In this series our CEO, Gord Griffiths, reflects on lessons learned throughout his years in the printing industry.

I joined what was known as the “Grande Maison”.

The no frills printer was doing great – and bang – we were purchased by a Quebec company making us Canada’s largest, and at one time, the world’s largest. I say “bang” because all of a sudden I was on the other side of change, and believe me, it was not a good feeling. I realized after all those years of saying, “I think the new owner might be better than the old owner”, my words were falling on deaf ears.

Near the end of due diligence, their chairperson popped into my office and asked how I felt about the purchase – I said I was good. Really, what else can you say when the guy asking can decide if you have a job next week? I’d never met someone whose brain and gut worked so well together – he said, “There must be something that bothers you?” I said we are now being controlled by a French Canadian company and I cannot speak French. He looked at me and asked, “Do you know how to make money in this business?” and I said yes. He said, “We will be fine as I have plenty of people who speak English.” Instant respect to a brilliant businessperson who was customer-driven with an entrepreneurial spirit and believed in meeting your goals and keeping things simple.

Growth became our fuel. We were buying companies and winning new accounts. We had momentum. We weren’t familiar with the phrase “roll-up” but we were doing it each day while others were writing or reading about it. ‘Build and Win’ was the rallying cry that had us all working hard and I learned it was ok to think big. In fact, it was better to sell a dollar than save 3 cents but we were expected to do both. One of the questions that was asked was, “Why do we pay for an outside company to water the plants in the offices? If people want plants they can water them.” The tone was set.

We talked a lot about the numbers but we also knew the business was about people. By taking care of your people and customers, the shareholders would be well served. You can hug a customer (you can even hug a press!) but at the end of the day, big iron will not prevail over big heart. When we lost the chairperson, the glory days were soon over as we spent too much time on the losing companies and not enough time on learning and supporting the winners.

I retired for the first time after being president of all of Canada, plus some speciality plants in the USA. I took my chances being my own boss and watched from the stands as another French Canadian company took their time, staying with the plan, and building a world class company.

I was not the only one in Canada to learn that there is no better team than a French and English combo. During Expo 67, Quebec and the rest of the company learned to work together and then I really believed it. I had key people in Ontario take the train to Montreal and we had what we called ‘The Big Meeting’ (as it was easy to translate). We had people who worked together who had never met and found out you cannot be a great team if you have never met. I had the most strong-minded, negative person say to me during this meeting, “You are really trying to win us over for the good of the company – I’m in.” Pure magic followed.

By Gord Griffiths