Heidelberg USA is one of the largest divisions of Heidelberg Druckmaschinen AG, one of the largest and most well-known companies in the graphic arts and printing industries. We have written about both the parent company and the division numerous times, so probably neither the division nor the parent company need further introduction.
For the Graph Expo coverage of Heidelberg USA, we decided it was appropriate to spend some time with the people behind the scenes who help manage this division. This interview with Soren Larsen is the first in a series of interviews with executives who manage departments that will be demonstrating equipment and products at Graph Expo.
Soren Larsen is a Senior Vice President of Heidelberg USA’s Sheetfed Division. Additionally, he has overall profit and loss responsibility for prepress products sold in North America. Larsen's career with Heidelberg Eastern in New York began in 1978 when he joined the company just out of business school. A few years later he was General Manager of Heidelberg’s East African sales organization (from 1980 to 1983). From there he moved to Rockwell International/Miehle Products as a District Manager and later as Sales Manager for the western United States.
In 1990, he joined MAN Roland as Vice President of Operations in the eastern United States and Canada; he was promoted in 1997 to Vice President of Sales in North America. In 1999 he returned to Heidelberg as Vice President of National Accounts, and was promoted, in 2001, to Senior Vice President/Business Executive for sheetfed and prepress businesses in North America.
Throughout his career, he has worked closely with the graphic arts industry and has contributed much time and energy to the graphic arts.
WTT: Soren, having profit and loss responsibility for such a large part of Heidelberg’s business sounds like a huge responsibility. Could you fill us in on the details of what you jobs entails so we can get a better understanding of what you do?
Soren Larsen: I am responsible for the annual planning of our sales and service activities of our Prepress and Sheetfed products; the planning includes setting targets, forecasting, and setting prices, among other things. In addition, I oversee the sales and service training for prepress product staff, as well as field support. When new products are developed, I supervise their introduction and am also involved in marketing.
WTT: Sounds like you’ve got a lot to keep you busy! There must be challenges that come with having so much responsibility…
Soren Larsen: Yes, indeed! My biggest challenge, though, is to ensure that customers find doing business with Heidelberg a good experience and to keep customer loyalty. To do that, I have to be careful not to sit behind the desk for too long. I need to be in front of our customers and with our salespeople.
Another challenge we’ve had recently is to help our customers maximize their return on investment in these challenging economic times. We do that by giving them the products and the help they need to have as much up time as possible and to get the maximum benefit from the technology. How we meet that challenge boils down to helping our customers by offering continuous training on equipment and how to use the many and varied features of our products.
WTT: You’ve mentioned a few ways you rise to meet these challenges that seem to involve the quality of your staff. Do you have a specific hiring and management philosophy that helps you find the right people?
Soren Larsen: My philosophy is to make sure we have the best people in the industry on our team and that each person has a great concern for their customers’ businesses. They must have a deep-rooted passion to provide the best solutions and to serve the customer.
WTT: Speaking of making sure you have the right staff to be serve the customer, you’ll have many people doing that at Graph Expo. I understand that Heidelberg is planning on having a large booth at Graph Expo with lots for people to see and do. Could you give us some details?
Soren Larsen: The theme of our exhibit at the show is "Connect the Passion." We will have demonstrations and exhibits to show how people connect with print using a digital infrastructure. We start with job creation and move through the final stages of a print job, including finishing--all done in a digital context.
WTT: Digital context?
Soren Larsen: Yes, we want to show people how they can use modular and scaleable digital technology to help manage print production. For example, we will be showing our Prinect Internet Portal, which allows people to create digital job tickets and do online proofing. We also have modules for creating price estimates, writing quotations, managing materials and even for controlling finishing equipment.
WTT: So, every step in the process can be connected and monitored?
Soren Larsen: Yes, and data can be collected during the process and used by other modules. Our new Prinect Printready system can take the job data, put it in a PDF file and prepare the files for output. It can even populate signatures that are created by another module. The job data can then be forwarded by Printready to the press and finishing equipment.
The benefit of capturing the data and using it throughout the process is an example of how we help our customers derive maximum benefit from technology. They input the information once and it is used many times automatically, thus reducing the possibility of error that can occur if the data was typed in multiple times.
My two other colleagues that you will be interviewing later, Larry Tanowitz and Mark Levin, will be able to fill you in more on what we will be showing at Graph Expo and how it all fits into our corporate philosophy.
WTT: As the profile and acceptance of digital printing rise, how is it affecting the sheetfed market, particularly your sales of new equipment?
Soren Larsen: There seems to be an invisible battle line being drawn in the industry between offset and digital printing, where offset is labeled traditional and digital as the future. Right now, digital technology is enhancing the sheetfed process. Computer-to-plate technology has been around for more than a decade. Recent advancements in digital printing are working in harmony with offset. And as Heidelberg continues to introduce networking and workflow tools, our customers will find more ways to combine these technologies to achieve increased profitability and productivity.
Thank you Soren.