A tribute to Dick Gorelick

November 1, 2010

Johnson’s World by Steve Johnson

Longtime AMERICAN PRINTER columnist Dick Gorelick passed away in September after years of declining health. Many were not aware of his condition, because he kept writing and consulting without letup throughout an arduous regimen of hospitalizations, treatments and surgeries. Telephone calls were so cheerfully answered that few realized the chatty Gorelick was often talking from a hospital bed.

Dick's last newsletter, published posthumously, was filled with pages of tributes from printing industry luminaries. All of the praise was well deserved, and not surprising, since Dick touched so many people with his words of wisdom, encouragement and insight.

I'm not certain, but I suspect Dick would greet this outpouring of praise with a mixture of pride and embarrassment. I'd like to honor Dick in my own way, by reviewing the lessons he relentlessly pounded into all of our heads month after month and year after year on the pages of AMERICAN PRINTER.

The customer is king

This sounds like a cliché in anyone else's hands, but, to me, this was Dick Gorelick's message in a nutshell. What does the customer want? What is the client trying to accomplish? Will your new (product, service, etc.) offer direct benefits to your customers? If not, then why are you doing it?

As Dick himself put it, “Are you selling what they're buying?”

Dick's wasn't just concerned with firms that subordinated customer service to lesser corporate objectives. His real target was those companies that don't even have a clear picture of their clients' wants and needs. Since this variety represents the majority of our industry, Dick always had a ready audience.

Get out of the ivory tower

Dick heaped scorn on those industry pundits who, as he put it, “haven't been inside a printing plant in years.”

Dick firmly believed in practicing what he preached.

He found it ironic that most well known consultants and commentators in our industry made their money mainly by serving equipment, supply or service vendors while rarely, if ever, making direct contact with individual print providers themselves. Both Dick and his clients were in the trenches, day in and day out. The highest compliment I ever received from Dick was when he told me that I had, in his words, “succeeded without the taint of manufacturers' endorsement or wild claims.”

Be direct

Dick prided himself on concise wording and short sentences. He went right to the point and could be downright brutal. US Airways, the Postal Service, PIA; these and many more felt the wrath of Gorelick. He had no problems naming names of individuals, companies or institutions as long as doing so would help to drive home his point.

Time and place

Dick was far more direct (i.e., merciless) in his newsletter and in private conversations than he was in magazine columns. He understood that there was a time and a place for everything.

Most of us don't want to embarrass people or alienate potential future clients. Dick seemed unconcerned about what anyone else might think of him, or even with biting a hand that fed him, but I can't ever remember his acting out of malice or spite. If he named a particular person or incident, it was because there was a lesson to be learned.

Keep a positive attitude

Anyone reading these remarks without reading any of Dick's works might conclude that he was a pessimist. Not so. Dick was an unrelenting booster for the printed word and the printing business. Without his tireless optimism, he would have given up on the world of graphic arts long ago. I found his perennially cheerful demeanor all the more amazing in light of the crushing illnesses he dealt with daily.

Repeat as needed

Dick kept saying the same things, as long as they were valid and he felt that people still hadn't gotten the message. Read his past columns from those back issues you have stashed away on the bookshelf in your office, or online at www.americanprinter.com/gorelicksmanagement. Almost everything he wrote is still applicable today.

Thanks to Dick's timeless touch and his prodigious output, we'll be absorbing his wisdom on these pages for months to come.

Print it

Dick didn't write a blog. To the best of my knowledge, he wasn't on Facebook or Twitter, and his LinkedIn account was nothing more than a static online business card. Dick's newsletter always was printed and mailed. Profit from his example.