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Harry, we hardly knew ye

Sep 1, 2002 12:00 AM


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Our industry lost one of its legendary figures this past month. Harry V. “Larry” Quadracci, president and founder of the largest privately owned printer in North America, died of an accidental drowning near his home in Chenequa, WI.

By all accounts, Quadracci, 66, was as colorful as the printing Quad/Graphics churns out. He rode an elephant, walked a tightrope and, in 1980, trod the boards in full naval regalia for “HMS Printafour,” a company spoof of a Gilbert & Sullivan favorite.

In eulogizing his brother, Tom Quadracci said: “He did not just live life. He attacked life. And with such great energy, he did nothing in a small way. It made no difference whether it was business, sports, helping his community or loving his family.”

Tom, who is one of the company's co-founders, has succeeded his brother as president and CEO.

“Harry loved to go fast and first class in planes, cars, trains and boats,” wrote John Torinus, CEO of Serigraph Inc. (West Bend, WI) in a Milwaukee Sentinel article. “But as one of his many admirers in corporate, civic and charitable activities noted, Harry's defining characteristic was that he was always progressive, always moving ahead.”

Indeed, space precludes us from describing all of Quadracci's graphic-arts milestones. In addition to creating its own R&D group and ink plant, Quad offers its employees an extensive range of benefits and educational opportunities.

“He gave me chances I wouldn't otherwise have had,” Roger Williams told the Sentinel. Williams joined Quad/Graphics 21 years ago after graduating from high school. Today, he manages the company's shipping and distribution department.

A LEGENDARY PRINTING FAMILY

Harry V. Quadracci was the son of Harry R. Quadracci. Harry R., sometimes called “Senior,” died in 1999. The elder Quadracci was 16 when he started a printing business in a garage behind the family's grocery store in Racine, WI. A few years later, Harry R. partnered with William Krueger, founder of W.A. Krueger Co., a pioneering web-offset printer. Quadracci's sons — Harry V., Tom and Leonard — all worked with their father at various times.

Harry V. co-founded Quad/Graphics — named after his father — in 1971. The younger Quadracci started the company using a $35,000 second mortgage on his home, plus additional capital raised by several associates. The company consisted of a 20,000-sq.-ft. building, 11 employees, a rented press and a borrowed binder.

In 1973, the company had grown to 25 people and had annual sales of $2.8 million. Three years later, Quad employed 100 people and had annual sales of $7 million.

But things really took off in 1977 when Harry V. began working with Newsweek. “Our Midwestern printing plant was in the middle of a labor strike and couldn't handle a late-breaking cover,” writes Newsweek's Mark Whitaker in his Aug. 12 column. “So our director of printing, Angelo Rivello, called an entrepreneur from Wisconsin… Harry Quadracci.”

Rivello shipped the magazine layouts, but a blizzard forced the plane carrying them to land in Chicago. Panic prevailed in the Newsweek production office — until Quadracci calmly reported he had sent a car through the snowstorm to pick up the film.

“We were so impressed by the quality and reliability of Quadracci's operation that we gave him all of our Midwest business a year later,” recalls Whitaker. “During the next two decades Quadracci kept investing in the best new technology — and the best new people — and built Quad/Graphics into the largest privately owned printing company in the world, with 11,000 employees, 35 facilities around the globe and annual revenues of $1.8 billion.”

Tom Basore, executive director, Web Offset Assn. (WOA) (Alexandria, VA), says that the company's growth was particularly impressive, because little of it came from acquisitions. “Quadracci believed in printing,” says the exec.

LEGACY WILL CONTINUE

Basore notes that despite Quad's tremendous growth, Quadracci never wavered in his commitment to customers, employees and new technology.

In 1999, WOA presented Quadracci with its inaugural Vision Award, citing his entrepreneurial spirit and hands-on management style.

Basore calls Quadracci a major influence in the printing and publishing industries. “But one man couldn't do all that work,” says Basore. “The legacy there is deeply rooted. It will go on.”