Executive Q&A: Carrington Herbert

As part of our continuing series where we talk to executives from all around the industry, this week we spoke to Carrington Herbert, national sales director for Muller Martini.

PN: Tell me a little about your company, the segment of the market it serves, and what you consider to be your “core” users.

CH: Muller Martini is a family-owned company founded in Switzerland in 1946 by Hans Muller. His son, Rudy, is now chairman of the board and nephew, Bruno, chief executive officer. Muller is the world’s largest provider of finishing equipment, serving all markets in the printing industry from small to large. Our company actually evolved from a small-equipment provider to where we are today: global market coverage that includes the world’s largest print manufacturers.

The core users of Muller Martini equipment are the small to mid-size printers who rely on us to give them the best possible equipment at a competitive price. That’s how we built our company—by providing reliable, technologically advanced machinery which leads to a printer’s success and growth. That in turn leads to more equipment in the future and more growth. Our customer’s success leads to our success. That’s our philosophy.

PN: How did you get involved with the company?

What is your background?

CH: I started in the industry in the mid-1970s when I was hired to work at William Byrd Press in Virginia by my colleague, Wallace Stettinius. Wally is one of the industry’s premiere thought leaders. He authored the classic handbook “The Printer’s Guide to Profitability,” and was a pioneer in web production. He grew Byrd from a one-site operation into the multi-plant Cadmus Corp.

When I started with William Byrd, there wasn’t any Muller Martini machinery in the plant. As a department head in charge of production and productivity, it was my job to investigate new equipment, and I realized that the user friendliness and makeready capability of the Muller equipment was essential to our growth and development. So, within five years we had three Muller Martini stitchers and one perfect binder.

Through the acquisition of that equipment I got to know a lot of people at Muller Martini and grew to respect them and the company. And, when I was given the opportunity to “jump the fence,” I did so. I think what’s most interesting—and beneficial—about my background is that I come from the printer’s side. I understand the way printers think, and I feel their pain. And that experience has also allowed me to appreciate first-hand the expertise and commitment of an organization like Muller Martini.

PN: What do you consider your greatest achievement in this market to be?

CH: That would probably be the friendships I’ve made within the industry; relationships that have been built on trust, partnerships, and mutual respect. Seeing my colleagues’ operations grow and be successful has been extremely rewarding.

PN: If there was anything you could change, either about your career in regards to the print industry, your company, or the market as a whole, what would it be and why?

CH: I think improving the way we cultivate new talent is something that’s become perhaps the industry’s biggest challenge. It’s interesting to note that in almost every state graphic arts is named as one of the top four manufacturing sectors in terms of people employed. But, frankly, I’ve never had any young person say to me “I want to go into the print business.”

The encouraging news is that the industry as a whole is on a recruitment movement. Lots of colleges and technical schools are offering programs that encourage graphic arts skill sets, but we still need to get away from the mindset that printing is mostly about “ink under the fingernails.” Ours is a huge industry, but it has been unable to transition from an artisan industry into one of high tech. And, the bottom line is that’s the real challenge: redirecting mindsets.

Today, there are highly sophisticated printing technologies which demand degrees in production workflow and workflow management. Years ago, if you went into printing you had to start at the lowest level…you had to earn your stripes which meant you started as a roll tender on the press and worked your way to become a head pressman. The progression was highly arbitrary, and not measurable. Typically, at some point enough people left, so you got that position.

It was an artisan’s world—you’d say “this is good print quality,” “this is a good document.” And, frankly, you were right. You knew just based on your level of experience and craftsmanship. But given the complexities of today’s print runs, now you probably need to hire someone who’s more technologically proficient.

Muller Martini is very active in advancing this new mindset. Our president, Werner Naegeli, serves on NYU’s School of Continuing and Professional Studies Master of Arts Program/Graphic Communications Management and Technology Advisory Board. Muller is also the first in the finishing business to offer 24/7 e-learning training. We were also the first in recognizing JDF capability and the first to do online machine diagnosis.

PN: What do you consider the greatest challenge to be for the industry right now? Why?

CH: This is sort of the double-edge sword to my answer above. Historically, printers are not quick to change or embrace technology for seemingly “bottom line” rationales. They’ve made huge capital investments, and they want to fully appreciate their equipment. Once the equipment “is paid for,” they feel they can start turning some profit.

But the reality is they need to keep pace with industry trends in order to survive—and that means paying attention to what the market demands, now and in the future, and providing their customers with the solutions that meet those demands. Muller Martini continues to be sensitive and responsive to these challenges. All of our equipment is of modular design so it can be upgraded and expanded in order to grow as the market grows.

PN: What do you consider the greatest asset to be for the industry right now? Why?

CH: It’s understanding that “progress” is an asset, plain and simple. Printers must learn to repackage what they know about traditional printing into on demand, personalized print. We’re going through a lot of change, and printers must embrace new technology. But that also means the smaller printers need to be smart. If they make a wrong capital investment at this point, they can be out of business within a couple of years.

That’s also why there’s a much more pronounced relationship, a convergence if you will, between today’s finishers and printers/manufacturers. We’re working together to develop the technologies that can offer the type of solutions that will accommodate all players. The industry is reinventing itself, and printers and suppliers must be able to make their partners succeed via new equipment and new print applications.

PN: In your opinion, what have been the biggest changes to the way we communicate with one another in the past few years? How would you recommend this industry take advantage of that?

CH: That most dramatic change would be the way we transfer information, via the Internet for example. An interesting example within the printing industry is that the term “newspaper” is becoming an oxymoron simply because of the way news is being transferred paperless. You can also consider the book market, the Kindle for example. Here the information exchange is much more direct.

What this “transfer of information” has done to a company like Muller Martini is that it has taken some of our traditional markets away, while opening up new opportunities. It’s made us learn to adapt, just as printers need to adapt, in order to develop new and innovative solutions. The book industry is becoming a much shorter run industry, but that also means creating digital finishing solutions at which Muller finds itself at the forefront.

These market changes also provide opportunities for organizations like Muller to focus in on the value-added that we can contribute to the short-run personalized market. How great would it be to give your kids a holiday Christmas book that featured their actual names on the cover, and throughout the text? Actually, one of the initiatives happening now involves licensing agreements with top-selling children’s books. You can purchase a Dr. Seuss title, for instance, that has your kid’s name—and photograph—replacing many of the well-know characters.

PN: Looking ahead, what major innovations or technologies do you believe will shape the future of the industry? Why?

CH: Right now it’s the digital market and everything that supports it. It’s still evolving….speed, color, quality in print, personalization, cover matching, etc. But every one of these initiatives brings another opportunity for us. Interestingly enough, the changes in our markets have actually enabled us to create some new applications from some of our existing technologies, especially in the quality control area.

PN: What is the biggest piece of advice you would give to printers and others involved in this industry?

CH: How a company leverages technology will determine if they can deliver a competitive advantage to their customers. And here’s a somewhat “traditional” piece of advice: some things don’t change. Being able to differentiate yourself within the marketplace is just playing with a new set of tools. What’s key then and now is competitive advantage. Today, customers need a print and finishing solution which can selectively insert by region right down to carrier route and through JDF, while including customized, personalized messages by block and/or by address. If they don’t understand that not having that solution is giving another printer an advantage, they’re simply not going to be able to compete.

PN: Is there anything else you would like to share with my readers?

CH: Just that I’m a firm believer in the stakeholder theory. I believe that owners, investors, management, employees, and suppliers all bring something to the table, whether it’s their time, their talents, their money, or their innovations. Each of those parties deserves something reasonable in return— self actualization, sales, wages, price, security.

And, aside from the excesses on Wall Street, “profit” is not a bad word. Instead it’s the lifeblood of a company. As a world supplier of finishing solutions, we’re fortunate to have the commitment of the Muller family, as well as their dedication to invest in R&D. And it’s this investment that will allow our industry to move forward.

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