Paper trail Featured

8:29pm EDT September 30, 2011
Paper trail

Tom Fricke’s resale cartridge business is part of a multibillion-dollar global printing industry.

Fricke, who has been CEO of Cartridge World Inc. since 2008, has helped his company expand as the largest global dedicated retailer of ink and toner cartridges by taking advantage of the industry’s tremendous growth to build out franchises in new and existing global markets. Operating in 65 countries and growing, Cartridge World generated 2010 revenues of more than $160 million under Fricke’s leadership.

Smart Business spoke with Fricke about how to sustain long-term corporate growth by finding the right business partners and having a responsive leadership style.

What is the challenge of finding good partners in a fluctuating industry?

Our business is changing, the challenges we face are changing, and that change is consistent with the vendors, as well. I think that the biggest pitfall is you find vendors that are right today but aren’t going to be right in a year or two years from now as the evolution of the industry continues. So the biggest thing we’ve looked for is finding those kinds of vendors who are going to be able to change with us. There are some vendors who may have been great today but just weren’t going to be right for tomorrow. I think you are constantly trying to look for those who have the same mindset and the same approach to the future as much as today.

How do you decide who will be the best partners for growth?

The best way to do it is to spend a lot of time with them. I like to get out and meet with as many of my partners as I can. I like to be as open and forthright with them of the challenges we face and the challenges that we’re considering as we go forward. I think that kind of dialogue and that kind of personal relationship is critical as you really start working through your suppliers.

We like to be demanding of our vendors. We like to be fair. We want to make sure that they’re the right kind of partner that has similar strategies that we do. We like to them to be technically very capable. We like them to be very responsive, and we want partners who are going to be as supportive and focused on the franchise network as we are. The best way for us to make all those assessments is to be as interactive with them as we can. So if it’s not me, it’s the local, regional teams or management teams. We like to spend as much time with our partners as we can to make sure that we understand them and they understand us.

How can a leader facilitate a culture that is responsive to change?

To me the secret is you always try to find the balance. … You do what you have to do in order to operate in a new environment, but you also have to be patient. You are struggling between being demanding and being patient. You need to be a perfectionist, but you also need to let people know that it’s OK for them to try new things and make mistakes in the process of making it.

The capabilities of a leader really have to be a function of the environment in which they are operating in, the challenges that they have in front of them, the nature of the system they are dealing with and the business that they are in. I think if anything the leader needs to be multifaceted, because you really need to try and get a feel for all of that. Your style needs to flex and change. It’s really that ability to get in and sense what the business needs, what the people need and provide whatever leadership is needed.

How to reach: Cartridge World Inc., (510) 594-9900 or www.cartridgeworld.com