Executive Perspectives: Bill English, president of Superior Business Solutions
As part of Print+Promo’s ongoing feature, Executive Perspectives, we get to know leading professionals in the print and promotional industry. This month, we interviewed William (Bill) English, president of Superior Business Solutions, Kalamazoo, Mich. Here, he discusses how to attract young talent, what he does to keep clients happy and why flexible thinking matters.
How did you first get started in this industry, and what path did you take to land in your current role?
William English: Superior Business Solutions is a third-generation family business. I worked part time in various roles (warehouse, CSR, sales) during high school and college, and said I would never work in the business. Never say “never.” After graduating [with a degree] in packaging engineering, I had an unsuccessful winter in the ski industry in Utah (no snow). I heard from my uncle that he wanted me to give sales a try at Superior’s main office before going on to whatever I saw as next. Being a small family business at the time, [it gave me] more opportunity for experience than I would have working elsewhere. I was given an additional task of implementing computers in the business. Through that process, I really learned the nuts and bolts of the back office of the business. Over time, both my sales role and the back-office roles expanded to the point where we needed to pick one or the other as a full-time role. I chose to take on the role of our first full-time executive. I am certainly still involved in sales, along with M&A activity, technology evaluation and implementations and operations.
How do you set goals for yourself? For your business?
WE: We try to sell all of the leading-edge products and services, along with the usual printing, promo and labeling. So, we are always evaluating what will work best for our clients. Basically, if something will drive profit for our customers, through top-line growth or savings, we want to be all about it. We have pretty much let our customers drive our planning.
How does the economy continue to affect the industry?
WE: In our experience, the promotional and marketing space is certainly more volatile than our former core product of business forms and labels. That being said, these markets hold far more opportunity, and we have grown because of these markets, in addition to our commodity print and label management.
What do you expect to be some of the biggest challenges the industry will face?
WE: Hiring folks who want to work and making a print-related career “cool” again [will be some of the biggest challenges]. We have been working to lower the average age of our workforce, but it has not been easy to do. We have come up with new pay plans that appeal to younger people, offering the stability of a salary and unlimited pay potential of commissioned sales. If you are going to be a success in this industry, we want to be the place where you want to work.
What keeps you up at night?
WE: Really, not much. Technologies have changed many times since our company started in 1924. Our business model has proven to be adaptable and the most stable for our clients for over 90 years.
What do you think is the most exciting, cutting-edge thing your company is doing right now? Why?
WE: We are working on a minority-owned business joint venture. We have several large clients that are telling us that this would definitely “move the needle” on some business we have been competing for. Also, we have been measuring customer satisfaction with annual NPS surveys. This is a common method for measuring customer satisfaction, but it is uncommon in the print and promo space. Our company has been named “Best of Print and Digital” three years in a row. As a part of consistently servicing clients, we are also ISO 9001:2015 certified. I don’t know of another print/promo distributor that does that.
What would people be surprised to learn about you—hobbies, special interests, etc.?
WE: I’m a competitive sailor [and] lifelong snow skier, and I enjoy fly fishing.