2019 Women in Print and Promo: Lee Ann G. Bennardo, Print Management
LEE ANN G. BENNARDO
President, Print Management, Pittsburgh
How she got her start: I started as a delivery person while still in high school, making deliveries on foot in downtown Pittsburgh for a large quick printer. When I wasn’t pushing a dolly around town, I worked in the bindery. I was promoted to work in the busiest store, writing up printing orders and making copies. I became a store manager within a couple of years.
I soon realized that because I didn’t complete my college degree (I was in my mid-20s and thought I was too old to go back to school!) and printing was the only business I knew, I either needed to own my own print shop or go into sales if I hoped to make more money and have a real career. So, I took a job selling quick printing. I was very fortunate to be hired with no sales experience. I started at the top—literally. I would pick a building in downtown Pittsburgh, start at the top floor and knock on every door until I reached the bottom floor. It worked, and I was able to acquire many customers for my company.
I was then offered a job by a prior colleague who had just started a print brokerage company. I worked with him for two years, moving from quick printing to commercial printing. In 1993, I started Print Management. I was single and had $500 in the bank—this is probably where I first learned to negotiate.
What she does: My passions are sales and print production. I still do some sales, but not as much as I would like. Most times, I feel like a sales manager. I continue to work on the nuts and bolts of many projects, but hand off many of the details to my production manager. I spend more time than I would like running the business.
What brings her joy professionally and personally: At work, I love a happy customer and making someone look good to their boss or client. And there’s nothing more satisfying than seeing a complicated job come together. There’s a real sense of accomplishment knowing that the skills and experience my team and I brought to the table made a meaningful difference in the final product.
Personally, my joys in life are my husband, our English Mastiff and our two cats. Spending time at our lake house in New York on Lake Erie is heaven. That’s where I put everything into perspective and do some of my best thinking.
Her proudest career achievement: Starting Print Management with very little capital and keeping it going for 26 years is, of course, the highlight of my career. I am particularly proud of the longevity of my customers, many of whom have been with me for over 20 years, and the excellence of my staff, who are great people, as well as skilled professionals. Day-to-day, there’s nothing like the feeling of winning a job that you worked very hard to get, particularly when you weren’t the lowest bidder. That says to me our customers value what we bring to a job beyond the bottom-line number—things like our experience, our integrity and our willingness to do whatever it takes to make sure they are satisfied with the end result. Their confidence makes me proud!
On working in a traditionally male-dominated industry: I was brought up to believe I could do or be anything. Being a very young woman trying to make her mark in a male-dominated field never really occurred to me when I first started out in sales. In hindsight, I think, in some cases, it helped me. I wasn’t the same old print rep that was calling on them for years.
But there were challenges, of course. When I first started doing press checks, some of the older pressmen would try to intimidate me and push me into accepting a subpar product. Once they learned that I knew what I was talking about and wasn’t going to be pushed around, I gained their respect.
Oddly, my hardest sells in those early years were mid-career professional women. They would drill me, often being very short and, I felt, not taking me seriously. That said, if I was able to earn someone’s trust and convert her to a customer, she would be very loyal. Now that I’m on the other side, experienced and established in my career, I try to give younger people (not just women) a guiding hand and be a good example they can learn from.
Her job advice to women: You must believe in your product. And you have to love working with people. A big part of the job is negotiating and solving problems—that often means being a creative thinker. Her upcoming goals: Professionally, I want to continue to grow the business by adding another salesperson and possibly another production person. I also (and this is personal, too) want to be able to work more from home and be able to spend as much time as possible at our lake house with family and friends.
Who she turns to for career advice: In general, it’s very difficult being a business owner—one feels very alone. It’s like being stranded on an island. As an owner, it’s not just a job, it’s who you are. The business never leaves you. It doesn’t matter where you are or what you are doing, it’s always on your mind. I am fortunate to have a good group of women friends who are always willing to listen and give honest feedback.
My early mentor was Ron Baumgarten, (retired) principal of GBL, a very well-known boutique agency. I called on him for two years before he would meet with me. Once we started working together, I quickly realized I needed to pay attention to how he worked. I learned how to treat people and how to be an ethical and fair businessperson, and I learned about printing from him. Fortunately, “Baumer” loved to teach and embraced the role of mentor.
How she maintains a work/life balance: My husband, Rob, makes it possible for me to do what I do. Some days I work very long hours press checking or just getting caught up. He always has dinner ready and keeps our house running. He helps me keep my priorities straight.
Final thoughts: Never be afraid to ask for help. You will be surprised how many people want to help you!