By Dennis Mason
We hear a lot about partnership today. Companies cooperate to jointly develop products. Other companies work together to integrate existing products and processes to satisfy specific industry needs. These partnerships bring products to market faster and more effectively than the silo-oriented industry most of us knew not long ago. But partnership may be best exemplified by EFI, a company that partners with others in a most interesting way.
The week of January 19, some 1000 members of the worldwide printing community paid to meet in Las Vegas for Connect, the 2015 version of the annual meeting of EFI software and equipment users. The session traces its roots to 1990s software user confabs conducted by Program Solutions, Covalent, and other print business software companies to set priorities for further development. In 1999, these pioneering companies and others were rolled up into one company, called PrintCafe, and in 2003, PrintCafe—by then a public company—was acquired by EFI, which has continued the annual gathering. Renamed Connect by EFI—the meeting originally continued as a user group, but as EFI acquired equipment businesses such as the Jetrion label press and the VUTEk line of flatbed inkjet printers, evolved into a combination user training session and small trade show featuring EFI equipment. The success of Connect through the years led EFI to expand the trade show portion of the meeting to include other companies anxious to show their products to the EFI user community.
To the credit of the company, EFI Connect has been carefully grown and skillfully developed through the years. Owners and managers of printing companies around the world come to the meeting annually to learn about the latest technological developments offered by EFI, as well as to hear industry executives and experts discuss management techniques and strategy. Connect 2015 featured two open and candid ‘fireside chats’—discussions conducted by EFI CEO Guy Gecht with R. R. Donnelley & Sons CEO Thomas Quinlan, and Avi Reichental, CEO of 3D printer manufacturer 3D Systems. Andy Paparozzi, Chief Economist of Epicomm (the recently renamed AMSP/NAPL/NAQP) discussed the economic condition of the industry. By bringing enlightening speakers and providing an astounding array of training options for both managers and information technology personnel, EFI Connect has grown every year to become arguably the best meeting in the industry.
‘Fireside chats’ conducted by EFI CEO Guy Gecht with R. R. Donnelley & Sons CEO Thomas Quinlan, and Avi Reichental, CEO of 3D printer manufacturer 3D Systems.
All this brings us back to the subject of partnership. At the annual Connect meetings, EFI executives—from the CEO to middle management—work hard to position the company as a partner, not a vendor, to its customers. Any attendee can approach any EFI executive—including Guy Gecht, the CEO—during any session. Gecht sets the tone for the entire company by being available, approachable, and affable—putting to rest the stereotypical image of the aloof, distant, protected CEO so typical in many companies. Gecht’s management technique pervades the company and creates an entirely different vendor-customer relationship. Imagine a customer service representative who uses EFI PrintSmith or Radius software being able to approach the CEO of the company which makes the software she uses every day. Imagine her being able to tell the CEO what she likes or doesn’t like about the software. And imagine her being listened to carefully, sincerely thanked for her input, and being told that her concerns and interests will be presented to the appropriate EFI product manager. Imagine that happening hour after hour, day after day, at the meeting, and you will understand how Connect works, and why EFI software and equipment users consider themselves partners with the company rather than mere customers.
The bottom line: EFI partners with the businesses to which they sell, and uses Connect every year to demonstrate a sincere commitment to customers. With the tone being set from top management, EFI sales and service personnel get the message, too. EFI has an internal commitment to reach $1 billion in sales in 2016. No one who has attended a Connect meeting would bet against them.
Have you attended an EFI Connect conference? What are your thoughts on the event?