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Our Leaders must Raise their Game

Printing World

Printing company managing directors increasingly need to be better business people to compete in today’s tough markets. George Thompson argues many need to raise their game and acquire new skills through further education.

ASKED TO DESCRIBE Britain’s average managing director, the answer would be, "He or she employs 30 staff, has a firm with an annual turnover of £3m, drives a Mercedes, Jaguar or BMW, lives in a good-sized house, has been in print all of his/her working career (99% likely to be a he), enjoys a good lifestyle, but works hard for it." Statistics show that printers of this size vastly outnumber the large groups such as St. Ives and Polestar.

It was once said that "you will never find a poor printer", implying that printers are worth a pound or two! However, the courage, determination and entrepreneurial spirit that put these people where they are today is no longer enough. Many of the printers we speak to are complaining about the poor margins and the lack of growth. The answer to these problems is that the average MD must raise his or her standard of general business skills. If you are MD of a printing company, ask yourself, are you a printer in business or a businessman in print?

As recruiters dealing mostly with MDs and directors, we are in the unique position to witness at first hand the varying degrees of business skills. Take for example sales recruitment. Our clients with formal business skills running medium sized printers to plcs take a more strategic view on the hiring of sales executives and directors. They think more in terms of how the new employee fits into the bigger picture, what career progression can be offered and what long-term development for training can be implemented that will benefit both the individual and the company. They are also more likely to provide us with a detailed job description and hiring criteria.

The smaller companies want a representative and at the interview ask the question, "what turnover can you guarantee?" We receive on average five calls a day from printers in London looking for a rep to bring in turnover. For our part, we do our best to demonstrate that just because someone sits opposite you and says that they will do £lm in their first year, it is not guaranteed that he/she will actually do it— far from it!

The mere mention of the word "guarantee" should ring warning bells, for almost every print firm we speak to has experienced a "con man rep". This confirms that the person said at the interview that they could "guarantee turnover". We also have the courage to say when printers claim "we never have any luck when hiring sales staff", that it is perhaps that the firm which is doing something wrong.

A number of MDs of smaller printers with which we deal are recognising that they have to raise their game and are learning more general business skills. In running a busy company, many have found that the time spent in their car provides the greatest training opportunity, as many of the best business books and learning programs are now on audio tape.

Some have achieved or are progressing with the ultimate business qualification, the MBA. It may be worth noting to anyone who says that they do not have the time to take further education, that Paul Holohan, now chief executive of SR Communications, achieved an MBA at the same time as running Leicester printer Taylor Bloxham.

However, statistics from a leading university confirm people in our industry like Mr. Holohan are very much in a minority. Based on 1998/99 MBA results, at the top of the league, 14% were from retailing, 13% from financial services, 10% from IT/telecommunications and at the lower end, 4% were from leisure/tourism, 3% from the legal profession with print near the bottom at less than 1%.

There are of course, examples dotted around the country of print MD/owners who have very few educational qualifications, yet have that knack of growing a successful business by instinct. One of our clients started life as an abandoned baby in a carrier bag, left in the Gorbals area of Glasgow. He took ten GCEs at school and failed every one of them. This now London-based MD has spent 25 successful years in business and owns a £9m turnover company.

There is no doubt in my mind, blending the spirit, character, work ethic and flair of the average printing MD with the business qualities available through training and further education, would produce a business leader capable of remedying many of the problems we find in today’s market.

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