26 Nov ‘The Congress 2021: in the spirit of progress’ – VIGC (Nov ’21)
Fast innovating in print
The theme Fast Forward in Print already gave it away: the print shop of the future is looking ahead and moving fast with innovation. People, automation and sustainability were the recurring topics during The Congress, with innovation as the connecting factor.
For The Congress 2021, almost 200 visitors travelled to Mechelen, where, for the first time in a long time, they could physically attend a programme full of inspiring speakers. After the introduction by VIGC director Jos Steutelings, trend analyst and change psychologist Herman Konings bit the bullet. “For me, it is not about predicting, but about imagining the future,” he said. Konings outlined the circumstances that make it plausible that print and analogue products will continue to have a healthy market in the future.
Identity, openness and authenticity are important for the younger generations. Only the very young are involved with bits and bytes from the start and may have less affinity with the printed product. For everyone else, books, record sleeves and other paper and cardboard products are instead a sign of authenticity. Markers are mainly bought by people in their twenties and thirties, Konings said. At the same time, confidence in the big tech companies, so unwavering, is actually declining. The battle between digital and analogue is far from over.
Herman Konings’ presentation on the expectations of new generations was a nice prelude to the conversation between presenter Francesca Vanthielen and Thijs Claes, CEO of Daddy Kate. The graphics sector may be a high-tech industry with a growing interest in automation, but in the end it is all still human work. When Thijs Claes decided to succeed his father as CEO of Daddy Kate, he quickly came to the conclusion that employees could make the difference in the printing business. He started in 2009 at a time when the printing industry was under severe pressure, due to the global credit crisis. “Many companies said: we are happy with your service, but we have to make savings, so next year it will be 30 per cent less. I saw that nobody in our company knew how to handle this situation.”
Together with his team, Claes reflected on his company’s repositioning and strategy. “With over 30 people, we were too small to be among the big ones and too big to be among the small ones. We opted for growth and made a number of acquisitions.”
Today, Daddy Kate has around 100 employees and a healthy turnover. Claes featured in newspaper De Tijd in 2020, saying, “It’s not my job to motivate people.” That included an explanation, he told The Congress: “That statement continues to haunt me. I stand by it, but it is half the quote. The second half reads: my job in the company is to remove things that demotivate people. People need to be intrinsically motivated.”
Claes does this by having decisions taken as low down in the organisation as possible. That way, his employees don’t have to wait for signatures from colleagues. “It’s mainly abolishing rules. If you ask why such a rule is there, the answer is usually: because it has always been that way. My father used to check every post-calculation, while there are many people working in the company who are quite capable of carrying that responsibility themselves. If you don’t give them that responsibility, you can’t expect them to behave in a mature way either.”
Giving people responsibility grows trust in employees, Claes says. “When certain information is reserved only for a certain employee, it gives him power. That was certainly true for middle management. That power disappeared in the new situation. There were people who found that difficult to deal with. That was the most difficult step in the whole process.”
His father was initially sceptical about the new corporate culture Claes was implementing. Nevertheless, Claes assumes his father is proud of him: “I think so. The results speak for themselves.”