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Creative courage Featured

12:25pm EDT June 28, 2006
French artist Henri Matisse wisely observed that “creativity takes courage.” Debbie Simpson, CEO of Multi-Craft Litho Inc., agrees with that wholeheartedly.

Multi-Craft Litho was founded in 1955 by Simpson’s father, and Simpson, her brother, Tom Gibbs, and sister, Pam Gibbs, still bounce ideas off him. The company, which offers complete in-house printing, design and new media services, employs 54 and has 2005 revenue of $9 million, an increase of 45 percent over the previous year.

“We expanded and got out of our comfort zone, which took courage,” Simpson says. “We began offering Web and graphic design, mail and fulfillment, and large-format indoor signage to our portfolio of services. It was a wild year, but well worth the risk.”

When Simpson took over as president in 1990, she felt unqualified and unsure of herself.

“Here I was with only a high school degree, having the reins of a thriving company handed to me due to a family situation that left it without a leader,” she says.

Simpson became a voracious reader and networker, and attended many seminars.

“In hindsight, I had equal knowledge to someone with a formal education — I had simply obtained it in a different way,” Simpson says.

Smart Business spoke with Simpson about the qualities of a great leader, and how she keeps staff motivated and delights customers.

What are the most important qualities of a great leader?
First and foremost — communication. You must openly share your vision and mission and make sure employees know their role. You also need to celebrate successes in addition to the hard lessons learned along the way.

At the end of the day, your reputation is all you have, so leaders need to associate themselves with those demonstrating integrity and high standards.

In our business, like many others, I am basically selling my employees when I talk to customers. Sure, product and pricing matter, but without a team willing to do whatever it takes to not only please the customer, but to consistently delight them, you have an uphill battle when competing with others.

How do you keep your staff motivated and committed?
Many companies talk about having an open-door policy, but we truly put that into practice. I am realistic also. People are not always able to leave their personal problems at home.

Whether it’s sick children, marital problems or financial difficulties, these stressors do take their toll ,and it is important to be sensitive and respectful when they occur. This is a family-owned business, and as far as I am concerned, they are part of the family. The loyalty is invariably returned.

How do you delight your customers?
It’s the little things that set us apart. Simple acts of kindness and courtesy are noticed and appreciated and build the relationship.

We tuck candy into the bottom of envelopes containing proofs. We make a point of letting clients know when we have delivered printing products to their clients. Whenever we can bring solutions and peace of mind to our customers, we build our bond with them.

Our job is to help customers sell more of their products and services, so we are not shy about suggesting less expensive alternatives.

How do you maintain your personal motivation?
Motivation changes along with life circumstances. There have been times in my life when the paycheck was the main motivator because I needed to feed my children.

Sometimes new challenges are the motivators. And sometimes you honestly are just not motivated.

It’s smart to recognize these slumps for what they are — temporary transitions — and to work on building new opportunities. For example, I am very excited about a new service we are offering, which is basically a consultant role for small companies that do not have a person on staff who is responsible for marketing.

I have found these companies are typically so busy working that they neglect to work on the strategic part of their business. We help them perform marketing analysis and make recommendations on ideal ways to reach their target market.

It could be as simple as suggesting they update a stale Web site or undertake a strong direct-mailing campaign. The benefit, of course, when they take our advice, is that we have an opportunity to move forward with them in the production of their marketing pieces.

HOW TO REACH: Multi-Craft Litho Inc., (800) 733-3317 or www.multi-craft.com