Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Retirement Reflection - Bob takes a look back at his accomplished career, including his 32 years at Shamrock.

Where do you see yourself in 20 years? For most of us, our career paths are unpredictable. And I mean that in a positive way. Looking back, I realize that my journey took a number of twists and turns that enabled me to learn and grow; and to build a successful company with a unique culture that continues to attract generous, talented people—and that today, makes me incredibly proud. It’s a script that 30 years ago, I would have never had the foresight to write, but one that’s even more fulfilling than what I could have imagined.

In 1971, I was getting ready to graduate from Ashland College with plans to go into international banking. But after graduation, and about one month before my wedding, I registered for the draft and enlisted in the U.S. Naval Air Corps. During my physical, I was diagnosed with a medical condition that kept me from serving. So here I was, two weeks before my wedding day, with no job. My search uncovered a sales position at Moore Business Forms.

This job was out of my comfort zone—I had no formal sales experience, I didn’t like getting up in front of people, and I wasn’t polished in terms of one-on-one, look-you-in-the-eye business interactions. But the long and short of it is that I was blessed to be with this company because they positioned their sales force to succeed by giving them the training and tools that they needed. That training shaped and furthered my sales career. 

In the forms industry it was all about timing—if you were there at the right time you could close the sale; business forms was a “convenience” sale. And so I learned very quickly the value of customer service. You had to give the client a reason to buy from you—and not from the competition. I remember coming to the conclusion that it was my decision to wake up and provide service. Or not.

My advantage was that my dad and my grandfather instilled in me a strong work ethic. As an athlete, I didn’t like to lose (which is why athletes are always attractive new-hire candidates). And I understood that how well you prepare, then dictates the outcome of the sale. It was my job to be over-prepared, and that’s exactly what I did.

Fast forward 8 years and I was calling on bigger clients and working with high-end systems people where we weren’t just printing business forms, but also writing the software and designing the systems that supported them. At that point I think as a company, we lost sight of where we were, and our level of service began to slip—that allowed the competitors to catch up. 

My mentor, Neil Bennett, had left Moore to start his own print company: Shamrock Business Forms.  And as I saw things moving in a different direction from where I thought they should be, I connected with Neil and then later left Moore for Shamrock in 1982.

Back in the day we used to have a saying, “Give me a sales order and a mirror.” In other words, if you say it, you do it. Securing the sale was all about follow through. And that’s what I did—what we did –at Shamrock.  From the beginning, we’ve focused on the customer. We listen, gather information, take requests from the customer and then make good on it. Shamrock has always invested in its customers. That’s how we’ve grown. It’s how we’ve gotten bigger, better—and it’s why we’ve become so diverse. Shamrock spent about 9 or 10 years buying new businesses, expanding into new market segments, investing in new technology that helped our clients solve their problems—it was all about driving and delivering greater value and separating us from our competition.

As I look back and ask what has made Shamrock a success, I can tell you: It’s our people. We have a business model at Shamrock that is entrepreneurial and because of that we attract very driven, self-starters. As a company, it’s our job to make sure they have the tools they need to be successful. So whether that’s premium items or data services, Shamrock has to feed that salesforce. In doing that we’ve also built our supply chain. We have aligned with the leaders in this industry, and because we’ve built strong bonds on the supply side, we are positioned to better serve our customers.

The one constant with Shamrock is that we never stand still. Our people are looking ahead, moving forward, transitioning from one channel to the next. If it’s taking a paper statement and converting it into a digital image and then distributing it electronically, that’s what we do if the demand is there. Again, we are focusing on meeting customer demand: This is how Shamrock has developed into the company we are today.

I was talking to Tim (Connor) the other day about my path at Shamrock; it’s interesting because I transitioned from sales to being the guy that’s up at ten o’clock at night worrying about making payroll.  The buck stops here. A lot of people can judge you or the decisions that you make as president and CEO, but the reality is that they’ve never walked in your shoes. And due to those pressures, that’s where family becomes so very important. Cyndi, Corrie and Megan—they have always been my support and balance. I am very blessed to have a spouse who truly understood my role and supported me. She would say to me, “What’s the worst that can happen? So we go back to where we were?” And then she’d remind me: “Where we were was pretty good.”

As you are looking at retirement you realize that your health and the relationships that you have are really the most important things in life. I’m very proud of what we have been able to accomplish at Shamrock—and I’m humbled by the fact that our people—this Shamrock family—has given back with such a generous spirit. For 11 years, we’ve been honored by NorthCoast 99 as one of the best places to work; it warms my heart because it is our employees who nominate Shamrock for that award, not me. 

So how do you measure success? It’s been 32 years at Shamrock and I have many blessings to count, well beyond what I had ever anticipated. So, looking ahead I can be incredibly satisfied, and above all incredibly proud, that where I’ve been and where we have developed as The Shamrock Companies, is pretty good.