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August 9, 2023

Why Tommy and Tom Call Each Other

# Team/Culture
# Edge Conference

Tom Baker and Tommy Schouten highlight the power of networking and connections in the Dscoop community

As the print industry gets older, today's young leaders have important ideas, goals and questions. How can they better connect and collaborate with colleagues their own age? This is the story of why two Dscoopers in their 20s call each other regularly, and a call for other young pros in the Dscoop community to come together.

Tom Baker wanted to help his team at Baker Labels improve its process for welcoming and onboarding new clients. The company's customer retention rate was impressive, says the 23-year-old, but the team wanted fresh ideas that could make those relationships even stronger.

Introducing new ideas has been important to Tom since 2020, when he joined his parents and older brother Harry in the UK-based family business that was established by Tom's grandparents, Roy and Marian Baker. Tom had graduated college in 2018 with a degree in business and management, and his fresh perspective and ability to communicate with the company's experienced staff were instrumental in the launch of Baker Academy, its new training and development unit. Today, Tom serves as Academy Coordinator, building content that helps the firm's employees to train and grow personally and professionally.

But like thousands other young print professionals around the globe, Tom is new to the industry and believes in the value of others' tactics and opinions. He especially wants to connect with fellow young leaders who have similar goals and challenges. "You never want to turn your back on potential changes that could make a massive difference," Tom says. "We all can benefit from fresh perspectives."

So Tom called Tommy Schouten, the 28-year-old Operations Project Manager at Dutch firm Geostick , one of the biggest label printers in Europe. They had met through Dscoop, and have since proved the power of networking and idea-sharing among members of the community.

Tommy is an enthusiastic, determined leader who thrives on solving challenges, so he welcomed Tom's question about ways to bolster new client relationships. Although Tommy is chiefly responsible for Geostick's operational output, he continually seeks new ways to help the company advance in all phases.

For nearly an hour, Tom and Tommy chatted about potential ways to impress new customers, starting with ideas for building more cohesive communication among salespeople and other internal departments before reaching out to clients. Since that conversation, the two have talked regularly about other topics, including IT challenges, the pros and cons of various management information systems, succession planning in family businesses, approaches to LinkedIn and other networking tools, and more.

"Just in general, there's so much to learn from each other," Tom says. "And why wouldn't we? We're both looking for open, honest, productive conversations with other young professionals in the industry."

The Print Industry's Aging Issue

Many print company owners, salespeople, operations workers and others are closer to the finish line than the starting line. The industry could use an injection of high-energy talent that eventually carries the torch for their companies. "It's no secret that at the moment, if you look at anything to do with print, you see a lot of guys with gray hair," Tom quips.

At the same time, the industry is awash with digital innovation, and the need for creativity and fresh approaches has never been higher. Around the world, printers are trying to think outside yesterday's box to find tomorrow's "blue ocean." Some are now flourishing with marketing services and data-driven programs for their customers, but report difficulty in identifying potential hires who have the needed skills (or sometimes the needed desire) to join a "printer."

"We all need to keep our companies vibrant and moving forward progressively. We do not have the luxury of waiting," says Bill Prettyman, who since 1993 has been President and CEO of printer Wise in Alpharetta, GA, USA. "Our world and our industry are changing quickly, and we must change or accept that we will get passed by soon. Imagine creating and sustaining a company that leverages the business and industry wisdom of a seasoned generation with the technology and collaboration understanding of today's generation. That would be so valuable."

It's certainly possible, says Jason Landrum, who studied commercial graphics and marketing at Pittsburg State University, and now serves in the Marketing Department at Vanguard Companies , a Kansas City, MO, USA-based producer of packaging, labels, signage and retail displays. Some of his work appears on products sold in major retail outlets such as Wal-Mart and Target.

"There are so many new methods and new technologies available in the printing world, so I always scoff a little bit when I hear people say that print is a dying media," Jason says. "If print's dead, then I might as well go ahead and resign right now and start walking home. What we do have is a generation gap between my grandparents' generation and my generation, and it's interesting to see how that resistance to technology has decreased as time goes on."

Bill says Wise aims to stay vibrant to young professionals in two ways: hiring more of them, and giving them training and other tools to help their development. "Our industry is evolving, and our companies must change with the times. We have to reload with young people as parts of our teams or risk losing our businesses over time. If we look at companies that are successful and moving forward, we will see them leveraging the strengths of this new generation." (See "6 Ways Printers Can Develop Young Leaders" below.)

The Need for Young Pros to Connect & Share

Tom, Tommy and other young print pros have always known a world in which connections felt instant and ingrained. It has always been simple for them to find, join and connect with online and in-person groups based on mutual interests.

But it hasn't been easy for them to identify and connect with similar-aged people at work. They realize the benefit of sharing questions, concerns and insight with others, but many of them are wondering, "Who are those others?"

"I wish I knew if other people my age were looking at the same business problems in the same way I am," Tommy says. "Maybe they're doing things differently, and maybe they have questions I can help them with, too. The issue for youngsters is we cannot reflect on past experiences. We should be bouncing things off each other."

In 2022, Dscoop aims to fill that void and offer up-and-coming leaders a platform to better network with each other online, along with potentially developing education sessions and other activities especially for them. (If you're interested in participating in Dscoop's Young Leaders group, or know of someone who might be interested, email us .) An event planned for January 2022 in the EMEA Region will focus on empowering young leaders.

"My role at the company is quite internal," Tom says. "I don't really have any immediate connection to external people. Having the opportunity to build a network, offer some advice and also take some advice will be great."

Tommy agrees, adding that Dscoop's Young Leaders group is especially important today, as the industry becomes more digital, faced-paced and tech-driven. "Managers and directors of today learned the print business 20 or 30 years ago, and sometimes it's hard to grab knowledge across generations," he says. "I think both age groups could benefit. Youngsters could get more personal mentoring and advice, while older professionals could have a direct link to young people for new energy and ideas on growing the business."

6 Ways Printers Can Develop Young Leaders

Wise's Bill Prettyman shares these six ways to help young leaders grow at your company:

1. Know your vision and mission. No skills are bad by themselves, but good skills are the enemy of great skills. We cannot develop every skill; instead, we need to focus on developing the skills needed to help the company fulfill its mission. Young professionals want to understand the company's mission so they can suggest the training and education necessary to help them best contribute. As an example, if we know that our mission is to sell e-commerce platforms to large companies, then we can figure out what skills are needed for our young people to operate successfully.

2. Identify and focus on skills they need. The challenge is now about narrowing the focus to only those skills that help the company achieve its mission. At Wise, we need skills such as simplifying technology for our customers, succinctly identifying the benefits to our customers, honing presentation skills on PowerPoint or Keynote, and understanding basic selling and customer service skills.

3. Write a plan for developing those skills. This requires creation of a personal development plan for each of our people. I suggest starting with the people who have been identified as future leaders, and then move to others in their companies over time. The development plan contains the skills needed, the education resources to be used and a due date for accomplishing each one. I may decide that our customer service skills can be better developed by having staff attend trade shows to see the breadth and depth of products in our industry, as well as meet key vendors and attend educational sessions. I know how networking with our industry peers has helped me, and our young people will develop better with the same opportunities for networking.

4. Work collaboratively. If our young team members are to reach their potential not only for themselves, but also for our companies and our customers, we need to collaborate with them. This means seeking out their opinions on what skills they need to acquire. Quite often, as leaders, we think we know the skills that are needed - and we may. But our people are the ones doing the work and are able to observe firsthand the skill sets needed to successfully serve the customer. So, involve them in the process and let them identify and find the educational resources.

5. Give them leadership assignments. Consider generating ways for young team members to develop their skills through leadership assignments. Allow them the latitude to make mistakes. They will make them, but nothing they do can generally be life-threatening to a business, so give them some rope and an opportunity to learn. As leaders, we have to remember the mistakes we learned from when we were young.

6. Meet regularly to track progress. This last step is crucial for accomplishing the company's mission and for young people to develop their skills. You get what you expect when you inspect with regularity. Leaders and young people need to meet monthly to track progress on skill development. The frequency is determined by the need, but I find that a monthly review is most helpful. At that meeting, we can review progress in developing skills against the goal and make midcourse adjustments depending on the situation. We may want to work on new skills if an old skill has been accomplished.

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