GRAND RAPIDS — Swift Printing Co., a mainstay along Bridge Street on Grand Rapids’ west side for seven decades, has transitioned to a third generation of ownership.
Jessica Gutowski-Slaydon recently became part of the commercial printer’s ownership team, succeeding her father Walt Gutowksi Jr. He had taken over the business in the 1980s from his parents, Walter Sr. and Lorraine Gutowski, who started Swift Printing in 1950. Gutowski-Slaydon, who went to work at Swift Printing in 2014 after returning to Grand Rapids, talked with MiBiz about the leadership transition of the family- and woman-owned business as well as staying focused as the printing industry encounters the Digital Age.
How long was the transition in the planning stages?
It’s kind of always been my end goal. I went to Florida Southern College (in Lakeland, Fla.) and out of school ended up working for a couple of other small businesses, and the more I was there I wanted to come back to Michigan. I just had to convince my spouse, and I started working back here again in 2014 and it’s kind of just been a slow training process.
You grew up in the family business. What was your first job there?
When I was a kid I had to wash the production sink and sweep the floors.
Did you always have an interest in taking over the business?
I was just one of those things that naturally kind of happened. It wasn’t something that necessarily I always knew for sure I was going to do, but the team here at Swift is just a dream to work with. When you get to work with awesome people that love what they do, your day-to-day is so much fun and exciting. It was something that really inspired me to want to keep pushing forward.
How do you sustain a printing business in the Digital Age where over the last two decades so much promotion and advertising has gone to a digital format?
In my opinion, print has become so ubiquitous. We don’t even realize it because it’s everywhere. You have your street signs customized, you have flags outside that are personalized, and something’s coming to your house with your name on it. I think printing is just ever evolving. If you were a big printer for phone books and you stuck to printing phone books, it didn’t work out for you. We are always paying attention to what’s going on and adapting, and that’s the fun part of it.
We love working with our local community partners, especially nonprofits, because we really love what we do and we like to work with people who are really passionate about what they do, and being able to make their work shine as best as possible is really rewarding to me. Some of my favorite things are printing my neighbor’s menus and delivering the menus and having lunch there.
It feels really good to print for the local community. If someone asks, we figure out how to do it, and that’s what we’re going to do forever.
What advice were you given as you prepared for the transition?
The main advice is production is always correct. If there’s a problem that you need to work on, start with the communication with your customers and always do what you love all of the time, and being passionate and caring about something, and never let never the ego get the best of you.
After going through the process at Swift Printing, what’s your advice for a small, family-owned business that’s approaching a leadership transition from one generation to the next?
From my perspective, just remember you’re both on the same team and at the end of the day you want the same thing for the business to thrive and continue on. You think that because you’re family that communication would be easier, but lots of times it’s harder, and having a lot of patience and asking questions instead of assuming what the other person wants is good life advice for all of us.