Executive Q&A: Les Stern, CEO, Bell and Howell

Les Stern has been CEO of Bell and Howell since January 2012. He has been company president since September 2011. He was interviewed by QP editor Karen Hall. Learn more about Bell and Howell at www.MyPRINTResource.com/10004157.


QP: What is your overall vision for the future of Bell and Howell?

Stern: Bell and Howell is a company that is committed to a customer-first business culture. As such we are dedicated to helping our customers find game changing solutions to their challenges and achieving their business goals. Our vision is to continue drawing on the experience and expertise that we have across our organization and with our partners to provide the industry with solutions that support the widest spectrum of applications at the lowest cost.

We differentiate ourselves by providing best-in-class solutions, supported by a very capable and loyal organization with global capacity. We are building next-generation innovations that will enable customers to stay relevant and competitive, as well as forming partnerships with other leading vendors who are as passionate and committed to customer success as we are.


QP: Where do the company’s products and services fit in for printing companies that provide mailing services?

Stern: We’ve helped many printing companies successfully expand their operations to include mailing services. Our offerings include state-of-the-art software solutions that improve data quality and optimize postal processing; increase the impact and relevancy of every communication item; track the integrity, quality, and productivity of every operator, process, and system; and deliver information when and where each recipient wants, using multiple delivery channels.

We also provide the most flexible and fastest intelligent hardware systems for inserting and sorting mail. Finally, all solutions are supported by a world-class service organization that has unmatched knowledge, reach, reliability, and infrastructure.

QP: At drupa you spoke extensively about being customer-centric and forming partnerships. How does this play out in the daily operation of your customers’ businesses?

Stern: As noted earlier, we are an organization with a customer-first focus, and we want to understand the opportunities and challenges facing our customers and bring solutions that are relevant to them. The market has made it very clear that if we are to be considered a partner, it is a distinction that must be earned every day. Consequently, we are dedicated to investing the resources that it takes to meet and exceed their expectations, as well as being a partner willing to share in the risk of achieving their goals.

One of the key components of our vision for success includes our partnerships with leading technology vendors. Our experience tells us that a total solution that is right for a customer rarely comes straight off the shelf from a single company; it requires a deep understanding of production environments by qualified teams who know the production print and mail business, as well as the technologies and unique attributes of each vertical industry. We’ve built these teams, and they stand at the core of our customer-first approach.

Our partnership with customers involves delivering solutions with measurable returns on investment. One of the most positive outcomes from working closely with our customers is being able to develop customized solutions that meet unique and specific needs and help them win new business and transform their operations.

Our service team works very closely with our customers and is truly dedicated to their continued success. We receive many commendations and comments from customers that our people feel like an extension of their team, and this trust and collaboration are something that enables greater success for our customers and Bell and Howell.


QP: Please share your perspective on the changes facing the US Postal Service. How will this shift affect Bell and Howell and your customers?

Stern: The state of the US Postal Service and the entire communications industry has something in common—the need to be able to strategically change business models in order to stay relevant in an ever-changing market space. Across our industry, costs are increasing and pressures on financial performance are great, mail volumes are shifting from physical to digital channels, and end-user loyalty can be lost in a moment.

Our customers need to offset rising costs by driving inefficiencies and postage costs out of their operations, and better utilize information and data to improve overall capabilities and message relevancy. To address this, we are developing products that leverage the latest mobile, audio, and video technologies, automate manual processes, and intelligently analyze data across production environments for dynamically executing the best possible action at the lowest cost.

Our goal is to continue making the best communication tools available to the widest market segments so that more customers can evolve their business and their offerings and stay competitive for their clients. The market will continue changing and redefining itself, and we plan to be the partner that customers rely on to help them navigate through these changes.


QP: Are similar things happening within mailing services in other parts of the world?

Stern: In general, global markets are facing similar challenges with postal changes and regulations, adoption of new technologies and changes in how information is delivered, and rising costs. Different countries are moving at different speeds and tackling challenges with different priorities, but the list of challenges is very similar throughout the world.


QP: What advice would you give to a printing company that might be considering adding mailing services?

Stern: Mailing services can provide printers with additional sources of income and a competitive advantage to grow their business. Many of the companies you are printing for today have needs for additional services that are probably being outsourced to other providers who may not offer the service levels and customer support that you provide.

When evaluating new products and capabilities, it is recommended to consider whether your business has the ability to implement a total solution. Some components may require skills and capabilities that do not exist in your operations today. These skills can be acquired a number of ways, including training, new hires, and by working with a partner that also offers professional services.

Being successful in any new venture requires a balance of products and the skills to execute. If you are wondering if your team can handle the new products or if you have the capital to purchase all that is needed, then you should consider whether having a partner perform the work for you or finding a hosted offering that provides the same capabilities for a monthly fee is a better alternative than bringing the technology in-house.