Chuck Gremillion worked in the reprographics business in Houston for nearly 40 years. He worked for two firms: A&E – The Graphics Complex, which his father founded in 1964; and Thomas Reprographics, which bought A&E in 2007.
Here are excerpts of an interview with Chuck conducted by Joel Salus. The numbers beside each question represent the number of the question in the original interview. To read the complete original interview, click here.
1. When did you first get involved in the reprographics business, and what was the first position you held?
My dad, Charley Gremillion, founded A&E in 1964 just before I turned 10 years old. As a kid, I used to help out in the shop removing tracings from the tray of a diazo machine as an assistant to the diazo machine operator, or by stacking prints behind the machine. By the time I got to college, I became a driver and even dispatched for a while.
6. If you had “partner owners”, how did that work for you? What are the good points have having partner/owners .... and, if there are any, the bad parts?
My partner/owners were my seven siblings, and we all worked in the business at one time or another. In the end, my three sisters all became stay-at-home moms and the five brothers operated the company. We also had a brother-in- law who worked with us for more than 30 years. The good points of having “partner-owners” are that they are my brothers and sisters and we trusted one another, in addition to greatly enjoying each other’s company. Because we grew up together, and there was only a nine-year differential from me (the oldest) to my youngest brother Pat, working together as a team was not difficult. We learned to share and be unselfish at home, which is obviously critical to success in any relationship especially one with eight partners. We also made major decisions by consensus. I can honestly say that there were no bad parts. The part that I miss most about being retired from the reprographics business is not seeing and working with my brothers on a daily basis.
17. Given your long experience in business, how did you, back when you were still in business, rank the importance of these issues, from the eyes of customers you did business with? a. Price b. Service c. Quality
In our organization, Service was followed very closely by Quality because that is what creates the value in the customer’s eyes that justifies Price.
18. In your opinion, do customers rank those issues differently today, and, if so, how do they rank these same issues, nowadays?
I believe that price becomes increasingly important to the customer in difficult economic times because, just as we witnessed during our most recent economic recession, all firms begin looking for ways to reduce cost. However, I also believe that if the customer views one’s services as a commodity, the more important price becomes. The battle that I believe that most reprographers are fighting today is to not be perceived as a commodity. I believe that the changes in technology, which we have witnessed, have made it easier for customers to commoditize the services provided by reprographers. The obvious takeaway is to always work to create and establish value in the customer’s eyes in order to gain mindshare. This is achieved through innovation, difference-making service and outstanding quality. Apple is an outstanding example of a company that has been successful in doing this in a field with many competitors who provide commoditized products. If one is successful in creating value to the customer this will translate to higher margins, greater market share and growing profit.
19. What’s your philosophy regarding “team building”?
I am a passionate believer that if an organization is to be successful, it must do it as a team. In order to push a team to achieve a grand goal, the CEO and executive team must work to create a robust organizational culture:
that values selflessness and minimizes/eliminates organizational politics
where the CEO and other executives are perceived as servant leaders who are genuine, visible, and easily accessible
where accountability is an expectation
that recognizes outstanding individual and team performance
that celebrates success
20. What was your approach to communicating with team members and encouraging/motivating team members to really get engaged?
In addition to following the philosophy described in my answer to question #19 above, we were an open-book company. We shared our goals with the entire organization and our progress towards achieving those goals. We did this through quarterly meetings with all employees called State of A&E Meetings. In these meetings, we shared our income statement from the most recently concluded quarter and the last 12 months. I would also compare our results to the previous year. I would explain the meaning of each line item and how our actions would affect each respective line item both on the revenue side and expense side. Also, once a year in one of these meetings, I would explain the meaning of our corporate vision and each of our core values. I found that these meetings were a tremendous communication vehicle, which created trust and alignment in our company while playing a huge role in our success.
21. How did you retain key team members?
By following the practices described above, we were able to develop a strong brand that enabled A&E to become “an employer of choice”. In addition, we created phantom stock for managers, which paid them in the event of the sale of A&E to a third party. This obviously occurred in January 2007. The purpose of the phantom stock was three fold. First, given that A&E was a family-owned business, we want to provide our key employees with a sense of ownership (skin in the game), even though they weren’t owners, as well as motivation to help us achieve our organizational goals. Second, we wanted to provide them a reason to remain a part of our company. Third, we wanted them to celebrate with us if and when we did sell the company.
22. What was your basic business philosophy?
Establish a grand vision of success as well as core values to guide performance and behavior, and bring them to life. Create and execute a strategic plan to achieve the goals that fulfill the vision. Communicate all of these to every member of the team emphasizing his or her role and importance. Measure performance. Communicate to the entire team the results of the organization’s performance, and privately to each individual the evaluation of his or her performance. Recognize and reward outstanding performance (publicly if possible) while holding those accountable who do not perform. Celebrate success!
Would you like to read more? Click here for the complete interview.