'Maintain your integrity'

Monday, April 27, 2015

As appeared in the Daily Herald Business Ledger
A Monday Morning Conversation with Steve Johnson, president of Copresco

Family information: Four children: Jason, Cyrus, Roxane, Nalani. A couple of former foster children. Lots of grandchildren. Yes, I'm too young to be a grandfather. Plus, a dozen former exchange students scattered around the world, which makes vacation travel a blast.

Q What's new at your company?

In the past two years we've replaced all six of our digital printing presses with new models to keep up with technology and production demands. Some people think print is standing still, but in reality it is moving at the speed of light so keeping up is a never-ending process.

Q: Do you plan to hire any additional staff or make any significant capital investments in your company in the next year?

Yes, this year we are adding more equipment to our bindery department to catch up with our recent capital improvements in our press department. Unlike e-books or e-publications there are many unique functions that can be added to printed books, catalogs and publications. Many of these features involve binding techniques so we want to offer our customers whatever they need to best communicate with their readers. We are also in the midst of streamlining our workflow. Copresco prints and delivers books faster than anyone else, but we are committed to ever faster turnaround. As for new hires, we will likely add a position in the coming year due to growth, but we pride ourselves on running lean. Our employees average more than a dozen years with Copresco, so we don't have much attrition. We try to promote from within whenever possible.

Q: What will your company's main challenges be in the next year?

The exciting challenge is keep the public enlightened as to the superior communication properties of the printed word. Some folks become enthralled with electronic communication options that are sadly never read or even opened. Study after study proves the intrinsic value of print for communication, information, edification and education. An example would be school districts and colleges jumping on the e-textbook and tablet bandwagon, when in fact students learn significantly better from printed texts and prefer them as well. This isn't just a matter of scoring more business, the quality of our children's education hangs in the balance.

Q: What's the hottest trend in your industry?

It seems as though it has been only a few years since we began using toner-based laser printing to challenge traditional inks and presses. Now the ink-jet process seems poised to replace toner. It is my job to keep up with such trends so our clients don't have to. As one of my customers once said, "I don't care if you use monks with quill pens as long as you get the job done."

Q: If you had one tip to give to a rookie CEO, what would it be?

Integrity. Maintain your integrity. You can always rebuild your business or your career; it is much harder to rebuild your reputation.

Q: Do you have a business mantra?

Quality. At a profit if possible, at a loss if necessary, but quality always. Many think that technology has replaced craftsmanship and that quality is old-fashioned. In fact, technology properly harnessed is the greatest tool the craftsman has ever had. If you can't take pride in your work, why do it?

Q: From a business outlook, who do you look up to?

I will always admire my first few bosses who took the time to share their vast knowledge of business with me. Likewise the leaders both in industry and our local community who saw the worth of passing their values on to upstart kids like me. My father and my uncle are both local businessmen, and I learned from their examples: their mistakes as well as their successes.

Q: What is one interesting fact about you or your company that most people may not know?

Copresco prints books, and anything with 4 or more pages is a book. A calendar is a book. A catalog is a book. A deck of cards is a book.

Q: What do you like to do in your free time?

I love to bicycle. I try to spend several weeks each year bicycle touring. I read voraciously. I enjoy live music and live theatre; I probably see about 30 plays each year and as many concerts.

Q: What book is on your nightstand?

The Bible is a constant. Right now for business I'm reading Words Onscreen by Naomi Baron. For pleasure I'm reading The Norman Conquest by Marc Morris.

Q: What keeps you up at night?

I sleep pretty well.

Q: What was your first paying job?

After mowing grass and shoveling snow for neighbors, my first real job with a paycheck was my paper route. That was the closest I've ever come to indentured servitude. It made me determined to always work for those who appreciate my efforts and to appreciate the efforts of those who work for me.

Q: If you could put your company name on a sports venue, which one would you choose?

May I say that naming rights for venues unrelated to our core business seem more like ego indulgence than sound marketing? Rather than a sports venue I'd much prefer to see our name on something that pertains to our mission and serves society as well. How about "The Copresco Public Library"? Hmmm, perhaps I should look into this...

Q: What is one funny thing that has happened to you in your career?

When I was learning my trade as a teenager, I repeatedly declared that I would never start my own company and that I was happy to leave such headaches to others. I only moved out on my own because the people I worked for weren't willing to implement all of the ideas I had. Years later my last employer was sitting in my office, asking for my advice about moving into digital printing. You just never know what the future will bring.

 —Kim Mikus