Fortitude – A Story of Leadership Within Print

The strength to bear misfortune, pain. calmly and patiently; firm with courage.”

Being part of a team running a business during a pandemic is “challenging” to say the least, and within the print industry – where we manufacture our products from their raw elements – I believe it far extends beyond this with even greater pitfalls.

Make no doubt, as we all are only too aware; times are tough within our sector currently.  However, we can bear witness to great fortitude all around us as some battle to turn things around. It is simply not in our nature to sit back and just give up – we must look for ways to adapt and turn the situation around us into a stable one, while we gather our wits to either wait it out or turn this catastrophe into a new form of positive momentum and growth for our businesses.

As the lauded US lawyer and civil rights defender Louis Nizer said: “I know of no higher fortitude than stubbornness in the face of overwhelming odds.

This was the situation facing thousands of businesses in the UK print industry on March 16th, 2020 – as we were all stunned at the changes taking place all around us at a rapid pace. Indeed, as we went into lockdown here in the UK, most of us had just suddenly lost our connection to our source of revenue, our customers.

Digging deep

While we were allowed a period of ‘shock and disbelief’, many of us had to rethink how we could sustain our position in business and retain valued staff and honour commitments.

Fortunately, here in the UK, our Government acted decisively and rapidly for business and launched the ‘Furlough Scheme’, which allowed valuable time to accept our shock and make plans to stabilise our operations.

This was not the norm around the world, and many within our great industry struggled more than we can imagine – some having to sadly close their doors for a last time.

Talking to many printers, most just kept going – although some took some time off believing it the right thing to do. There was no script, people did what they thought was best at the time, making hard decision as they went. Some, reflected on their business and how they could adapt it to cater for a seismic shift within the market – showing great fortitude and true leadership at a time of crisis.

We see over the course of human history the ability for communities, led by inspired individuals, to overcome seemingly insurmountable disaster. This was certainly the case for US founding father Samuel Adams, who wrote of his experience in rebuilding a nation shattered by war: “The necessity of the times, more than ever, calls for our utmost circumspection, deliberation, fortitude, and perseverance.

Staring down adversity

Over the last year we have seen this type of fortitude in abundance, with PSPs such as Route1 Print, Precision Print, Prime Group, Data Image and Prosign, to name but a few, adapt to accommodate much needed PPE and related signage.

Apogee are another case in point, as it implemented an online service to “catch” print jobs needed during the pandemic with their OneSource solution. Bracknell Print, B&B Press, Mayfield Press, The Best Print and Nutshell Creative Market are also key examples of companies that identified a need to change and looked towards automation or the provision of a valued service to provide a sustainable future for their business and/or those around them.

I believe the leadership of these companies showed great fortitude – most likely more than they can know themselves – as they also inspired others to keep going through their example.

Let us be clear, if your business is standing still – yet holding its own waiting for what the future holds right now – you are winning and by default have great fortitude.

The short-term future remains unknown, yet I truly believe the long-term future will be a positive one, albeit not on a timeline we can appreciate. But we cannot wait for things to just get better, we need to review what we are doing now and make decisions – sometimes tough ones – to ensure our stability.

We do not however have to make these decisions alone, even if you are a micro-business, as this pandemic has shown help is out there in abundance and that their remains an instinctive human willingness to help others.

As a Council Member and Subcommittee Chair of the IPIA trade association, I see this almost daily through our community messaging app Guild or on LinkedIn. I truly hope people find no stigma in reaching out for help – as we are all in this together.

Best food froward

There are some positives, never before has there been so many customers looking for new ways to communicate – nor has there been such an array of channels to do so – and critically print has risen sharply up the agenda for many looking to cut through the digital noise.

We need to focus on this and really educate our customer base, and potential customers, about just how good physical print is over digital communication to get their message across.

We just must work differently, embracing new ways to overcome old and new challenges – understanding we have overcome the hardest part of all this. With the shock now subsided, we must rebuild with that same fortitude we have most likely unknowingly shown, while we attempted to just survive and keep going.

A ‘bounce back’ will come, things will greatly improve, and we will be better from the skills we have fine-tuned during this pandemic. At Vpress we have never been so focused, so determined, and dare I say so confident, that the path we are on is the right one to supporting our company motto – ‘partnering our customers to success’.

As leaders we do not always get it right first time and for that we offer apology and assurance that we will learn from it to allow us to move forward and improve. We are two decades into our journey and still loving it with an excitement at what the future brings, as the ability to help someone else within their challenges improves us and in turn how we face our own challenges. We know what we do is just part of the mix, but a very important one of client engagement for both new and existing customers.

Confidence is key

There is no need to lack in confidence in offering leadership; as to get here has shown great fortitude, wherever we are and in whatever we do. We must now though find new ways to keep going and maintain the line, reaching out when needing to do so.

Success or failure is not a measure of who we are or how good we are at doing it in these uncertain times, but I will tell you what is – the ability to pick ourselves up in the face of such sheer adversity as leaders, to keep going and be open minded for new ways to carry out old tasks for the greater good of our business and staff.

Self-belief is critical, but so is being open to getting an unexpected nudge from a colleague, partner or even stranger to keep us on a true path that supports the direction we take. To get ‘here’ we have all shown fortitude in some way, I am certain of it, what we must now do is ‘keep calm and carry on’. Perhaps one of the most poignant takes on this mission comes from British national treasurer Rudyard Kipling, whose beautiful poem ‘If’ I will leave you with in the knowledge its last line is meant to embrace all universally:

 

If you can keep your head when all about you

Are losing theirs and blaming it on you,

If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,

But make allowance for their doubting too;

If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,

Or being lied about, don’t deal in lies,

Or being hated, don’t give way to hating,

And yet don’t look too good, nor talk too wise:

 

If you can dream—and not make dreams your master;

If you can think—and not make thoughts your aim;

If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster

And treat those two impostors just the same;

If you can bear to hear the truth you’ve spoken

Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools,

Or watch the things you gave your life to, broken,

And stoop and build ’em up with worn-out tools:

 

If you can make one heap of all your winnings

And risk it on one turn of pitch-and-toss,

And lose, and start again at your beginnings

And never breathe a word about your loss;

If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew

To serve your turn long after they are gone,

And so hold on when there is nothing in you

Except the Will which says to them: ‘Hold on!’

 

If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,

Or walk with Kings—nor lose the common touch,

If neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you,

If all men count with you, but none too much;

If you can fill the unforgiving minute

With sixty seconds’ worth of distance run,

Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it,

And—which is more—you’ll be a Man, my son!

 

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