By the fourth quarter, C-suite executives have finalized their goals for the year ahead. But for the first time in our lives, we can’t predict much of anything. In fact, “I just don’t know” now completes the trifecta of 2020 corporate speak that already includes “pivot” and “unprecedented.” When the first wave of coronavirus cases crashed into the U.S., businesses across all industries took drastic measures to preserve jobs and keep doors open as state governors enforced stay-at-home orders. Some were successful; others were not as fortunate.
Throughout this uncertainty, printers have kept the presses running. Part of a critical infrastructure industry as defined by the Department of Homeland Security, these professionals play a crucial role in protecting the nation’s food, medical and health care supply chains, to name a few. That being said, hard decisions surrounding salary cuts, furloughs and permanent layoffs still affected members of our community.
Leaders are human, forced to grieve lost routines, social connections, family structure and a sense of security like the rest of us. On the other hand, they are paid to provide assurances, direction, hope and actionable information. While we don’t know what’s next, we do know leaders are only as good as their employees. When interviewing the principals of the top-ranked companies listed in Print+Promo’s 2020 Top 50 Suppliers chart, there was a common theme of empathy throughout the discussions. In fact, several of these executives cited employee well-being and safety as their primary concerns, and were most proud of meeting those needs. They also acknowledged that any wins were the result of an incredible team effort.
To provide additional context, we spoke to Shaheen Javadizadeh, CEO of 4over LLC, No. 2 on the list.
Please tell us a little bit about yourself. What is your professional background and when did you assume the CEO position at 4over?
Shaheen Javadizadeh: I joined 4over in July of this year, so right in the middle of the summer, and I immediately assumed the role of CEO. I had been following the company and working with the board kind of through the pandemic period of time, so I was very familiar with what I was stepping into and the task at hand. My background is actually not in print; my background is in business-to-business software, so for 21 years, I have run and operated successful B2B software companies that focus on automation, focus on business process, focus on serving customers better across a myriad of industries. And, in my career, what I’ve always focused on—is the same combination that we’ll be focusing on here at 4over—is [to] focus on employees, focus on customers and then focus on technology, which might sound odd coming from a technology background. But, the way I view and the way I’ve been successful in my career is always focusing and growing our employees because they’re going to focus and service our customers, and they’re going to innovate and build the best technology that supports those customers, so that we can be better than our competition. And so, 4over has been a company that has focused on technology very early on. Technology is really what’s driven its growth, and so although I don’t have a print background, I have a really solid technology background in leading large teams, and so it was actually a very nice fit.
What was your company’s biggest accomplishment over the last year?
SJ: I think the biggest accomplishment over this year is a focus on our employees. So, when we were at the peak of the pandemic, we were not required to by any government (state government or federal government), but we voluntarily shut down and temporarily shut down about three quarters of our capacity to make sure that we could step back and have the proper protocols in place for our employees to keep them safe and that we had the right sanitary environments from a cleaning perspective. We had our vendors lined up [so] that we could space our teams to keep them safe and figure out how do we return back to capacity in a very thoughtful way that protects our customers? Because, ultimately, that was what’s going to drive us to return back to the market and serve our customers best.
And so, during that time period, our on-time rates dropped—and they’ve never dropped in the history of the company, but we wanted to make sure that we could come out of the peak much stronger than our competitors, and so we’ve been back to 99.x return time and our late jobs [have been] less than 1% for many months now. And I think that is really attributed to the thoughtful approach that we took to make sure that our customers are serviced by making sure our employees are available, healthy and able to serve them. We didn’t have a playbook for the pandemic, but we developed one very quickly. Getting back to being reliable, being fast is what 4over has been known for and so we had to take a pause. And it was a scary, risky thing for us to do to make sure we could get back there as quickly as possible and in the safest possible way.
How is your company positioning itself to stand out in 2021?
SJ: During the pandemic when you think, “Hey, we’re just focused on one thing: returning to business, returning to service,” but what it does allow you to do is really step back and assess the business and think through the future, right? Like we had this unprecedented, unexpected event happen that turned the industry and our company on its head, and it forced us to step back and look at what we could be doing better. Where should we be headed, and how do we get there? And so, we actually launched an incredible investment. We’re spending millions of dollars right now on our customer experience program. We’re revamping our ordering process, we’re revamping order status, we’re revamping our delivery capabilities and we’re testing this with some of our key customers. So, our early feedback from key customers is really encouraging. They’re partnering with us to help us become a bigger, stronger 4over as we enter 2021.
So, we’re going to be launching a brand new, game-changing face to the company on how we help our customers be successful, so that, ultimately, they can be successful with their customers. And we’re going to launch that in Q1 of 2021, so we have a big taskforce and team working with customers right now to innovate on new technologies, on new front-end systems, new back-end ordering status [and] new logistics capabilities to make sure that product gets to their end-customer when they need it and when we say and when we promise it. It’s a big opportunity for us to leapfrog competition, just provide a better level of service to the industry. As you may know, 4over is a trade-only company, so we don’t do any B2C, so we have a higher standard in which to provide transparency to our customer because, at the end of the day, if we’re not executing, their phone is ringing from their customer. And we want to make those instances minimal, and we want to make sure that our customer has the best possible transparency and support throughout the ordering process and delivery process.
How has the COVID-19 climate impacted 4over?
SJ: As volume dropped as we closed plants, we did have to furlough some employees. Simply put, we needed them to be at home and to be safe and so that we could bring them back to work as quickly as possible. So, we did step back, we furloughed some of the staff while we figured out how to get back and return to service so that our employees could get back to work and we can start being on time for our customers as quickly as possible.
I will tell you during this time, as I mentioned, one of the things [we did] was an investment in customer experience, but it also allowed our teams and our plant managers to look at the floor and look at our machinery and look at opportunities to improve. Because as volume is going through and as you’re managing 20,000 orders a day, it’s hard to step back and look at how do we improve, how do we make this more efficient, how do we lean out our processes? So, it was actually a great opportunity for our teams to step back and continue to innovate. Our organization historically has been on the cutting edge—if not the leading edge—of technology, so we work with our manufacturing partners that build incredible equipment, and our teams actually go and modify that equipment. We fabricate new features into that equipment and then we work back with our partners who manufacture that equipment and, ultimately, some of that innovation that we put into the equipment makes it into the mainstream product where our competition benefits and so the overall market benefits, and you’d say, “Geez, why would you do that?” But the reality is, it puts us ahead and it makes us better, and so this was just a great opportunity. We had some great innovations that I think you’re going to see come out in the marketplace that don’t just do things like increase speed and reliability, but new finishings and new products that we’re able to come out to the market that you’re going to start seeing soon as we launch our new customer-facing portals and websites, so that was a great opportunity.
From a product category perspective, there was a shift, right? So, there were some things that make a ton of sense, you know, trade shows were down and people aren’t going to trade shows, so print associated with trade shows just dropped off, but then other categories picked up. Rigid signs and banners, you know. Not only are we in an election season, where rigid signs always pop up, but where I live here in California and in Nevada, I’ve noticed that every restaurant has a banner and they never had banners before. Every retail store has a banner. And so, we’ve seen banner business pick up. We’ve also seen the EDDM business, so the Every Door Direct Mailer business pick up as businesses are trying to advertise. Where one portion of the business has declined, another portion of the business has offset that by growing at a rapid pace. Luckily, we have that capability to scale and shift, and we’ve got really talented team members that are able to operate and continue to be on time. I’d say one of the most surprising things about the product categories that I did not expect is under our business card category. I expected that as people are not meeting face-to-face for business, as unemployment numbers are surging, that the business card category—I was expecting it to just completely drop out, and that has not been the case. Our business card business has stayed, you know, it has a dip, but it has stayed incredibly strong. The dip is surprisingly low on a year-over-year basis.
What is the biggest professional risk you’ve ever taken?
SJ: Actually, I would say joining 4over. I’ve been in technology my entire life. I have a finance background. I don’t have a technology background, but I’ve always been inquisitive. I’ve always wanted to know how things work and how to make them better, and I really need to understand the “why.” I’m the person who asks “why?” five times since I have two 9-year-old kids, and they’re always asking me “why?” and “what?”, but I think they’ve learned that from me. I ingrained that in their DNA, maybe, but I’m not sure. I have such a fantastic board, so [former CEO] Zarik Megerdichian, you know, I look at him as the godfather of this industry of trade printing, and he is just so open and warm and sharing. And he’s technology-focused, so we speak the same language. When we have our discussions, it’s about operational efficiency, it’s about technology, it’s about putting the customer in the center and designing around the experience that we want to give them. And Zarik is such a great partner that even though it was a big risk for me to step [outside] of technology, a major portion of this business is technology, and I have such a great partner [in] Zarik.
Knowing what you do today about leading, what advice would you give to your past self?
SJ: Don’t assume anything in the future. You’ve got to plan for the unknown. Nobody would’ve known that we were going to hit this pandemic other than Bill Gates, perhaps. But other than that, don’t get comfortable with the status quo.
The other thing here is build out distributed teams. There’s always been a culture of “Geez, people need to be in the office, to see them and know that they’re working”; in high tech, that’s not the case, right? In high tech, where I come from, we’re used to having distributed teams. And so, building out your employee base where they can work from home or they can work in different cities—one, it creates better employee morale, and two, it builds resiliency in business continuity planning and to the business should there be something like a pandemic or some type of natural disaster. It’s key to really double down on those efforts to make sure that whatever comes our way next, the team is ready and prepared for that and it’s not disruptive to them or to the business or to our customers.
What is the greatest lesson that 2020 has taught you?
SJ: It’s really focusing on resiliency, focusing on your team and just being ready to, you know—maybe the only thing I can add to that is building a culture that is ready to be nimble and ready to pivot, and celebrating that capability across the team, and training and enabling that capability.
How are you decompressing during these unprecedented times?
SJ: I’m an early morning person. I wake up at 4:30 a.m. or 5 a.m. every morning. I like to read a ton and be ahead of operations opening up. Obviously, we have our east coast operations, so I get to actually communicate with the East and start following the time zones back.
But when I’m not working and learning and helping the employees in the organization, you know, I have a fantastic wife and two twin boys that are 9 years old, and a 15-year-old dog that we love dearly (he’s our first son). We actually live in San Diego and in Lake Tahoe, so I travel quite a bit to Glendale—that’s where I’m working out of—but we get the best of both worlds. We get the beach and the sun and the great weather on one hand, and we get the mountains and skiing and great family time in Lake Tahoe. And so, really, spending time with family and watching the kids grow and helping them become great human beings and citizens of the world.
Is there anything you would like to add to give our readers a better sense of your business approach and the industry at large?
SJ: The multitrillion-dollar question is when will the pandemic be over? What will the impact be to the market and the economy? And, nobody knows, right? We can all guess. But, it will get better and it will return. Is that 12 months? Is that 24 months? Nobody really knows. But when it does, the key is helping your employees, focusing on your customers, pivot and survive, and position, just as we’re positioning 4over to be bigger, stronger and better, [we’re] helping our customers do that. I would just say as heavy as times may seem, be optimistic. Look for opportunities. Things are going to get better. Things are going to change. We’re already starting to see it in our numbers, which we think are representative obviously to our customers, but hopefully to [the] market in whole and the economy in whole. We’re very optimistic for the future. We’re very optimistic for the future of the market. We’re very optimistic for the future of the economy and the country, and our global economy as well.
View the full 2020 Top 50 Suppliers list here.
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