Greg Williams worked for four different reprographics companies over 33 years. He concluded his career as president of National Graphic Imaging, which had eight locations in Florida and Georgia.
Here are excerpts of an interview with Greg 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?
1977 at A.R. Cogswell Co. in Jacksonville, Florida. I made autopositives, at the time the cheapest way to make a reproducible from a blueline print.
4. Did you start a reprographics company from scratch, and, if so, how did you capitalize the company and how much capital did the company start out with? Also, did you start that company with partners, or, if you did not, did you add partners later on?
Yes, we started Bay Reprographics in Tampa from scratch with $40,000, which came from Nick and Martha Korman (who were my partners) they had taken a 2nd mortgage on their home. We also took a loan from my father Bill Williams to purchase a process camera. My dad later joined the company as the 4th partner. We started several other companies in different markets as we grew, and in each we made sure we had someone with ownership either from the original partners or a new partner (or both) working in the market.
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?
Yes, I was very fortunate to have several “partner owners” who were very talented in different aspects of the business. Together we became a powerful force. Certainly there were rough spots, we were all different people but we managed to work through them because we were stronger together than separate.
11. When you sold your company, did you agree to stay on with the company for a period of time after the sale? And, if you did stay on for a period of time after the sale, how was it different for you, if it was different?
Yes I agreed to stay on and help with the transition. It was very different because of two factors. 1. It was the beginning of the “great recession” which required steps that were unprecedented within our company. 2. The philosophy, expectations and goals were very different with the new company. I lasted two years of a three year employment agreement before I retired.
20. What was your approach to communicating with team members and encouraging/motivating team members to really get engaged?
I probably over-communicated at times, but my door was always open to whoever needed me. When people are and feel empowered to make decisions it’s amazing what happens. Yes by doing that you are exposed to failure but the reward far outweighs the risk. I always tried to listen, get all the facts and guide, not dictate, unless I had to. Most times they fueled their own fire; I just gave them a fan.
27. What factors led to your company’s success in its geographic market area?
We were in many markets but success was always related to finding out the customers’ hot button, pushing it in a way others were either not willing or able to or both, then providing an outrageous experience for them. Consistent follow up and tweaking what we did for them kept us hard to take out by our competitors.
29. Were you able to expand into new services / business segments? And, if so, what services / segments did you add during your career and were your expansion efforts successful? If not, why not?
Our company early on was what people called “a burner” meaning we focused on the printing portion of the business, we never really sold supplies, or equipment; we just did a lot of printing. We tended to stay with the AE portion of the AEC industry we served. We felt the C segment was too price driven. In later years the AE segment had less influence over the volume of printing; it shifted to the C segment. That at times caused us a problem due to our reputation from earlier years of catering to the AE portion. It turned out that many of the things we did for the AE segment were also somewhat effective in the C segment if presented slightly different, but not always. Always make sure you understand your customer’s needs and goals and figure out how to support theirs and yours at the same time.
After 1997 we went heavy into the FM programs with the guidance and efforts from Joel Salus, which expanded quickly and was very, very successful. We, like everyone else, went into color but never in a really big way, which was a mistake, we should have had a larger more progressive color operation. A few years before we sold we also started an equipment sales and service arm which was also very successful. Almost every time we found success it had to do with having the opportunity to bring really good talented people into our team and then let them run with what they did best. The task then became providing them the support they needed to ensure their success and ours.
37. If you could go back in time and start (or acquire) your business again - with the same tools available then but knowing what you know now - what would you do differently?
I’d have done a lot of things differently. In the beginning while we were focused on service and quality we did not focus on doing things financially that set the business up for fast growth, had we done that sooner I think we would have been larger than we were at in the end. I would have learned to delegate and empower sooner than I did, setting someone up for success and helping them accomplish that is a very powerful motivator, and motivated team members can accomplish amazing things. I would have surrounded myself with people smarter than I am much sooner than I did. There is so much I could have done better in hindsight, which is always 20/20. That said, I also believe
that if you are doing the best you can, while learning and growing you will likely do just fine. My dad used to tell me you don’t have to be smarter than your competitor you just have to out work them. But if you’re smarter and work harder....
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