Bill King: Learning from Experience
As supervisor of the printing and publishing department of the largest school district in Arizona, Bill King believes in communication, responsiveness and an unwavering commitment to quality work. His style helped earn the shop a 99-percent customer satisfaction rating last year. But King doesn’t point to these survey results, or number of impressions (32 million), or number of customers (75,000 faculty, staff and students), or budget ($1 million) as proof of the in-plant’s strength. He points to the relationships he has with his team, and the way they work together.
“Printing isn’t one of those situations where you’ve got 15 people doing the same job side by side,” says King. “Every job is an important piece of the whole process, and every person’s job affects the next person.”
As a manager, King says one of his most important responsibilities is orchestrating hand-offs and coordination as work moves through his shop. Along the way, a job will get passed from the shop’s print specialist to the two designers in prepress, then to the three pressmen, then on to the two full-time and one part-time bindery operators who double as drivers.
“I look at it as ‘How’s each person going to handle this job, and how can that person make it easier for the next person?’” he says.
After 14 years at the helm of the in-plant, King says he’s learned that building camaraderie and trust on the team is what keeps the operation humming. He hosts staff meetings on a regular basis, encourages everyone to become experts in the overall printing industry, and takes an active and supporting interest in the personal and professional goals of each employee.
A Family Business
Decades of printing experience and natural leadership ability can make it seem like this is a role King was destined to have. It hasn’t always been so clear, though.
The story of his career in printing begins with his grandfather, who founded King & Sons Printing Co., in Detroit, after World War II.
The shop thrived in the Motor City’s boom years, and as a teenager young William King worked there, under his father, as an apprentice pressman in the family business. King & Sons was a letterpress and offset shop, and the skills he learned working with the operation’s Multigraphics presses became the foundation of his career.
As he approached adulthood, the family expected him to take over the shop from his grandfather. But King says that back then he didn’t think he had what it takes to run a print operation. At the same time, the Detroit auto industry was beginning its long decline, which hurt the shop’s prospects.
King left the family business in his grandfather’s hands, took off for Los Angeles to work in a friend’s construction business, and thought he had left printing behind. He was back home after a month, though, and went on to run King & Sons for two years before finally shutting it down.
“I had the dubious distinction of closing a business that was open for 40 years,” King laments.
He says he wandered for a few years, and when his father retired and moved to Phoenix, King decided to make that city his home, too. On the strength of his printing experience, he picked up a gig with a large hardware and lumber company, O’Malley’s, handling big catalog jobs for the company’s in-plant.
Restless, King changed direction, joining the Phoenix office of the Arizona Opportunities Industrialization Center (OIC). There, he worked as an instructor teaching the craft and profession of printing to teens and young adults looking for help finding jobs and developing professional skills.
“That’s the job that taught me what it means to be resilient,” says King. “So many of those students had never been told they were worthy of anything. They weren’t going to be OK unless they learned how to make themselves OK.”
The experience made him focus on finding his own path, and the one he chose was printing.
King took a step back, choosing to earn less money in order to gain experience in state government work, and found a pressman job with the Arizona Motor Vehicle Department. The choice paid off. He accepted his first supervisory role a few years later with the Department of Emergency Services and Military Affairs, which led to a breakthrough role as manager of what was then Phoenix Job Corps’ brand new in-plant. He worked there for another eight years before taking the job with Mesa Public Schools.
In many ways, King’s post at Mesa is a homecoming. The path he left behind in Detroit was waiting for him in Arizona, and the role he once thought would overmatch him is the one where he now excels.
A piece of advice King often gives his staff at Mesa is “stick to your roots.” What he usually means is, “Don’t strain the slick new digital printer when the older offset press is the right tool for the job.” On another level, though, he’s asking them to trust their experience, and to value their own knowledge, even though it’s familiar.
Related story: Elevating Mesa