Mike Lincoln: The Pull of Printing
Mike Lincoln’s in-plant career started at a very early age. He was just a high school freshman when his father — an art teacher at the Cherry Creek School District outside Denver — steered him toward a summer job at the district’s in-plant. He started in the bindery and felt an instant connection.
“I’ve always been mechanical,” says Lincoln. The printing and binding process, he says, “was fascinating to me, and it just is something that stuck.”
Despite a few detours in his subsequent career path, that fascination has stayed with him for the past four decades, paving a path that would lead him to the role of Colorado State Printer. Today, Lincoln oversees 50 full-time and seven temporary employees at Colorado’s Integrated Document Solutions (IDS) operation, which he has worked tirelessly to modernize over the past 16 years, transforming it into an award-winning, model operation. In 2015 It became the first government printing operation to install a production inkjet press.
Born in San Antonio, Texas, where his father was stationed as a medical illustrator for the Air Force, Lincoln moved first to Los Angeles as a child, and then to the Denver area in 1974. His part-time job at the in-plant blossomed into full-time employment after he graduated in 1983. (His manager at the time, Jon Bedsted, now runs Mayo Clinic’s in-plant.)
With about 11 employees, the in-plant used a variety of small duplicators. Lincoln became bindery manager, but also ran presses, worked in the dark room and handled customer service.
“I really honed what I know about printing,” he says.
At night he took courses at Aurora Community College, with his sights set on becoming an architectural engineer. And though he earned a certificate for architectural drafting, the pull of printing was too strong.
“Printing got a hold of me and did not let go,” he says.
When he wasn’t at the in-plant, Lincoln sold advertising for his dad’s new business, which exposed him to commercial printers. He started taking second shift jobs at those companies to bolster his resume.
“I had aspirations of doing bigger and better things,” he says.
Having married his wife Lori in 1990, with a son born three years later, Lincoln was itching to move beyond the in-plant, so in 1994 he finally took action. He accepted a production manager position at Richtman Printing. Six months later, he moved to a sales job at Signal Graphics. This exposed him to different equipment and processes, increasing his print knowledge.
After a short detour to try his hand at selling cars (“I’m a gear head at heart,” he admits), Lincoln moved to Master Magnetics, where he sold industrial magnets to clients like Ford Motor Co., General Motors and Teledyne. His daughter was born in 1996 and the next year he made a foray into the high-tech world, working for a telecom company called Critical Path.
When the tech bubble burst in 2001, Lincoln found himself jobless. He went back to selling printing for his father’s business, and later took at job at a plastics manufacturing company.
“And then I had a buddy tell me about this job at the state of Colorado for customer service,” he recalls.
In July of 2003, Lincoln started as customer service representative for the state’s Integrated Document Factory. He told the hiring team right from the start that he hoped to eventually run the operation. Seven months later his hope became reality when the manager retired and Lincoln was put in charge of the print and design center. He faced some major challenges.
“They were a few decades behind in technology and practice,” he acknowledges.
Equipped with five small offset presses and some Xerox DocuTechs, the in-plant had no job tracking system and displayed a level of apathy that inclined it to turn customers away when their requests were too difficult.
“That drove me nuts,” says Lincoln. “The shop really had a very poor reputation within the state of Colorado. We just weren’t seen as a place for answers.”
The first thing he did as the new manager was to add a Print MIS so the shop could track jobs and analyze production data. He replaced old collators with a new vacuum-fed collator/bookletmaker. And he shut down the dark room, contracting out for negatives and requiring press operators to strip them.
This was not popular among the shop’s veterans, and some of them opted to retire. But the ones who stayed and bought into Lincoln’s vision are the ones most responsible for the in-plant’s subsequent success, he says.
“I couldn’t have done any of that without employees that believed in my dreams,” he insists.
Lincoln took steps to change the in-plant’s culture and remove silos.
“Cross-training became a big push of mine,” he says.
His success brought him more responsibility. By 2006 he was also managing mail, logistics, the warehouse and the administrative team. Then his operation was merged with the Document Solutions Group, which handled document back-end processing (tasks like scanning and microfilm).
“My intent was to demonstrate that I could bring efficiencies no matter what area of the operation we were looking at,” he explains.
Customers started returning to the in-plant and staff morale improved.
Then in 2009 came a change that altered the in-plant’s focus entirely. The in-plant took over all of the state’s mainframe printing, including checks, reports and statements, from the Office of Information Technology.
“It really gave us an entry into transactional print,” Lincoln says.
By 2010, he realized that transactional printing should be the main focus of IDS, so the shop began to outsource non-variable data jobs like forms and envelopes and eliminated its offset presses by 2011.
“It was a shift in the way our customers viewed what we could do for them,” he says. “As we got better and brought a new level of expertise to transactional printing, the next logical step was inkjet.”
Lincoln attended the first Inkjet Summit in 2013 and realized that this burgeoning technology was the right direction for his in-plant. But convincing his supervisors of this proved to be his biggest challenge to date — after all, he was proposing replacing five toner devices with a single inkjet press, and adding color to traditionally monochrome documents.
In the end, his thinking prevailed, and the in-plant installed a Ricoh InfoPrint 5000 MP inkjet press. It was one of the first in-plants to add inkjet, and its success inspired a steady stream of state printing operations to follow suit — all of them using Colorado’s success in their research and justification process.
In 2008, Lincoln joined the National Government Publishing Association (NGPA) and got his first experience learning about other states’ printing operations and sharing his own knowledge. He was instrumental in merging that association with the much larger In-plant Printing and Mailing Association (IPMA) in 2014, and subsequently was elected IPMA president.
Lincoln’s leadership has been recognized many times, inside and outside the state. IDS was named IPMA’s Mail Center of the Year four times and was honored with an In-plant Innovator Award in 2017 by this magazine. The in-plant has won numerous In-Print awards for quality printing. And Lincoln himself was named Manager of the Year in 2007 and 2008 by the Department of Personnel and Administration.
Asked if he thinks he made the right choice by becoming an in-plant manager, he quickly declares, “best choice I ever made. I would not do anything different.”
Lincoln’s passion for printing rivals even his avid interest in classic cars. He is currently restoring three of them: a 1970 Monte Carlo, a 1959 Chevrolet pickup (which he is building for his daughter) and a 1989 GMC pickup for drag racing.
Bob has served as editor of In-plant Impressions since October of 1994. Prior to that he served for three years as managing editor of Printing Impressions, a commercial printing publication. Mr. Neubauer is very active in the U.S. in-plant industry. He attends all the major in-plant conferences and has visited nearly 170 in-plant operations around the world. He has given presentations to numerous in-plant groups in the U.S., Canada and Australia, including the Association of College and University Printers and the In-plant Printing and Mailing Association. He also coordinates the annual In-Print contest, cosponsored by IPMA and In-plant Impressions.