Jason Gillam: A Recipe For Success
If not for a high school scheduling bottleneck, Jason Gillam, director of Business Operations at Blue Valley Schools in Overland Park, Kan., could have easily had a career plating gourmet meals instead of printing presses.
As a high school student in Indiana, Gillam had aspirations of pursuing a career in the culinary arts. He recalls getting a call one summer from a guidance counselor, informing him that all the culinary arts classes were full for the following school year.
Scrambling to cook up a solution, the counselor suggested Gillam take an introduction to graphic arts class giving him his first taste of the printing industry.
The experience left him feeling creatively satisfied, as he learned the processes and vernacular of the graphic arts industry. He recalls it was still a very manual process, as he worked with dark room cameras, pasted up type and performed color separations by hand.
“I learned a lot of skills and got to be part of the manufacturing process, while learning problem-solving skills like getting jobs completed efficiently and on a deadline,” he notes. “I just enjoyed all of that.”
Gillam was also given an opportunity to earn extra cash by working in the school district’s in-plant during vacation breaks and in a local print shop, Ink Spot.
His printing teacher Bob Engerski and Ink Spot’s owner Dan McClellan were mentors that guided Gillam further into the industryOver the years, Gillam has worked in every aspect of the industry: in printing sales for a quick printer in Arizona; as a customer service manager for a local family-owned print shop; as a print buyer and production manager for Media South/TVA; and as assistant director of Printing Services for the University of Kansas.
“With my work and education history, I have seen a 360-degree view of the printing industry,” he contends. “And that was important because it provided a foundation for me as a manager. It gave me a sense of what is out there and what is possible. I knew about customer expectations and how to provide exceptional service.”
Gillam has been employed by Blue Valley Schools for a decade. He served as Printing Services coordinator for the first 18 months, before transitioning into an assistant director of Business Operations role. In July, he was promoted to director of Business Operations, and now oversees several business units, including printing, purchasing and contracts.
Finding Ways to Add Value
“It was a really good print shop when I got here, but everything was done manually,” Gillam says, noting that the eight-employee in-plant was handling about 10,000 orders per year. “So we were kind of limited on how we could grow and expand services. I knew that we were not going to be able to add to the staff, so we had to find ways to add value to the organization.”
At the time, the school district was implementing a strategic plan focused on student achievement. So Gillam was challenged to align the in-plant with this focus by producing more jobs with the same amount of staff.
“We were already working hard; we needed to work smarter,” he says. “We put together a plan that allowed teachers to spend more time in the classroom, and less time at copiers.”
Today, the average job the in-plant handles is about 300 impressions. In the month of August, the shop averaged more than 1,000 orders each work day. Gillam anticipates the in-plant will process 140,000 jobs this year with the same amount of staff.
“The success we have at Blue Valley Schools is not just because of me, it takes a great team effort,” Gillam maintains. “I am a facilitator and a cheerleader, and I set the vision, but I also get great input and feedback and work closely with the staff. As complex as our workflow is, it takes a team to look at programming to see how we best can produce the work.”
About 70 percent of the work the shop does is totally automated. Often, the first time an operator touches a job is when it comes off the end of the machine, thanks to a digital workflow and online ordering capabilities. The in-plant uses Rochester Software Associates’ WebCRD Web-to-print system.
The shop is home to a Kodak Digimaster HD300 with an in-line punch and booklet maker, three Ricoh Pro 8120s, a Xerox iGen3 110, a Ricoh Pro C751 and a pair of two-color Ryobi offset presses. The in-plant also recently added a Xanté Impressia digital envelope press.
Gillam points out that he works closely with software and press vendors, and is part of the customer advisory board for Rochester Software Associates. He is a strong proponent of in-plant managers building partnerships with manufacturers.
“We talk directly to EFI, Kodak and Ricoh about our processes and their equipment,” he notes. “We want feedback from their product managers. We understand technology really well, and we want to leverage that knowledge to its fullest ability. We want to know what is next in a proactive way, not a reactive way.”
Gillam is also a believer in marketing the shop to its client base. He never wants customers to feel they need to look outside the organization to fulfill their printing needs.
“We make sure that our clients know we can do QRL codes and complex variable data with images, and anything that they may want, including custom books from our online web submission tool,” Gillam concludes. “We don’t ever want the perception to be that we cannot do something in-house.”