Michelle Yun is no stranger to challenge or adjustment.
As a teen she played soccer and worked part-time at McDonald’s, often doing homework into the wee hours of the morning to maintain her status as an honor student. As a junior in high school she spent 13 months in Argentina as a Rotary International youth exchange student, where she immersed herself in the society, learning the language and culture.
But her biggest adjustment was uprooting her life in Nashville last year to take the helm of Tucker Printers Inc., immediately making drastic-albeit necessary-changes in the way the company operated, looked and carried itself among competitors and clients.
"I was 29 when I came here, very young, and a woman on top of that. And this is a very male-dominated industry, and most presidents, especially in this area, are all men, with very few exceptions, and they’re all in their 50s or older," Yun says.
It was, understandably, not an easy ride for some of the company’s 49 employees, says the 30-year-old company president. But getting employees on board did not take long.
"I think they saw how passionate I was and how much I really just wanted the company to move forward and be successful," Yun recalls.
Indeed, until recently Tucker Printers had been a roughly $10 million-a-year commercial printer; with its fiscal year ended in March, Yun reports revenues of $12.6 million for 2013. The company consistently ranks among the top 10 on the Rochester Business Journal’s annual list of commercial printers.
"We’ve had some significant growth this year," Yun says.
Tucker Printers was founded in 1960 as a small commercial printer. For many years Eastman Kodak Co. was its largest customer, and much of the printer’s business involved the photo giant, Yun says. With Kodak’s decline, Tucker Printers suffered.
In 1997 the company was purchased by Consolidated Graphics Inc., a Houston-based national printing group that has grown to include some 70 commercial printers under its umbrella.
"We went from being a small, privately owned local business to part of a corporation," Yun says. "That didn’t change our name; that didn’t change our staff. The only thing that changed is it gave us a stronger financial background to enable us to invest in equipment."
Yun arrived at Tucker Printers last year, young but not as green as one might think.
While attending Clemson University in her home state of South Carolina, she had interviewed with anyone who might be interested in hiring a marketing major. She knew little about the commercial printing industry but had heard that Consolidated Graphics had programs for recent college graduates to accelerate their careers.
"I’d never thought about printing. No one ever thinks, ‘How does ink get on paper? How is a book put together?’" Yun says. "I just wanted the best job in something that I thought I’d be good at, that I could be at long term, where I could see myself growing with the company."
At 21, she was hired to the company’s leadership development program, moving to Nashville, where she would learn the ins and outs of commercial printing from another woman, Jeana Agee, her mentor and president of Courier Printing.
"She was one of the first graduates of the leadership development program who moved into a president position. That amazed me," Yun recalls. "I could see myself growing with the company, and the idea of possibly making it into an upper management position at a very young age intrigued me."
Yun already knew the importance of hard work from her stint at McDonald’s, learning to balance work with her schedule of high school classes and extracurricular activities.
"I’ve always been very ambitious, a very driven person, and juggled it," she says. "That exposed me to a lot of different people, a lot of different lifestyles. But it also taught me to juggle a lot of different responsibilities and time management and really appreciate what you have."
Yun threw herself into learning the printing business, using the skills she had acquired in high school and in Argentina to climb the ladder quickly.
When she was offered the position at Tucker Printers, everything told her to jump at the opportunity, though she acknowledges it was the scariest decision she has ever made.
"My husband had a great job in Nashville. I loved the company I was working for. We loved the city of Nashville. We had a huge network of friends. We had a home we’d been living in for five years," Yun says. "But everything happens for a reason."
The couple’s home sold in less than a month, and after her husband took a short time off work to sell the house, he found a job here in two weeks.
"It was like the stars aligned," Yun says with a laugh.
As a commercial printer, Tucker Printers offers numerous services, including smaller-run business cards, catalogs and brochures, custom cartons and presentation boxes. When the company began to feel the pinch of consolidation in the industry-and the end of an era with Kodak-Tucker Printers increased its presence among packagers.
Packaging accounts for some 40 percent of the company’s business.
Despite a healthy balance sheet, Yun knew the company had more to offer.
"When I got here, for the first three months it was really just throwing myself into the business, finding out where the kinks were and who was the right fit for what position, and really just getting to know the company, the challenges and the people," she says.
Each day she found herself asking: Is this person the right person for this role, or would he or she be better in a different position?
"Early on it was looking at how we’re producing things, looking at production and our operations and constantly asking myself, ‘Is this the best way to do this?’" Yun says. "So for the first six months I questioned everything and really challenged everyone to make sure and second-guess decisions they’d been making for a long time, and we definitely found out that we weren’t doing everything the right way."
Tucker Printers has experienced some cost savings as a result of internal changes she implemented, Yun says.
In addition to cross training, moving people to other roles within the company and making changes in the way the company operates, Yun went to work on changing the company’s dated image and logo.
"We had a super–old logo. It spoke to printing in the 20th century, not the 21st century. It didn’t speak of a technology-oriented company," she explains. "Our website was made when the Internet first started and was never really revisited. When you went to the website, you didn’t want to work for this company. I don’t want (prospective associates) doing a 180 when they go to our website."
Tucker Printers also is completely renovating its offices on Middle Road in Henrietta. Finishing the remodel is among her short-term goals for the company; growth is another.
"And growing the leadership development program that I’m a product of," she says of company goals. "We of course have embraced that here, and I currently have five associates (in the program)."
Its people make the company successful, and employees are immersed in the process of earning ISO certification, a goal Yun expects to complete this year.
"I think we’ve got a great team. I think we’ve got a lot of tenured employees, both in the front office and the shop," she explains. "And I think our employees come in every day and want to do a good job. Everybody is very quality-oriented."
Controller Deno Sfikas also attributes the firm’s success to its employees. Plant manager Anthony Antinetto adds that it also is a result of continuous improvement and technological advances in printing equipment.
That is what helped the company make it through the recession, Sfikas and Antinetto say.
"Basically (we) concentrated on our core business, providing high-quality work, exceptional customer service at a reasonable price," Sfikas says.
Adds Antinetto: "Managing our labor costs, making adjustments in production when we didn’t have a lot of work or we were slow. Pricing aggressively to try to win work. With a recession, everyone is dropping prices to try to win work, and you have to stay competitive or you’re not going to get the work."
Yun’s biggest challenge in the industry is complacency.
"You always have to be moving on and looking at the next thing and working on something else. You have to constantly be really involved in your company," she says. "I’m involved in sales. I’m also involved in our financials and accounting. I’m extremely involved in where the money is going, who’s paying on time, which customers are late. I think the challenge is to be involved in everything."
Leadership and vision
Yun’s background and leadership style lend themselves well to Tucker Printers, Sfikas says. She lays out expectations and follows through on them.
"Sometimes she takes a hands-off approach, sometimes she’s fully involved," Sfikas explains. "But she knows exactly what everybody needs to do and has assembled the great management team we have."
Antinetto calls Yun sharp and says she has a great deal of ability in each of the departments.
"I think she has a great vision about where she wants the company to go," Antinetto says. "She leads every day to get us to the point we need to be."
Long-time friend and former co-worker Hef Matthews calls Yun’s management style one of leadership by example.
"She’s firm but fair, and she’s going to stand behind her decisions and not waver in the midst of adversity," Matthews says. "At the same time Michelle is highly moral, empathetic and an honest person, and she’s willing to show that side of her to her co-workers."
Matthews, president of CP Solutions, a Consolidated Graphics company in Tulsa, Okla., met Yun in 2005 while she was working in Nashville. He calls her driven and confident.
"She is not going to let anyone get in the way of accomplishing her goals," he adds. "She’s a person that cares deeply about the work she does and the people that she’s working with. I think if she had started in a completely different industry outside of printing she would probably still be a president."
Yun calls her ethics and drive her strengths and says her weakness is that, like many in similar positions, it can be hard to know that you are making the right decision all the time.
"So you have to kind of go with your gut sometimes," she says. "But I’ve been very fortunate in that I’ve made a lot of the right decisions since I’ve been here. But again, I ask a lot of other people’s opinions. I really respect all of their opinions."
Yun says the best part of her job is watching people grow in their positions and in their knowledge of the company and the industry.
"I love watching them learn and go from green and right out of school and knowing nothing about business to really understanding how decisions are made, why they’re made, how we make money and finding a fit for themselves," she says.
Despite minor glitches here and there-Yun describes not meeting customers’ expectations as the thing that makes her wants to pull her hair out-she says what keeps her grounded is she has 49 people who depend on her and the decisions she makes for their livelihood.
"It’s a big responsibility. If I slack off or get lazy or don’t put the same amount of time and energy into the company and the company suffers, my employees suffer," she says. "I care about everybody that works here, and I want them to do well and thrive and be happy at work and at home."
Yun’s advice to others in her position or in the process of climbing the corporate ladder is to work hard and be humble.
"I think so many people right out of school feel like they’re entitled to a specific position with a nice desk with their diploma behind them, making $40,000, $50,000 or $60,000 a year. Maybe that was the case 10 or 15 years ago, but in the economy now that’s just not the case," she says. "I want an employee that’s going to come in here and be ambitious and work hard and be moldable.
She advises others to avoid being cocky and hold onto their humility.
"You need to be able to work with everybody, and you need to be able to learn from everybody, and you need to be able to gain everyone’s respect if you want to lead them one day," Yun says.
Yun and her husband, Michael, live in Fairport with their dog, Bella. The couple is expecting their first child in September.
Some of her happiest childhood memories are of fishing on the river at her grandparents’ house outside Charleston, S.C., learning how to crab and shrimp.
While not active with Rotary International now, Yun hopes to get involved with the organization soon. A self-described bookworm, she is the first person on her father’s side of the family to graduate from college.
"My parents never told me, ‘You’re going to go to college? never set that expectation for me," she says.
Yun also enjoys painting and is decorating her baby’s room with her own paintings of cartoon animals. It is not something she ever expected to happen, she acknowledges. She grew up contending she would never get married or have children.
"When I was 5 or 6 years old, all I said was I wanted to be a doctor. Then when I was in high school I said I was never going to get married, never going to have kids. I was going to be successful," Yun recalls.
She was under the impression that women could not have a career or be successful if they had children, she says.
"Then I moved to Nashville, met my husband, and he changed my mind about that," she says with a smile.
Title: President, Tucker Printers Inc.
Education: B.S., marketing, 2004, Clemson University, S.C.
Family: Husband Michael; dog Bella
Hobbies: Reading, painting
Quote: "I think we’ve got a great team. I think we’ve got a lot of tenured employees, both in the front office and the shop. And I think our employees come in every day and want to do a good job. Everybody is very quality- oriented."