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Pindar: media in the lap of the gods

Andrew Pindar's father learnt the hard way that being pressured to join the family business is far from an ideal way to start your corporate career. This has framed how Andrew approaches his management style and GA Pindar & Son is reaping the rewards says Marc Smith

A quick search around the internet reveals that Pindar is one of the most famous Greek poets who, around 500BC, wrote choral works for religious festivals – mostly in honour of winners at various games, including the ancient Olympics. Intriguingly, family traditions appear to have been important to his poetry.

This fact would no doubt raise a smile on the face of George Andrew Pindar, the fourth-generation chairman of GA Pindar & Son, a UK-based print and electronic media company.

While not quite dating back to ancient Greece, the family business does date back to 1836, which means it is actually older than the modern Olympics, beginning as they did in Athens in 1896.

Andrew's great grandfather acquired the company for the sum of €620 when its sales territory stretched as far as a horse could draw a wagon load of paper – some 20 miles.

Today, Andrew oversees a business with annual revenues of over €125 million that is being garnered with some high praise. While not yet worthy of an ode, the company nevertheless scooped the Company of the Year and Corporate Social Responsibility Company of the Year awards given out by the British Printing Industry Federation.

The Pindar family is also having to get used to some praise of its own. Andrew's father Tom received the Lifetime Printers' award in June this year, while Andrew himself is ranked at number four on trade publication Print Week's list of most powerful men in the UK industry.

Described as being "dynamic, decisive, a good delegator and a good chairman", Andrew was singled out for his vision and drive in pushing the Pindar businesses into new markets, his concern for the environment and in cementing the company's standing as a good corporate citizen.

"The recognition of a third party is welcome and is something that, especially if you are at the top of your own little tree of the business, people don't tend to do," Andrew exclusively tells Campden FB. "To get applauded as opposed to getting a brick bat is quite pleasant!"

Pindar in print
Pindar has evolved from being a local printer to an advanced provider of publishing services. Andrew says that the company philosophy is to manage content for all forms of media, from traditional printing through to the internet and mobile phones. To do this, the business has two separate brands: Pindar and AlphaGraphics.

Pindar is the original printing business, but now also offers content management software and e-commerce expertise. AG is a rapidly expanding franchise business that is a world leader in rapid response print and visual communications services.

The company is international with footprints in the US, India, Australia and France, but Andrew picks out Brazil and New Zealand as perhaps the most exciting areas at the moment.

"We are excited by the market potential in Brazil and by the management team that we have established out there – they are just great people," says Andrew. "Our business in New Zealand also excites me because I think we can really push on to become a very significant business there. It's already trebled in size in the last six months."

Such international expansion in emerging markets is a welcome diversion from current recessionary pressures at home, where the number of competent major printers is declining as the weakest fall by the wayside.

"It could well be that [the current economic downturn] allows for consolidation and strengthening to take place within the industry," says Andrew. "At the moment it is weakening everybody who is in the game, because everybody is struggling to make a profit in an environment where the costs are rising extraordinarily."

Nevertheless, Andrew believes the company's focus on all forms of media means it is well placed to ride out any tough times. Taking a holistic view of the business, he says that some areas go up as others go down.

"Sometimes it's our traditional sectors, such as printing, that have been the source of profit and the focus of investment. At other times it's new media or software that drive growth," he says.

For example, the company's software solutions packages are selling well in India and New Zealand where companies are looking at whether they can afford the size of their current workforces.

In addition, the AG business is doing well thanks to its franchise model. "Recessionary times usually work well for AG because people get made redundant from corporate life and decide they want to run their own show," explains Andrew.

Whatever the business unit, however, Andrew is optimistic about the future. "There are those who think that printing as a medium is staid, but it's not," he says. "It's very dynamic and as long as we don't focus exclusively on just the internet or just printing then we will be ok."

Climbing the company ladder
Andrew began his association with the family business from a young age. The company used to be housed in an old Methodist church that had pigeons in the roof, which led to an unusual first job for the young Andrew.

"The business operated six days a week back then and I used to go down with my father on a Saturday morning," recalls Andrew. "I would have the job of sweeping the pigeon droppings off the steps."

With the family not giving him any special treatment, Andrew had to work his way up from the bottom rung. His next job involved proofreading and, at Christmas time, he was enlisted to help pack greetings cards into boxes. "I learnt what it means to be involved in a business and what it is to do those basic jobs," say Andrew.

He formally joined the business as a trainee account executive aged 22, when his job entailed looking after production processing and liaising with the factory and customers on new orders.

However, it could have all been very different had a fledgling career in the music industry taken off post university. "I booked bands and put on concerts, taking a punt on which ones I thought were popular and whether we could make a profit selling tickets," he explains. "I had a reasonable amount of success, booking Dire Straits and The Police at the time."

Luckily for the family business, he met a girl and returned to his native north east to follow in the footsteps of his father and grandfather. Had he decided not to, however, it would have been understandable given the relationship between his elders.

"There was no pressure put on me to join the company because my father had been pressurised to join by my grandfather," explains Andrew. "My grandparents married late in life and my father arrived as a first and only child when my grandfather was in his 50s and my grandmother was in her 40s which was really quite unusual as they never expected to have children. After the war my father was obliged to go straight to college and then come and join the business. When my grandfather was elderly and losing his health, my father had to take the business on himself."

Andrew says this episode always stuck with his father and shaped how his father treated both Andrew and his sister. Ironically, it was a non-family manager who persuaded Andrew to join the business.

"I got on really well with him and respected his views and opinions," recalls Andrew. "He said to me, 'Look if you want to get involved in a fast moving, fast changing business, you'll find that the printing industry is probably going to be as rapidly changing as anything else you'll come across. You'll learn as much here as you'll learn anywhere.' So I joined up and I'm still here 28 years later."

Andrew says his rise through the ranks of the family business was fairly smooth and was characterised by his desire to "push the envelope" as far as he could. "If I thought that something could be done differently or better then I'd try and change how things were done. If I was allowed to take on more responsibility then I would, but if I was rapped over the knuckles and told to get back in my kennel, then I'd leave it alone for a year or two."

He finally took over from his father as chief executive in 1995 and chairman in 1997, but says it happened organically rather than to a pre-determined timetable. "It was more like osmosis than it was any great, 'right, you've earned your spurs son, here … you can take over,  here are the keys'," he explains.

"It was a transition and we've discussed since as to whether that was the best thing or not. We certainly have never had any fall out about a transition period.  In fact, we tend to think we did it okay. My father let go at a pace that he was comfortable with and vice versa."

Looking forward, however, there is no guarantee that the next CEO or chairman will come from the Pindar family. The family is not large and there is only one other family member working in the business.

Andrew's sister, Margaret, does not work in the business but her eldest son Nick works in the company's office in Salt Lake City in the US. Andrew has two children himself, aged 12 and 10, but is in no hurry to bring them into the business.

Consequently, Andrew is resigned to the possibility that a non-family CEO may be the best course of action. "If the person has the right attributes and shares the core philosophies of what we believe in then it isn't just about whether you happen to have been born into part of the family, far from it," says Andrew.

"I've got one nephew in the business and I hope the younger one may at some point contemplate joining.  They are both talented guys and I'm sure they would want to be looking to see where their careers can go.  The crux of it is that, whether it's my children or my sister's children, what you don't want to do is to find that you've trapped talent in a business that's not prepared to recognise it."

"In this day and age I think it's as much more about whether the company can attract the right talent into it, be it a family member or otherwise." With such a forward-thinking philosophy, the gods may yet smile on the Pindar family business. 

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