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Commentary & Analysis

Susan McLaughlin Takes the Reins at ABDick

In January,

By Gail Nickel-Kailing
Published: February 8, 2005

In January, Presstek's President and Chief Executive Officer Edward J. Marino announced the addition of Susan A. McLaughlin as President, ABD International, North America (doing business as ABDick, a Presstek Company) and Senior Vice President, Presstek.

McLaughlin, having flown from Atlanta to Chicago in the midst of a mid-winter snowstorm, spoke to WhatTheyThink Senior Editor, Gail Nickel-Kailing, about her new position and her vision for ABDick. Here’s what Sue had to say on her second day on the job …

WTT: In a recent conference call you were described as being “strong in challenging situations” and able to “transform businesses that need change.” We’d love to hear more about some of those situations and what you did to transform the businesses involved.

SM: I’ve had a wide array of experiences, so I feel really fortunate. Ed [Marino] and I worked together under some very difficult circumstances at Kodak when we were running Kodak Imaging Services, a business that needed to be turned around, kept growing, and sold, all at the same time.

In a number of situations that need a jump-start, there are a few things that are critical. First, make sure that you have the right leadership team in place. Second, get extremely focused on the few critical things that will really help to turn the business around.

Every organization has a multitude of opportunities and many paths. The key is to focus and galvanize the entire organization around those few critical things that will turn the business around.

As an example, at one of my previous positions, we had a cost structure – particularly the general and administrative costs – that was way out of proportion to the size of the business. We were in a number of businesses and operating in geographies that were money losers; they had to go away very quickly. And we had a number of contracts with Fortune 500 companies that were underwater. So we had to renegotiate those contracts or scale back the supporting operations to make them profitable.

Those were the things we were able to do very quickly, and in one quarter, we turned a money-losing operation into a break-even operation, and then set it up for profitability.

Some situations have reached enough of a crisis that you must move with that kind of speed. There are other organizations with some stability and reasonable operations where you can make changes a little less rapidly.

WTT: You have recent experience with two large companies – Atlanta Gas Light Company and BellSouth Telecommunications – as well as your experience with Eastman Kodak. Presstek, with an annual run rate of $250 million, is considerably smaller. How do you see your skills transferring from big companies to a smaller one?

SM: At Kodak, where I spent 10 years, most of my time was in smaller organizations – divisions or subsidiaries. For example, I was treasurer of Kodak’s leasing subsidiary, which was a fast-growing, start up situation. I was the president of Eastman Savings and Loan, which is a small organization within Kodak, and president of Kodak Imaging Services.

All of those were smaller, fairly autonomous, independent organizations within that large structure; and that’s really what I like to do. So the ABDick opportunity is coming back to the size of business that I really like to work with. You can get your arms around it, be able to touch all the people in the organization. And there are things that you can do to change the businesses; you can see the results very quickly.

WTT: Would you consider Presstek – which is in the midst of transformation and incorporating two substantial acquisitions – as being in “start up mode” again? How would your recent start-up experience apply in the “new” Presstek?

SM: You’re exactly right. It’s really a very interesting combination, particularly within the ABDick organization. The company has a 120-year history and a very rich legacy, and at the same time, in many ways, it’s a start up because we’re transforming it and taking it in a very new direction. So I think my start-up experience translates to this as well.

The great thing is that we don’t have to start at the beginning in terms of going to market. We have the external piece to capitalize on, it’s the internal piece is we start with a clean slate. Even if we don’t necessarily operate from a clean slate, it is having the sense that we do, that we’re really creating something almost from scratch as opposed to making modifications to what exists.

Here we’ve got this large base of customers, which we believe are prime customers for transformation from analog to digital. So it’s a start up internally, because we’re transforming what we’re doing here, but using this wonderful base of customers who appear to be very loyal and have a very strong tie to ABDick.

WTT: How do you envision “infusing” DI, CTP, and other digital solutions into a customer base made up of small commercial printers?

SM: The fact of the matter is, I don’t know enough to know how to answer that question yet. We’re doing a lot of work talking to the customers, looking at their operations, understanding what their needs are. And understanding the changing needs of their end-user customers. At the same time, we’ve brought a terrific guy into the organization, Joe Musgrave, who is heading the service organization. That’s the largest group in number that we’ve got. We’ll use what we learn to shape and transform the organization.

Clearly the direction is going to be digital, but it is important to point out that we’ve got the people to continue to service and sell to this base of customers, that will be migrating to digital but certainly will not be there over night.

WTT: What about your on-line strategy? How to you see that expanding across more products and services? Serving 13,000 to 15,000 small commercial printers requires a pretty big sales and support effort, unless you can automate it.

SM: Again, this is 16 hours into the job, so I’m an expert! I hate to say this, on my first “real” day, but I’ve jumped right in! We’ve got a huge number of orders, and I think at a minimum opportunity to service more of those orders over the web, rather than over the telephone.

We’re doing a very good job with what we’ve got now – about 30% of all orders come in through the web. Our plan is to increase that this year, but our real opportunity is in using the web for a much richer relationship with our customers.

We will develop a much richer website that can be used for service, as a platform for sales, and that can be used to demonstrate products and equipment; that’s where the real beauty of the web comes in.

WTT: What is your vision for ABDick this time next year?

SM: By then we will have been through the basic steps getting the company healthy. Those steps are:

We will have the cost structure in place and begun the business transformation.

We will have the right people in place, the people to sell and service digital products, both inside and outside sales and service.

We will have a set of new products to put through this very rich channel that we have.

We will have made a very significant step forward with respect to the web work we just talked about.

WTT: Is there any thing you’d like to add as you start off on this new adventure?

SM: I’m delighted to be here. This represents a wonderful opportunity to marry a rich base of customers with a new set of technologies in a way in which customers will tremendously benefit.

Personally, there is so much about this I like. There is the turnaround opportunity. It is a global business, in which I have done well at in the past. And it’s an opportunity not to just turn a business around, but to position it for the future.



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