Hey, hey, holy mackerel

April 1, 2006

Johnson’s World by Steve Johnson

I live in the Chicago area, and it is spring. Folks in this town are thinking about baseball. For those not native to this little corner of Johnson’s World, a bit of explanation is required.

Here in the Windy City, there are two professional baseball clubs: the Cubs and…and…the other one. Very few people are fans of both teams. You like one, or the other. I’ve been told that in New York, everyone roots for all the teams. Not so in Chi-town.

[Editor’s Note: The AP staff is well represented on both the Cubs and the Sox fronts.]

The most basic division between the two Chicago teams is Madison Street. The Cubs’ home field is on the North Side; the Sox play on the South Side. Want to get more analytical? Much has been written, mostly by Sox fans, about the differences between the fans of the two teams.

I’d like to look at the fan base from a different perspective, mainly because I’m a different sort of fan. As a kid, I never cared all that much about baseball. I always was a Cubs fan because I looked up to organizations with clearcut missions, good follow-through and consistent achievement of their objectives.

“The Cubs?!” I hear you cry. “That wasn’t the team that won the World Series last year!” Oh, big deal. One World Series. In the memories of most of their fans, the Cubs are only one championship title behind the White Sox.

In fact, my point has nothing to do with championships. Even as a kid, I knew winning might or might not be everything, but it wasn’t always what it seemed. I noticed something all the other neighborhood kids (and their parents) seemed to overlook.

Playing for profit

The simple fact was that the Chicago Cubs were consistently among the most profitable teams in major-league ball. They are, to me, the champions of the century. I knew it back then, and the Wrigley family sure knew it, but no one else knew it because they were using different metrics to measure success.

How about your business? What is your objective? Is it to book the most sales dollars? To have the biggest or the most presses? To produce the finest dots ever seen? Is it to have a building that serves as a monument to you? To have the most trucks zooming around town with your name on the side?

What about profitability? What happened to profits as a measure of success? Isn’t that why we are in business? If so, then why do we ignore it so much?

Most “successful” printing companies achieve lower profit yields than municipal bonds or stock market index funds. Why do we accept this? Is it because we consider ourselves successful when our peers “Ooh” and “Aah” over that stochastic hexachrome job we printed on cellophane?

In Chicago, the major-league sports teams traditionally have been dominated by owners with an eye firmly fixed on the bottom line and a protective hand covering the lid to the cookie jar. Owners like Wirtz, Wrigley and Halas have insisted on a high rate of return for shareholders (themselves and their families, that is) and, while happy to win when they could, they were unconvinced that the high price of winning was worth paying consistently.

Striking a balance

The business mastermind of last year’s World Series-winning White Sox is the same fellow who presided over the Chicago Bulls during the Michael Jordan years. Long slammed by the sports press, he and his partners have won the grudging respect of fans by showing that profits and championships are not mutually exclusive.

I point this out so no one will think I am advocating lowering quality standards or working conditions in the name of profit. I’ll bet many of us know printing organizations that have reputations for doing substandard work and still can’t seem to make a profit.

Do you have the best dots in the industry? Great! That alone will win you prizes and fame. If you want fortune, too, you’ll have to make sure you charge more than your competitors to cover the cost of your highly tuned quality processes. Of course, that means you might lose market share when some clients aren’t willing to pay the premium.

If you won’t settle for some when you want it all, you must be willing to risk the cash outlay. Quality, efficiency, profits: The technology exists, and so do the people to make it happen, but it will take a sizable upfront investment.

Have you decided what it is that will make your company a winner? Legendary announcer Jack Brickhouse used to say, “Hey, hey, holy mackerel, the Cubs are on their way!” And so are you, if you have clearcut profit objectives. Now, let’s play ball!