Posts Tagged ‘Cryer’

  • Lessons from the train wreck – James Cryer on the GEON collapse

    James Cryer of JDA Print Recruitment – and local print industry gadfly – analyses the GEON Group’s fall from grace of the PE brigade in his usual (un)-subtle manner.

    GEON finally succeeded – during its death throws – to achieve what many of us had always wanted to do but failed: to put print on the front page of the mainstream media.

    But it was for all the wrong reasons, as the GEON debacle was broadcast to the world at large last Friday, on ABC’s primetime six o’clock news. In it (and we can only hope young kiddies were having their bath) we were told how “more than 650 workers now expect to be retrenched” and that Workplace Minister, Bill Shorten was prompted “to intervene to guarantee GEON staff early access to their entitlements.”

    So here we have hundreds of printing employees thrown out of a job and doubt is cast over the payment of the former employees’ entitlements. Not a good look for any young person contemplating a career in print!

    This is a far cry from the clarion call, which announced – with great fanfare – the arrival of the private-equity posse over the horizon, back in 2007.

    GEON – according to its own self-promotional brochure, which I have in my possession, was touted as ‘bringing vision to life’ – and ‘maximising potential and ensuring excellence in everything we do, through print and communication solutions’.

    Noble sentiments.

    Further perusal of its brochure is instructive as it proclaims that ‘GEON will deliver to our customers’ (sic) holistic and innovative print and communications solutions by adopting leading edge technologies, applying lean operations and engaging the best people.’

    That may have been GEON’s first mistake, hiring someone to write such drivel – and second, it’s a reminder that words can be cheap.

    If I may be permitted to make some observations – lessons perhaps in how NOT to run a printing company:

    First, on the matter of ‘engaging the best people’ – I’m not sure about the best, but they certainly employed a lot! Of managers, that is. Every month one would read of some manager or other (often with a fancy title like ‘Northern Region Strategic & Operational Process Improvement Manager’) either coming or going, to the point where I used to wonder if the big tin shed actually contained any workers or was simply a grazing paddock for managers who would simply munch on the grass before being put out to pasture elsewhere.

    Second: workflow. As Frank Romano once famously said ‘Workflow is everything’. Geon fell into the trap of quoting much of its work as part of its ‘contract pricing’ i.e., the client agrees to give them this amount of print for that unit price. But clients rarely keep their side of the bargain – the quantity may fall shy, or the number of changes is more than what was bargained for – or the allowance for disruptive emergency jobs is underestimated – or all of the above.

    There was a constant stream of anecdotal evidence that GEON had not ‘mastered’ its workflow (not helped by its grappling with different software systems). But the truth is: ours is a messy business. It’s full of disruptive events because it’s a highly intensive ‘batch-processing’ manufacturing model which requires a high level of customised attention for each job, and a generous amount of ‘excess capacity’ built into the system to act as a buffer.

    GEON could have either offered skinny margins and manage a seamless workflow – or raise the price and accept that there is no such thing!

    Third, on this point of managing workflow: I’m convinced (although I can’t prove it!) that there’s an optimal size for a printing company. My guess is between 50 and 150 people – anything larger invites a dysfunctional relationship between sub-groups and creates unwieldy management of information. In a high-pressure, bespoke print operation, people need face-to-face connectivity to iron out the bugs before they arise. One got the impression that GEON was too large to permit these tight-knit interactions.

    The fact that these groups were drawn from previously competing ‘tribes’ with different dynamics and cultures did not help!

    Fourth: they were always on the nose as ‘outsiders’ who showed no long-term commitment to the industry. Apart from persisting with unsustainable pricing the backroom boys never bought another printing company, even though prices had plummeted since their original ill-timed foray.

    Fifth: Geon was perceived, rightly or wrongly, as the class bully who had a rich uncle. It could throw its weight around – i.e., quote at unsustainable levels, not because it enjoyed a lower cost-base – but because the ‘unseen hand’ of the PE monster was embarking on a ‘market-share-at-any-cost’ strategy.

    And finally, the take-home lesson for us all is that, for any commercial enterprise to succeed, its owners must have ‘skin in the game’ – and not be absentee landlords. Those original owners (who sold their businesses) were old-fashioned, unsophisticated and probably didn’t have a string of business degrees after their name. But they knew the names of all their employees and their kids – and probably what their kids had for breakfast.

    Over a century ago in 1893, an Australian, William Lane, took 238 people (a similar number to the staff at Banksmeadow) to the wilds of the Paraguayan jungles to start a bold new society based on noble sentiments but flawed assumptions. If only the PE gnomes would have read about William Lane and his short-lived “utopia” they could have avoided this bloodbath.

    The message from the train-wreck is: lean and mean beats big and fat.

    My thoughts go out to those expendable collateral – those workers who poured so much of their own blood, sweat and tears into the ‘experiment that failed’. The great injustice is that the perpetrators – will probably just lick their wounds and try again.

    To read Cryer’s modern GEON-inspired lyrical take on the classic poem ‘The Spider and the Fly’, click here.

  • JDA Print Recruitment extends a ‘geonerous’ helping hand

    James Cryer of JDA Print Recruitment is extending a professional helping hand to print and graphic arts employees in the local market who may have been affected in the past month’s industry movements.

    In a release, Cryer said:

    “JDA is helping to bridge the “Geoneration Gap”.

    “Proving that not all recruiters are created equal, JDA has dipped into the eternal well-spring of ‘geonerosity’ and has agreed to provide free careers guidance and counselling to anyone currently experiencing, shall we say … ‘vocational uncertitude.’

    “The offer is unconditional, and applies to staff with ANY large offset printing company located in the Botany region.

    “While not geonerally providing such services, JDA realises that in times of need everyone should man the pumps and offer assistance.

    “Such assistance would include –

    • ·         resume preparation,
    • ·         how to write a compelling cover letter,
    • ·         how to prepare for job interviews – and importantly,
    • ·         a discussion of what job opportunities are out there.”

    Cryer says he invites anyone – both ladies and ‘geontlemen’ – who feel disaffected or who otherwise unloved, to contact him for an obligation-free discussion of industry options, on 0408 291 508.

    As a further attempt to boost employment opportunities, any such candidates would be placed at HALF the normal placement fees. So, employers interested in seeking, good, hard-working, well-trained staff are welcomed to enquire about these ‘new geoneration’ candidates – available at half-price.

    Contact James Cryer on 0408 291 508 or visit:

  • Young Achievers Award – James Cryer’s clarion call to the future

    A proposed new awards system to recognise the winning qualities in young professionals across our industry will not even mention the term – apprenticeship.

    Imagine a gala event held at one of our capital city’s lavish hotels with TV cameras and the press jostling as glamorous young things strut the stage to the acclaim of an audience of thousands. Next day the media exposure is overwhelming with press and TV coverage.

    Hollywood? The final episode of Celebrity Detox? Australia’s Next Top Model? No – this is the grand final of the Printing Industries National Young Achiever of the Year Award! Fanciful? Maybe. Impossible? Possibly, but all it needs is vision, something the visual arts industries has in spades!

    Parents would be lining up outside printing companies demanding their offspring be given a job!

     Back to reality. Full marks to Bill Healey for appointing Joan Grace to head-up the new printing industry training initiative. Out of the RMIT train wreck may arise a better programme more suited to the needs of our industry.

    The printing industry is a collection of fiercely independent tribes with multiple training-streams and therein lies our strength and weakness when it comes to inducting new entrants. I’m not suggesting all these tribes should get crunched-up into one over-arching, supra-organisation – it’ll never happen! I am suggesting that there is an opportunity, bigger than the differences and it is the need to attract and retain new entrants. (Note my avoidance of the word, apprentices.)

    Joan’s arrival, and her focus on building exciting new training pathways, creates the perfect opportunity for us, as a multi-sector industry, to come together and work towards creating an industry-wide programme to recognise, reward and retain the best and the brightest. This would extend across all sectors; signage, labels, packaging, mailing, etc – not just offset. It would recognise all functional roles such as customer-service, production admin and sales, not just apprentices.

    It would be a fully integrated system of states’ awards leading to a national awards structure not dissimilar to the current National Print Awards. By bringing all the associations together to cooperate, it would also raise the profile of print, which would in turn, help attract new entrants!

    Where to start? The good news is we’ve already begun!

    I refer to the existing event known as the NSW LIA/Heidelberg Graduates Awards, which has been a great showcase of the best and brightest apprentices mainly from the offset sector. It contains the organisational expertise to enable an expansion. It could easily be re-defined to include all the other segments that go to comprise the greater printing church; labels, flexible, packaging, mailing, signage – reminding us that we are a collection of diverse tribes.

    Heidelberg has been a stalwart sponsor from the start. Nevertheless, with the need to broaden the award’s ambit and to present it as a true mirror of the industry, it would be more appropriate to re-brand it as the Printing Industries awards scheme. Individual suppliers could still sponsor a particular award category.

    The changing mix in training pathways. We have a unique opportunity to re-think the calibre and type of individuals we wish to attract and reward. Sadly, the need for factory-floor based apprentices is dwindling as other more exciting roles emerge. This is the story of our industry right now, not doom and gloom but readjustment. The contemporary industry is based on more capital, less labour, keeping the dream alive but with fewer bodies.

    Apprenticeships have zero resonance within the design or digital printing fields. The obvious response is to widen the definition of who can enter a new-look awards scheme and include all vocations within the broad visual-communications industry. Young Achievers can be any outstanding employee, according to certain agreed-upon standards of excellence.

    Taking ownership. This new, broad-based awards program should fall under the aegis of the Printing Industries (plural) Association of Australia, the body that purports, by its very name, to represent all the colourful tribes. Actual implementation would be via a body set up comprising all the participating sectors.

    Printing Industries’ Young Achievers Awards has a natural flavour to it and it’s agnostic; it doesn’t align itself with any sector, process, technology or commercial interest. This is vital; it must be free of commercial bias, like the ABC.

    A multi-sector approach like this also meshes perfectly with Printing Industries’ recent success in gaining federal funding to promote the attraction and retention of trainees. What better way to justify such a grant than to invest in a high-profile event, which showcases the best of the best across all sectors of our industry, not just the dwindling offset base?

    To quote from Worldskills Australia’s own website, the Young Achiever Awards would be:

    committed to the development … of vocational education … and to build a skills culture by inspiring young people, celebrating skills excellence and providing them with an opportunity to showcase their talent.

    There is nothing there about apprentices but everything about achievement. That’s the printing industry of tomorrow!

    James Cryer
    JDA Print Recruitment