Are You Choosing the Right Chief Officer for Your Printing Company?

choosing the right person

As a printing company advisor, I help clients hire Chief Officer positions for sales, operations, and business transformation. Before we design a C-suite level role (let alone meet with recruiters and post job openings), I talk with the client about why hiring for the print industry is different – and special. 

When hiring Chief Officer positions for printing companies, we must start with the most basic question about the candidate. 

DO THEY LOVE PRINT?

The leaders in your organization should love print. Period.

Whether full-time or fractional, your C-suite officers should be held to the same high standards as anyone else you’d hire. Yet I find that rainmakers and chief officers are often chosen based on razzle-dazzle – and frequently have no direct experience in the printing industry — or a true passion for our medium. 

Even my former employer, a major regional printing company, periodically chose rainmakers who had no understanding of print as a business. Sometimes the guru-du-jour thought print was quaint or antiquated – and sometimes they had a sneering disregard. It was excruciating to listen to “outsiders” pontificate about what we should be doing when they obviously had never spent a day inside a printing company. 

I didn’t understand it then, and I don’t understand it now. Why would printers hire “print disdainers” or “condescenders” as leaders in our businesses? Why would we willingly choose someone who openly says they don’t “believe” in print? I wonder – would any other industry tolerate that attitude in their executives?

If Chief Officer candidates don’t love print, I cross them off my list. 

That brings me to my second criterion for choosing C-level executives in a print operation.

CAN THEY GET THINGS DONE?

Any Chief Officer candidate needs the chops to get things accomplished in your organization. 

For example, can they bring sales and marketing into a happy partnership? Can they get a creative idea through the hierarchy, get it funded, and then launch it? Have they been part of successful initiatives to build sales leadership, achieve operational excellence, or carry out an austerity program through a downturn? 

If they say yes, can they back it up with examples from companies like yours? If not, do they bring fresh skills, a new perspective, or some other benefit? 

I like to hear Chief Officer candidates tell me a story with a beginning (before state), middle (strategy, execution), and end (results), demonstrating how they fulfilled company objectives, not just a happy accident. Without context, stats are meaningless. 

HAVE THEY WORKED IN THE TRENCHES?

Nothing against the ivory tower Chief Officer, but many have served only as office cogs and desk jockeys in gigantic companies. Many have never worked for a family-owned business, a manufacturing firm, or a company where people skills, accuracy, and efficiency will make you or break you. 

Chief Officers who lack hands-on experience in print better have strong skills in other areas. And, they need to understand the dynamics of print businesses. If you want to kill morale in our industry, treat employees like you are above them and they are your underlings. Printers are can-do people, and print employees generally respect leaders and co-workers who excel in their roles and will value what each person brings to the team. 

CAN THEY THRIVE DURING THE ONBOARDING STAGE?

Yes, we want our new Chief Officers to get the lay of the land and “do discovery.” But let’s not let that stand in the way of getting some quick wins. In my experience, there is plenty that Chief Officers can do right away to add real value to the business and show ROI for the investment in their hiring.

That cuts both ways. 

As I mentioned above before you ever hire a Chief Officer, you need to understand why you are hiring them, what their role will be, which single person they report to (company president/CEO/a board rep), who their direct reports are, who their cross-departmental teammates are, and what metrics they will be measured by. 

Once these decisions are in place, your Chief Officer will have better odds of succeeding in your print company. 

CAN THEY HANDLE THE FINESSE OF THE JOB? 

We hire Chief Officers for many reasons. Maybe we need to change, and we can’t do it with our existing team. Maybe we need someone who can help us grow. Maybe we need someone who can bridge different departments, get people unstuck, and help everyone move in the same direction. 

These are challenging tasks. 

I use the analogy of a thick rubber band that is being stretched. The Chief Officer tasked with transforming the business needs to be able to keep that rubber band extended as the company changes. Even once things seem to be well established, it doesn’t take much to have the rubber band snap back. 

Experienced Chief Officers know that transformation is a forward-and-back process. How you judge your Chief Officers has to incorporate this truism. 

In my role as advisor to printing company leaders, I understand both parts of this delicate equation. Your rainmaker needs an ally and expert outside the company to keep that rubber band stretched – and how to let the band relax from time to time to allow a new normal to emerge.

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DO THEY HAVE THE RIGHT CRED?

The people you choose for Chief Officer roles in your organization must have impeccable reputations and professional stature. 

Company leaders must be taken seriously by everyone in their orbit: the ownership team, investors with a financial stake, advisory board, strategic partners, bankers, other advisors such as attorneys and CPAs, plus your vendors and customers. 

A person limited by personal reputation cannot build trustworthy relationships and take your business to the next level. If your candidate can’t pass the sniff test on a Google search or pass a background check, they shouldn’t be a C-level player in your company.

Here’s my final point in evaluating Chief Officer candidates.

DO THEY CARE ENOUGH? 

Does your Chief Officer candidate care enough to be a true participant and bring the best of themselves to your organization? Or are they in it for the money and using the job as a stepping stone to their next opportunity? 

Some Chief Officers make it a practice to stay in a job for a year or two. Even so, they must be fully invested in the company’s success and continuously work to achieve real results. 

I have interviewed candidates who openly admitted they were in full job search mode and not paying attention to their current job. This is not the person we want to hire. Printing companies can’t afford to have their leaders be disengaged. 

The best way to manage expectations is to set a clear road map of what the Chief Officer’s onboarding, engagement, and exit will look like. If you are committed to bringing in a short-term rainmaker, you must be willing to pay a premium for the person and demand their full attention. 

To keep C-suite players engaged and focused on the job, it helps to have short and long-term deliverables they are working toward (not just their own vanity results to land their next gig). When I advise print companies, my role is to serve the company’s interests and keep leaders focused on the right results. 

HIRING THE RIGHT CHIEF OFFICER FOR THE RIGHT JOB

Hiring the right C-level leader is critical to the success of any printing company. The first step is to do your internal work before starting the process. Designing the job properly, setting realistic goals, and managing expectations are all important parts of the talent acquisition process for a company in any industry. 

For printing companies, remember that our star candidate must love print.

It starts there, it ends there, and it is the core of the job.

Check out Sandy’s previous post here: https://printmediacentr.com/how-printers-can-build-a-strategic-lighthouse-to-guide-the-business/

Read all posts from Sandy


Sandy Hubbard advises printing company leaders on sales and marketing strategy centered around business growth, transformation, and pre-exit positioning. She also coaches sales and marketing teams to help them reach their full potential. Connect with Sandy on LinkedIn to learn more.

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