Jeff Dunphy, president/CEO of Design Label Manufacturing, is honored as packagePRINTING‘s 2013 TLMI Converter of the Year.
by Tom Polischuk, Editor in Chief, packagePRINTING
It’s real easy to see why TLMI is such a successful organization—it’s simply stacked with strong, principled business leaders, who happen to be really good people. This fact is what makes the annual TLMI Converter of the Year award so special—there’s a seemingly endless reservoir of people who could merit this recognition.
The 2013 TLMI Converter of the Year honoree—Jeff Dunphy, president/CEO of Design Label Manufacturing—steps in easily to this long line of top industry leaders. Last year’s TLMI Converter of the Year Scott Pillsbury, president of Rose City Label, says Dunphy is one of his heroes in TLMI and a great choice for this award. “He is great example for other TLMI members, and shares his wisdom freely—inside and outside of TLMI.”
Frank Sablone, president of TLMI, notes an interesting milestone for TLMI with this year’s selection. “When Jeff takes over as TLMI chairman next year, it will be the first time that one family has had two members serve in that capacity.” Dunphy’s father, Paul, held the TLMI leadership position from 1985 to 1986.
Dunphy got an early view of the tag and label industry when his father left his job at IBM to buy a small printing company in 1977. Dunphy was just eight years old; so “I think it’s safe to say I grew up in the company,” he says. He did odd jobs starting at about age 10, which included cleaning the office and later worked summers in the pressroom running rewinders and doing various other jobs. Even then however, he didn’t see the printing industry as his calling. “At that time I really never saw it as something I was going to do for many years; I just saw it as a way to make some extra spending money.”
With his sights set on a career in finance, he earned an undergraduate degree in economics from Salve Regina University in Newport, R.I. For a short period of time he worked as a runner for a private trader on the commodities exchange in New York, but quickly discovered that it was not something he wanted to do. Although he had not planned on working in the family business, Dunphy joined Design Label in 1991 as a sales rep. He was promoted to sales manager in 1995 and then became president in 1999.
This was a very busy time as he decided to pursue an MBA by attending night school at the University of New Haven. He looks back on this period with pride, knowing the perseverance it took to earn his MBA while learning how to run a company at the same time. “It was not an easy thing to do,” he recalls.
Another source of pride came in 2002 when he and his sister were able to structure a deal to buy the company and allow his father to retire.
Although Dunphy didn’t at first recognize his calling in the printing business, his deep roots growing up in the industry were what won him over. “The thing that made me stay once I did start selling as a career was the uniqueness of the people in the industry,” he says. “I started going to the TLMI meetings with my family at a young age and the group of owners I would meet from all companies in the industry were real innovators and pioneers. The 80s were a real exciting time for flexo and the owners at the time were just as interesting.”
The company that Dunphy heads up today just passed a 50-year milestone. Although it added a second facility with the acquisition of Precision Graphics in 2010, it is still a small company that serves large companies. “I think it is probably unusual for a company of our size to have the processes, people, and knowledge in place to service companies as large as our customers are,” says Dunphy. “Our philosophy is to become an integral part of our customers’ organizations and I think we do an excellent job of that. We take pride in being a good steward to our customers and we understand that we are there to deliver value to them; success is only established when the relationship is win-win.”
The company is working to position itself as a one-stop shop for its customers and, as such, the Precision Graphics acquisition expanded its capability for cut labels and paperboard printing. This complements the existing flexo and digital printing capability performed in its Connecticut facility.
“Our main business focus is growing as a one-stop packaging shop, but we also do commercial printing,” says Dunphy. “We bring all the same expertise and experience to those products as we do to our packaging products. At the end of the day it’s all about giving ourselves multiple opportunities to speak to the same customer base. It definitely enhances our chances for growth to be able to sell a diverse range of products.”
Design Labels supplies its products to diverse markets including household chemicals, food and beverage, personal care, durable goods, nutraceuticals, and marketing and advertising specialties. “Each market presents its own set of challenges, but the biggest challenge across the board right now is the economy,” observes Dunphy. “Every company is interested in making their packaging dollar stretch as far as it can.”
With this being the case, Pillsbury would be one to say that Dunphy has done all the right things for his company. “Besides being a great guy and an excellent golfer, he is a very savvy businessman,” he says. “He knew early-on that he had to focus to succeed, and this included weeding out unprofitable customers that didn’t fit his vision of the future. He kept and concentrated on just a few very key customers and serviced them so well that they would never leave.”
This focus extended to the production side of the business as well. “Jeff is well respected as one of the very earliest and best adopters of Lean Manufacturing,” Pillsbury continues. “He wasn’t afraid to move machines, move people, and re-engineer whole departments to eliminate waiting and waste in the production line. He focused on standardizing his work and that really paid off for the business. He is still the best that I have seen in this area.”
With Design Label focussed and lean, Dunphy looks forward to leading his company into what he says is the interesting future of the tag and label industry in North America. “The challenges of sustainability and regulation will definitely be a main subject of concern and concentration for most converters and customers.” In addition the industry will continue down the path of technology innovation. “I think you’re going to see the evolution of digital presses on a very similar path that the original flexo presses did. What started as simple, single-technology machines evolved into complex multiple-platform presses that could do several things in one pass.”
TLMI: Three decades and counting
While Dunphy virtually grew up in his father’s print shop, he also had some early positive exposure to TLMI. Design Label has been a member of TLMI for about as long as the Dunphy’s have owned the company.
“I started going to the meetings as a kid,” he recalls. “My dad was president of the organization in the mid-80s and we usually got to go to at least one meeting per year.”
He started getting very involved with TLMI in 1999, about the same time he took over as president of Design Label and was hitting the books for his MBA. Dunphy has served on the TLMI Board of Directors since 2004, served as the Scholarship Committee Chairman for five years, and is the current TLMI Chairman Elect.
According to Pillsbury, “TLMI is another area where he shines. He carried the torch for the scholarship program for many years and has stayed on the Board forever, providing guidance and leadership with quiet wisdom and insight. He doesn’t talk the most in the Board meetings, but when he speaks it is something good, and everyone listens.”
For as much as he has given to TLMI, Dunphy is the first to acknowledge the benefits he and his company have gotten in return. “TLMI has been a terrific way to network with other company owners and suppliers. It’s definitely a unique industry where I think the camaraderie amongst competitors is pretty unique. We have collaborated with fellow printers many times to either run jobs we either couldn’t do or didn’t have the capacity to do at the time. It’s a really cool thing to be able to work with competitors on a handshake and not have to worry they are going to try and steal the business from you. I think it’s one of the things that makes TLMI special.”
Another thing that makes TLMI a special organization is its staff, led by Frank Sablone, says Dunphy. “The staff at TLMI is what really makes it go. They have a great team that really works hard for the membership and I’m sure they don’t get enough credit, but they are really the strength behind the organization.”
Away from the office, Dunphy stays active playing golf and playing basketball twice a week with a group of guys he has known for 20 years, and some going back to his childhood days. “We like to say our skills and ability are all declining at an identical rate, but a better group of guys you couldn’t find,” he says.
He and his wife Yoseni are raising two boys Gabriel, 10, and Nicklaus, 5. Dunphy is starting to enjoy hitting the links with the boys, who he says “seem to enjoy it more than me. Most days they are the ones dragging me to go hit balls.”
Dunphy grew up with a great role model, and now lists his dad as his most admired person. “He has always been a great mentor to me. He always allowed me to make my own mistakes, and has supported me in good times and bad. I still talk to him most weeks about some issue I am dealing with in the business and he is always willing to help.”
Dunphy says his favorite movie is “The Natural.” This is fitting as it seems natural that he is a leader in the tag and label industry, and even more natural that he is being honored as packagePRINTING’s 2013 TLMI Converter of the Year.
Originally published in the October 2013 issue of packagePRINTING.
|2012||Scott Pillsbury||Rose City Label Company|
|2011||Ken Kidd||WS Packaging Group|
|2010||John Hickey||Smyth Companies|
|2009||Dave McDowell||McDowell Label & Screen Printing|
|2008||Frank Gerace||Multi-Color Corporation|
|2007||John Pedroli||North America for CCL Label, Inc.|
|2006||Suzanne Zaccone and Bob Zaccone||Graphic Solutions International LLC|
|2005||Walter Dow||Dow Industries|
|2004||Michael Dowling||CL & D Graphics|
|2003||Tom Cobery||Aladdin Label|
|2001||John Bankson||Label Technology, Inc.|
|2000||Terry Fulwiler||Wisconsin Label|
|1999||Bruce Bell||Belmark Inc.|
|1998||The Buckley Family||Custom Tape and Label Company|
|1997||Andrew Beck||API Graphics|
|1996||Jerry Nerad||TimeMed Labeling Systems|
|1995||Joseph A. Weber||Weber Marking Systems Inc.|
|1993||John O’Brein||Porter Chadburn, Inc.|
|1992||George Noah||Lewis Label Products|
|1991||Dick Schwartz||Aladdin Label|
|1990||Pat Patrick||Label America|
|1989||Jim English||Kalamazoo Label|
|1988||Darrell Dochstader||Gar-Doc, Inc.|
|1987||Don McDaniel||MPI Label Systems|