As part of Print+Promo’s ongoing feature, Executive Perspectives, we get to know a leading professional in the print and promotional industry. This month, we talked to Nate Mullikin, president of Navitor, North Mankato, Minn. Read on as Mullikin talks strategy, the two sides of technology and the importance of automation.
How did you first get started in this industry, and what path did you take to land in your current role?
Nate Mullikin: I’m a business and tech person by trade and training, so the path I took to print was a little winding. I started in the tech industry with my own tech business in the ’90s, and then I expanded into investment properties. I moved to Mankato, Minn., 12 years ago, and since then I’ve worked in various positions at Taylor Corporation, including production, sales and business development. In terms of print leadership, I helped establish Taylor Corporation’s print operations in China, and I have been leading Navitor for just over 18 months now.
How do you set goals for yourself? For your business?
NM: First and foremost, I make sure there’s no rocket-science involved. Goals need to be clear and easy to understand, measureable, and attainable. If those three pieces are in place, the rest of the goal-setting process should be easy. Clear goals don’t mean that they should be too easy, though. I’m a competitive person, and like to surround myself with competitive leaders as well—leaders who want to challenge themselves and the status quo. This means that when we’re goal-setting, we make sure we’re collectively challenging ourselves to differentiate, drive new value for our customers, and create opportunity and security for our employees in ways we haven’t considered before. Incremental change simply isn’t good enough for us. Remember, you’ll never reach a bar you didn’t know was there, so set it high.
How does the economy continue to affect the industry?
NM: The economy is a challenge, both for print vendors, like Navitor, and for the print resellers we do business with. Speaking as a print vendor, it’s essential that we help our customers succeed, because our success depends on it. That’s why Navitor has faced the challenging economy by finding ways to put more money into their pockets.
What do you expect to be some of the biggest changes the industry will face?
NM: Technology really provides us with the biggest change to the industry, but whether that technology is a challenge or a blessing depends on how we address it. Because digital communication has been replacing a number of the day-to-day communications, like letters, we’ve seen a big change in how print is used. However, technology also has given us new ways to add value to customer orders, new ways to manage orders and new ways to engage with customers. There is a reason that online retailers are so successful, and we’re pleased to be reaching out to our customers with our website to offer them a way to use technology to place their print orders.
What keeps you up at night?
NM: First of all, I sleep really well. Not only do I have a fulfilling career that challenges me each day, but [I also have] a beautiful wife [and] four young children at home. So trust me, when I sleep, I sleep well. In regard to the print industry, it’s much the same. People have been talking about print being dead for years, and I don’t lose sleep over that idea. Moreover, I see it as an opportunity. Market contraction opens doors, [and] drives positive change and new trends and technologies into our marketplace. If you’re not adapting to these, you may have some sleepless nights, but taking those opportunities lets me rest easy.
What do you think is the most exciting, cutting-edge thing your company is doing right now? Why?
NM: We have a number of things that we’re very excited about. One of the cutting-edge projects we’re implementing is an automated shipping line on the production floor. This automation has helped us minimize costs, and we are using the additional funds to continue to invest in new printing equipment. It also allows us to minimize the costs for our wholesale dealers. In fact, in March we will be introducing new lower pricing on more than 70 percent of our online stationery products, and this new pricing is a possibility because of initiatives, like our automated shipping system.
What would people be surprised to learn about you—hobbies, special interests, etc.?
NM: I think I’m pretty stereotypical—maybe even a bit boring. If there’s anything that seems to surprise people, it’s how much I credit my technical background to the successes I’ve been blessed with as a business person and a leader—yes, especially in the print industry. So much of what we do today in both our personal and professional lives is tied to technology, and this will only continue to strengthen and evolve. Heck, maybe technology will evolve enough to truly help my golf game.