go from cradling a baby in his arms to, 25 years later, trusting that person to take control of his company."
A "born" New York Giants football fan who also happens to be a Boston Red Sox baseball fan, Sommers enjoys playing ice hockey and golf. He is engaged to fiancée Talia, and the pair have two rescue cats, Brewster and Baxter. Sommers' grandmother, a co-founder of Allied, still works at the company at the age of 88.
Brad Vali, 33
Crescent Printing & Copying
It took two years of college for Brad Vali to realize that he was better suited to running a business than sitting behind a desk and studying. And he knew just the place to get a head start on achieving his goal of owning a printing company: working at his father's printing company.
Vali worked alongside his father, Mehdi, at Metro Printing and Copying in Bethesda, MD, making plates, running the press and cleaning up for the next job. When Metro invested in digital equipment, Vali immersed himself in learning the ropes. Along with manufacturing, he quickly became well-versed in the business side of owning a company. It wasn't long before he was ready to hang a shingle of his own and become an owner.
That's when Crescent Printing & Copying, a provider of event signage, was born. At the ripe old age of 25, Vali became his own boss.
"Most companies fail within the first three years, and I think the reason we were able to generate a good profit, even that first year, was because of the industry experience I had," Vali relates. "I have customers who have been with me since day one. They're very happy with our work and how we're able to cater to their needs. In eight years, even though the economy had declined, I was always able to show a profit. Each year, we've been able to top the previous year profit-wise."
Vali had moonlighted as a nightclub manager three nights a week. He'd considered opening a restaurant/lounge one day, but found the path to success there would be quite arduous. When Vali told his nightclub employees of his plans to open a print shop, they laughed at him and said, "It is a dying business and you will not survive."
As a manager, Vali believes his strength lies in customer communication, satisfying their needs and using outside vendors, when necessary, to fulfill clients' every need. "I don't have some capabilities in-house," he notes. "But I go to events, vendors' offices and see what they can produce, so I'm able to offer those to my customers. Those are my key points: focusing on growth and customer service."
Bob Green, owner of PCI Graphics, is perhaps Vali's greatest influence. Green has grown his business significantly in a span of about 15 years, adding new offerings in the process, and Vali aspires to one day build his shop up to a similar scale.
For now, Vali takes pride in his status of being the youngest print shop owner in Bethesda and the only one with a five-star Google rating. And he also prides himself in having some of the most advanced equipment on the market today.
Money is not the prime motivating factor for Vali, who enjoys being able to deliver on a promise.
"When customers call me and tell me, 'Brad thank you so much, we can rely on you,' that's a sign of success," he says. "I had the embassy of Tanzania call me on a Friday and I finished their job by Saturday morning. We operate Monday through Friday, but I had myself and two other staff members working on their job until 6 a.m. Saturday to get their order completed by 9 a.m. They were so happy, so ecstatic."
A karate/martial arts aficionado, Vali enjoys donating work to schools and non-profit organizations. A confirmed bachelor, Vali is concentrating all of his efforts on the business before thinking about starting a family. He does take a bit of validation from the 20-under-40 listing: Back in 2008, Vali told his mother he would one day appear on the cover of a printing magazine. Her response?
"She said, 'Don't worry about being featured in a magazine—just work,' " Vali laughs.
Nikos Kallas, 34
Metropolitan Fine Printers
Vancouver, BC, Canada
It's been a long time since Nikos Kallas used 40˝ press sheets to make paper airplanes, or commandeered a pile jack to use as a scooter; the latter pastime proved a bit painful after hitting a crack in the floor and wiping out. Such is living the life of a family printing business...you're born with ink in your veins, and the hope is that you don't spill too much of it.
Kallas has been much more cautious in recent years, since taking the helm as president of Vancouver, BC-based Metropolitan Fine Printers (a.k.a., MET) in 2010. He'd graduated from the University of Western Ontario in London, ON, in 2001, with a BA in economics, then returned to MET and did odd jobs, cleaning and sweeping the shop floor. He went on to do a tour of the shop, working for roughly a year in virtually every department—prepress, press, accounting, estimating and coordinating. Upon completing his education on the job, Kallas worked in sales for about five years, building a portfolio of business that he still manages on the side.
Becoming president was, in many ways, a trial by fire. "I've seen the ups and down," Kallas says. "I was involved on the production side with a lot of the ups, which is 14- to 16-hour days, sometimes. And I experienced the downs of a severe recession in 2008. There's no better opportunity to learn about business than in a down market."
During his 14 years in the industry, Kallas has developed a knack for working with people. He finds much satisfaction in watching their personal development, as well, and truly buys into the team concept of moving forward as a company.
"I wouldn't want to do this job if it was all about me," he says. "Getting everyone on our team motivated and building a business for growth for the future...it's all exciting and this is just the beginning for us.
"I feel very fortunate to be working with the people at MET and I attribute any and all of the successes we've had to them. It's a collaboration of everybody that has put us where we are today. We're not the biggest company, but I know the product we produce is the best."
Kallas owes much of his printing industry savvy to his father and MET founder, George Kallas, a firm believer in giving back to the community. The Kallas family has also held firm to an old Greek adage that, when roughly translated to English, says "I'd rather lose my eye than my name." A reputation for being fair, honorable and honest is highly valued; its loss is no small matter.
Three senior executives—Bob Faulkner, vice president of sales and marketing; Mike Winteringham, COO; and Scott Gray, vice president of brand—have all contributed to the younger Kallas' learning experience. He's been able to borrow a page from each of their books. "It's been a great ride working for them," Kallas adds.
Away from the office, Kallas is a big fan of food, a quasi-foodie. He enjoys playing soccer and doing cross-fit training, which helps balance out the effects of said eating. He recently learned that he's being presented an "up-and-coming" leadership award by a Canadian printing magazine.
Nick Gawreluk, 23
Product Manager of Integrated Solutions
OK, we may have gone to the extreme here with the inclusion of this 2013 Rochester Institute of Technology (RIT) graduate, but this isn't your run-of-the-mill, 23-year-old youngster. Nick Gawreluk has already assembled a dossier that would be impressive for someone 20 years his senior, and it's mind-blowing to consider the heights this young man may one day attain.
The native of St. Paul, MN, attended high school in Roseville, MN, which is renown for its graphic arts program, directed by Brian Hoag. There, Gawreluk learned the value of hard work, business ethics and the fundamentals of printing. He captained the student-run printing business during his senior year, one which racked up $150,000 in sales. During summer breaks, he enjoyed hands-on experiences at Advanced Web and GLS Cos. through the Printing Industry of Midwest's student internship program.
During his RIT education, Gawreluk actually maintained business development and product management roles with Heidelberg in Europe and South America. He's served as an independent contractor for InfoTrends and contributed a blog for Printing Impressions magazine while in college. Today, he is the product manager of Integrated Solutions for Mimeo.com and recently relocated to Europe with the company.
The young man has packed a great deal of living in 23 years, having traveled to 22 countries while building up his knowledge base.
"Having worked in Germany, Brazil and the United States allows me to take parts of each culture and form a unique perspective in the workplace," Gawreluk says. "I use this daily during problem solving, connecting with colleagues and observing each of the different business units. I also bring a lot of passion and enthusiasm to the office every day, and seek to motivate others to go above and beyond to reach their full potential."
He credits Heidelberg's Axel Zoeller with being an early mentor who truly changed his life. "He inspired me to keep on exploring the world in order to further understand global cultures and pursue my dream of becoming a true international business manager," Gawreluk adds.
What Gawreluk ultimately represents is the next generation of printers. It is his goal to leave a lasting contribution to the printing industry and forging relationships that will stand the test of time.
"I will continue to work hard and soak up all I can from the leaders around me to build upon what I have already accomplished," he says.
An ardent long-distance runner, Gawreluk enjoys adding to his vinyl record collection and hopes to continue filling up his passport with new and exciting international destinations. He is single and volunteers as a Sunday school teacher. Gawreluk also mentors at-risk youth through a Big Brother program.
Kristopher Gasch, 32
Director of Marketing
Wisconsin Rapids, WI
Music is very much a part of Kristopher Gasch's identity. Whether he's playing piano in concert or singing with his adult choir in Ireland, music helps provide the creative and artistic outlet in Gasch's life. But it is by no means his only outlet for creativity.
As the director of marketing for Fey Printing, there are correlations between the world of music and Gasch's day-to-day work for the Wisconsin Rapids, WI-based firm. A 2004 graduate of Edgewood College in Madison, WI—where he studied business and music—Gasch joined the firm's customer service team shortly after finishing school. He worked his way into sales in 2007, then transitioned into marketing in 2011 while maintaining some accounts.
Structure and a desire for collaboration are two of Gasch's strong suits, and they are critical to success in both music and the printing business. "Organization may seem really simple, but there's stress that comes along with confusion," he notes. "I do strive for organization in what I'm doing and the things I'm working on with other employees, as well. I don't know if that need for structure comes out of that musical side of me—it needs to be square, four-measure phrases and right number of beats, and everything falls into place."
The desire to collaborate stems from what Gasch sees as the importance of seeing a different perspective. "Everyone on the team has a valuable perspective and oftentimes the best solutions come from when everyone has a voice in the conversation," he says.
He became the third generation from his family to work at Fey Printing, following in the footsteps of his father (Scott) and grandfather (Don). Combined, the three men have 99 years of printing experience. Don Gasch, who bought the firm in 1989, has 64 years under his belt and counting.
Both men have had a profound impact on Gasch's approach to the industry. "I learned from them the value of building a relationship with customers, co-workers and vendors."
Gasch is drawn toward organizations that place a premium on values, from the Rotary Club to Incourage, the community foundation of which he is a board member. Making integrity a part of one's daily life—whether it's as a creed, mission statement or an unwritten principle to live by—is important to him.
The road to success, from Gasch's point of view, is a constant work in progress. One of his Edgewood College instructors left a motto for him to live by: We should be pleased, but never satisfied. That satisfaction leads to complacency is not lost on Gasch, and given the many challenges facing the printing industry and the need to maximize customers' marketing dollars, it certainly applies here.
"If we're satisfied," he observes, "we're not moving forward."
Gasch is a passionate supporter of building Wisconsin Rapids into a vibrant community, and to that end he has donated his time and energies to the aforementioned organizations (he's a past president of the Rotary Club) and sits on the governing council for a charter elementary school. Aside from music, his interests include classic cars (he's rebuilding a 1971 Triumph) and traveling. Gasch and his partner of seven years, Shane, enjoy traveling and have visited destinations including Portugal, France, Iceland and the Virgin Islands.
Justin Feickert, 34
Vice President of Sales and Marketing
If there's one thing that can be said for printers, it is that they are not lacking in the work ethic department. Still, the tenacity level of some executives can be jaw-dropping. Case in point is Justin Feickert, whose family presides over the Midstates Group, which represents four individual brands—Midstates Inc., Jacob North, Quality Quick Print and Panther Graphics.
Feickert's history was fairly exhaustive before he even stepped foot out of college. He graduated from Black Hills State University in 2003 with a double major in business administration and human resource management. He played football (cornerback, special teams) for the Yellow Jackets his freshman year, but then took a job working 35-40 hours per week as an assistant manager at Burger King while still in school.
A member of the National Guard, Feickert served in Operation Iraqi Freedom for 14 months. With the aforementioned credentials, it's easy to see that Feickert wasn't afraid of getting his hands dirty.
"I knew that the opportunity was there to come back to the family business, but I can guarantee no handouts were given by my father," he says. "In fact, he was probably harder on us than the average employee in order to not to show favoritism. It took me a few years to appreciate and understand this, but in the end it made my brother and me more respected leaders in the company.
"My passion has always been selling and solving problems for people, so I knew if this opportunity didn't work out, I could make it in sales somewhere. Everything starts with a sale, no matter what business you're in."
One of Feickert's primary assets is his no-nonsense dealing with employees (his brother, Matt, is vice president of operations). Of course, he expects them to have the same level of commitment that he exhibits.
"I will do anything to help my team be successful, with the caveat that they are giving it everything they have and are willing to receive feedback and bring new ideas to the table," Feickert says. "I bring creative solutions and outside-the-box thinking, and I certainly learned a hard work ethic growing up working on my uncle's dairy farm."
His father, company CEO Roger Feickert, has been in the printing industry for more than 40 years, and has a reservoir of experiences that are applicable to most scenarios that Justin encounters. The one constant in this ever-changing business, Feickert adds, is his dad's unwavering core values.
"We will maintain a sales-driven organization. We will never say 'no' to a customer. We will treat our people with respect and we will be the best," Feickert recites.
The key to success is progress, and inching forward in the printing industry is a win, he notes. By investing in automation, cross-media, its employee base and other initiatives that offer a positive ROI, Feickert believes Midstates can continue achieving that progress.
When he's not spending time with his wife of 11 years, Toni, and kids Jaidyn (8), Cambry (6) and Corbin (3), Feickert enjoys hunting and fishing, along with competing in triathlons. He's involved in several civic committees, as well as the American Cancer Society's Relay for Life.
Rick Lindemann, 37
Total Printing Systems
There was little doubt that Rick Lindemann would somehow end up in the printing industry. After all, his parents—Rich and Wendy—founded Total Printing Systems (TPS) as a commercial shop in 1973, before it transitioned into a book manufacturing operation. Like many of his peers, Lindemann had spent time working in the plant at an early age, sweeping floors and hand collating papers.
Still, even though he wrote Excel spreadsheets and Access databases for TPS' scheduling and estimating while in college, Lindemann's master plan was to carve out a niche for himself in the paper industry. Following his sophomore year at Miami (OH) University, he did a co-op for Jefferson Smurfit, working at the firm's Alton corrugated paper mill and its Highland box plant.
"I was looking at going into technical support for paper sales," he says. "I ended up getting married right before my senior year of college. The paper mill where I had interned closed during my junior year of college and, with several other mills closing at the time, I thought I'd have a more stable, secure career in which to start a family in the printing industry."
When Lindemann graduated from Miami with a BS in paper science and engineering (plus a minor in statistical methods), he abandoned his plans to get into the world of paper and joined TPS.
One of the keys in becoming a successful manager is being well-versed with the equipment and software a company uses. "I'm a pretty quick study and always make it a point to get trained on every piece of equipment and software we buy," he says. "Once I know how everything is supposed to work, it's much easier to help our employees do their jobs better."
Lindemann is energized by new technologies. Knowing precisely what tools are available that could benefit one's company is paramount in staying ahead of the curve, and the competition. Lindemann is proud of the fact that TPS was the first U.S. book printer to install the Scitex VersaMark MPS Twin 22 high-speed inkjet web press for book production back in 2001.
"At that point, we thought we were about 18 months ahead of the market, but it took until 2008-09 for 'early adopters' to start bringing in inkjet," Lindemann notes. "By then, we were on our third inkjet press and looking for the next big thing."
Away from the office, Lindemann enjoys golf, running and attending his children's sporting events. He is also an avid Chicago Bears fan. He sits on the Newton City Council and is an Elder at St. Paul's Lutheran Church.
Rick and Amber Lindemann have been married for 15 years and have two children, R.J. (12) and Heidi (10), along with three basset hounds, two Guinea pigs and a few cats. The Lindemanns have been refurbishing a home that was built in 1912.
Jonathan Wallace, 31
Stone Mountain, GA
This list is brimming with father-son tales, and even the most successful of family printing company dynamics have felt the strain of mixing business with the politics of interpersonal relationships. Just ask Jonathan Wallace, vice president of Wallace Graphics, whose father, John, founded the sheetfed printing company in 1987.
"Having a mentor with whom you have a personal relationship first, and a business relationship second, can be a bit confusing at first," the younger Wallace admits. "However, once we worked out the kinks, it has been a blessing. I am able to learn from the character traits I want to replicate and also the behaviors that I would do differently."
John Wallace instilled in his son the value of trust and living up to the motto "do what you say you are going to do." Jonathan Wallace has found that to be not just a truism, but a critical principle behind cultivating a business. A similar motto, "do the right thing," is something Wallace has found to be applicable for relationships with employees, customers and vendors.
As a child, Wallace spent a number of summers in the shop, doing hand work and odd jobs. But even as he worked his way through Clemson University—where he graduated with a BS in financial management in 2005—Wallace's master plan did not include the family business or the printing industry. Upon graduating, he took a position with Naturally Fresh (which had strong ties to the university) as a warehouse manager. In the end, he found the management layer in front of him to be at least 10 executives deep. Six months later, Wallace had re-evaluated his position.
"During that time I came to the realization I could make a bigger impact in my life, as well as the lives of everyone involved with Wallace Graphics, if I made the decision to join the company," he notes.
Good fortunes have followed Wallace to the family business. The company generated $6.5 million in sales for 2006, a figure that has projects to stand at a crisp $13.5 million in 2014.
Wallace backs a work ethic that entails being the first person in the factory in the morning and one of the last to leave at night— whatever it takes to get the job done. He always maintains an even temperament, regardless of the situation. And while he holds people accountable for their choices, he makes it clear that they will not lose their job based on one mistake or decision.
Wallace believes in being goal-oriented. "In business, my goal is to continue operating a profitable business, while giving our employees a great place to work and enabling them to help support their families," he says. "We plan to continually grow our revenues, something we have done every year we have been in business. While we are exploring different avenues of revenue within print, we are still focused on growing our business through standard commercial printing. We can continue to grow by being the best at what we do in all aspects of business."
Away from the office, it is not surprising to learn that Wallace is a big fan of Clemson football. He loves golfing and spending time with his wife, Sarah, and young children Brooklyn and Brayden. Of his wife, Wallace notes, "Sarah is the best mother and wife I could have hoped for—I definitely out-kicked my coverage when I landed her." The Wallaces also have a Shih Tzu named Chansi.
James Cirigliano, 36
Vice President of Marketing
Diversified Labeling Solutions
Of all the under-40 candidates who found their way into the printing industry, James Cirigliano may have taken the most scenic route, so to speak. Prior to joining Diversified Labeling Solutions (DLS), Cirigliano spent 14 years in video production and animation. He became a lead 3D animator, working on TV commercials, corporate videos and music videos.
Through a number of different advertising agencies, Cirigliano provided various projects for recognizable brands such as Disney, Ford, McDonalds, Chevy, Veggie Tales and MTV. In fact, he was given a special achievement award for his work with Ford on its now-iconic "Built Ford Tough" campaign. Cirigliano won a number of Telly and AVA awards for his work and even started his own animation company, which helped launch him into the world of independent films.
As much as he loved animation, it took a toll on him personally. "Being in the film industry is very time demanding and I found myself traveling more than I was home," Cirigliano notes. "This was not going over well at home with the wife. I needed something that would give me a little more normal of a schedule.
"I had done some 3D models for print before and liked doing that as a change of pace. Since I had done some work in the past for Diversified and really enjoyed working with them, I asked them if they needed some help full-time. Next thing I knew, I was the director of marketing at DLS."
Cirigliano chose DLS because he relished the challenge of creating a branding and marketing program. Since he needed to create everything from the ground up, Cirigliano was excited about the opportunity to put his own signature on it.
The position came right into the wheelhouse of his skill sets.
"I am a technical creative," Cirigliano says. "I have the ability to solve problems and find creative solutions for them quickly. I have the skill sets of an IT person, the creativity of an artist and the ability to see the forest through the trees when it comes to business.
"I am also very good at reading between the lines of what customers want and have a firm understanding of the human psychology of mass-media advertising."
The top leadership at DLS—owner Bob Hakman and CEO Jim Kersten—have been extremely influential in Cirigliano's development. "Although I did not have many contacts in the printing industry then, looking back now, I am honored to have learned from two guys who have been very successful in the business and have introduced me to so many great industry people," he adds.
Cirigliano defines success as feeling that electric jolt of excitement about what you do, sticking with what matters through hard times and living a life you can feel proud of in retrospect. "My job is to make others succeed, so I know I am doing a good job when the business is doing well. I push myself constantly to learn new techniques and new ways to approach an issue," he says. "Everything in the marketing industry has a shelf life so there is always a way to improve upon what you already have. After you finish something you go back and analyze what you did, get feedback, leave emotions out of the mix and make any changes necessary for the better of the company."
Aside from his work, Cirigliano has an impressive list of interests, ranging from scuba and sky diving to camping, exercising, painting, sculpting and boating. An admitted science geek who works with online think tanks on how to develop new products and ideas in open forums, he also loves to try new, exotic foods from around the world. Ancient world history is another one of his fascinations.
Jim and Susan Cirigliano were married in 2010. They have three teacup Chihuahuas and a toy poodle.
Tyler Garman, 36
The RoArk Group
Upon graduating from the University of Arkansas with a degree in computer information systems in 2000, Tyler Garman relished the opportunities that lay ahead of him. Although the family-owned printing company started by his grandfather beckoned, Garman didn't have plans to work at The RoArk Group long-term.
"After graduating, I looked at several opportunities with accounting and technology firms, most of which would have taken me out of the area," Garman explains. "This was just as Bentonville and Northwest Arkansas were really starting to boom and there were a few projects that I wanted to complete, so I decided to stay (at RoArk) for a year or two."
However, the year or two expired about 13 years ago. "I couldn't be happier with the decision," he says. "I've been able to work daily with an amazing group of people on a wide variety of exciting and creative projects."
The "few projects" Garman completed entailed starting out as a prepress operator, and then IT manager, before becoming vice president of operations and, in 2007, company president. He'd worked in the shop in various part-time roles during college and was drawn to the rapid change and increasing computerization of the industry.
Among his top managerial qualities, Garman feels he takes a calm and objective approach to the business each day. He also makes it a point not to take himself too seriously.
Garman truly considers himself fortunate to have been surrounded by family, board members and a number of the industry's top consultants, all of whom have provided nuggets of wisdom that have helped to pave his path in the world of printing. He has borrowed a little bit of each nugget in developing his own managerial style.
"Success to me is meeting the goals you've set with the support of people you care about," he says. "If you focus on obtaining these goals, the personal fulfillment and financial freedom will follow."
A diehard Arkansas Razorbacks college football fan, he's active on several nonprofit boards and organizations, including The First Tee of Northwest Arkansas and the Sam M. Walton College of Business Dean's Advisory Counsel. Garman enjoys being in the great outdoors, be it cycling, golfing or taking in a picnic lunch with his family. He's been married to wife Lindsay for 13 years and they have two daughters.
Jeffrey Davidson, 31
Brown Printing, a Modern Litho subsidiary
Jefferson City, MO
The allure of St. Louis almost steered Jeff Davidson away from the printing industry. The year was 2008, and Davidson was engaged to be married. His wife-to-be, Jenny, boasted a degree in biomedical engineering ("She makes me look like an idiot," Davidson exclaims) and performed research and development for a large pharmaceutical company in St. Louis. Davidson himself was employed by UMB, an $8 billion bank based in Kansas City, which had offered him the opportunity to transfer to St. Louis, as well.
The man is also a diehard St. Louis Cardinals fan...obviously, the move was fait accompli, right?
Not so fast. It seems the pull of the American family business is difficult to resist. In this case, it was working at Modern Litho—the company acquired by Davidson's grandparents in the early 1990s—that proved to be too good an opportunity to pass on, and he rejoined the fold in 2008.
Davidson had grown up against the printing backdrop, working as a youngster in the desktop department, bindery and mailroom, doing grunt work and getting his hands dirty. But he majored in economics at Westminster College in Fulton, MO, and, upon graduating, had developed a desire to get into commercial banking. He joined UMB after graduation, entered its management rotation program and worked in areas such as credit analysis, loan reviews and small business lending.
He was transferred to Jefferson City, MO, and became a commercial lender at a UMB branch there. But with a move to St. Louis on the horizon, owners Darrell Moore (his uncle) and Greg Meeker approached Davidson about rejoining.
"(Moore and Meeker) didn't think I'd ever come back if I left for St. Louis," Davidson says. "It took a lot of convincing on my wife's end, but she saw the vision and believes in the family company, as well. So she was willing to take that leap from pharmaceutical lab/research chemist to stay-at-home mom."
Davidson came aboard as an estimator to get a feel for the business. In 2009, he was assigned to do business development for the digital side of the firm. The company had recently acquired an Indigo press, but it was underutilized, so Davidson focused on building the digital component. He delved into variable data printing, personalized URLs and generally integrating marketing technology into printing.
In 2010, he was named general manager of Brown Printing, a Modern Litho subsidiary.
Among his managerial strengths, Davidson lists team building and communicating. It helps, he says, to have a talented group of departmental managers, buffered by decades of experience, to help carry out the vision. "I rely on them to run their departments and to make day-to-day decisions, then to get me involved where it makes sense."
One of Davidson's biggest influences is his grandmother, Jeanie Moore, who has been both a source of knowledge and inspiration. Davidson notes that Brown Printing is now in the original Modern Litho facility, and that he occupies the same office that she did, 30 years earlier.
"She was one of the original strong women in printing," he says. "She did it through sheer determination. Although she wasn't formally educated, she made an amazing career as the leader of a company by taking and growing it to become what it is today."
Davidson also lives by her motto: "Always do more than is expected; always go above and beyond what they expect of you."
An unabashed Cardinals fan with a collection of autographed baseballs, Davidson enjoys being outdoors. He loves traveling to South Dakota to hunt pheasant. Jeff and Jenny Davidson have two children, Sophia, 3, and Jeffrey Rhys, 1. PI