Nikos Kallas - Adobe’s Search Program Manager
Print run: Nikos Kallas assumes the reins of Metropolitan Fine Printers, an internationally celebrated family-owned business, as his father, George, eases into retirement.
Mission: To expand Metropolitan Fine Printers’ business by being more strategic than his father
Assets: A lifetime of involvement in the printing industry and a degree in economics
Yield: A new job as president of the family firm
A cardboard container for a McDonald’s Big Mac sits on a shelf in the main boardroom of Metropolitan Fine Printers.
It appears at first glance as though a sloppy staff member left it there instead of tossing it in the garbage.
Nikos Kallas, who became the company’s president on January 1, 2011, laughs at that suggestion.
“We did this for a promotion that McDonald’s had,” the 31-year-old said while grabbing the container from the shelf and proudly handing it to a visitor.
“It shows our high-quality work.”
Inside the carton are several smaller containers arranged like those of a Russian matryoshka doll – each with the identical sharp colours that Kallas believes other printers would have trouble replicating.
Metropolitan Fine Printers does work for multinational giants such as Starbucks Corp., Nike Inc. and Visa Inc.
Corporate clients from across North America seek Metropolitan Fine Printers out in part because it regularly racks up international awards.
Through the years, it has won countless honours in the two main print awards in North America: more than 200 International Association of Printing House Craftsmen (IAPHC) Best of the Best awards and 29 Printing Industries of America/Graphic Arts Information Network Premier Print Awards, better known as the Bennies.
Business, however, has not been as brisk as in past years.
Metropolitan Fine Printers suffered a 20% sales drop in late 2008 and 2009 as the global economic downturn took hold.
Revenue rebounded in 2010, but Kallas admits that the 55-employee company has yet to return to the $15.2 million in revenue that it generated annually prior to the credit crisis.
“The first thing that happens when the recession hits is people cut back their marketing dollars,” he said, “because they see it as an expense rather than as a sales tool.”
Metropolitan won an IAPHC award in 2009 for best envelope for a booklet marketing the Living Shangri-La residential tower in downtown Vancouver.
It was that kind of real estate project that kept coffers flush in boom times and was hardest hit during the downturn.
The revenue dip prompted Metropolitan to streamline its operations. It cut six workers and reduced waste anywhere that it could find – literally.
Years ago, garbage collectors visited the company’s East Vancouver office twice a week. Kallas said that’s now dropped to once a month.
Cultivating a reputation for being less environmentally burdensome than other printers has been a high priority for Metropolitan.
The company still uses harsh chemicals and lots of paper, but it’s officially carbon neutral thanks to calculating its carbon footprint and then buying offsets through the B.C. government Crown corporation Pacific Carbon Trust.
It was one of the first local printers to use Forest Stewardship Council certified paper.
It also developed a process to help printers restore printing blankets.
Without that rejuvenation, printers can use blankets only about three times because they start imprinting ghost images on jobs.
Metropolitan’s process of soaking the rubber mats in a special solution and then putting them in a temperature-controlled curing oven means that the blankets can usually be rejuvenated four times, thereby reducing waste.
In 2007, Metropolitan spun off that business, which is now known as Enviro Image Solutions Inc.
The Kallas family owns Enviro and Metropolitan through a holding company that also includes some real estate such as the company’s head office.
Kallas, his father George, mother Anna and sister Penny each own 25% of the holding company.
Decisions are made through consensus, so Kallas is not sure how much more influence he’ll have on major decisions now that he’s president.
“I didn’t get a raise, but I got a new business card,” Kallas said with a laugh.
George, who founded the business in 1977 – two years before his son was born – has slowly been drifting into retirement.
A few years ago, George still logged a full workweek. Now he comes in for a few hours a week to see how things are going.
“My approach is to be more calculated,” Kallas said. “My dad has a lot of passion, and he’s made some great decisions in the past. A few [marketing decisions] were based on passion, not so much calculation.”
Kallas’ keen sense for calculation comes from a lifetime of working in the business.
When he was completing his economics degree at the University of Western Ontario, Kallas also attended print industry trade shows and read catalogues for printing equipment.
“I wanted to get UV [ultraviolet] ink technology. I told my dad and said, ‘We gotta have it.’ I pressured him. I did a huge feasibility study and said, ‘Here’s what it’s going to do.’ He said, ‘It’s too expensive. We can’t afford it.’ But, finally, I convinced him it was the right thing to do.”
Kallas also convinced his dad to buy a Man Roland eight-colour, 41-inch press and, a few years later, a second similar machine.
When the younger Kallas returned from Ontario, degree in hand, he worked on the shop floor with the presses, producing print jobs.
He spent a year in accounting, about a year primarily estimating the price of jobs and then another year co-ordinating the jobs so he could better understand how the estimates worked.
“You don’t want to say, ‘No.’ You’ve got to find ways of giving alternative solutions to make sure that things can get done,” he said.
Kallas has been involved with peer-to-peer networking group the Executive Committee (TEC). He sits on advisory boards for BCIT’s graphic communications technology program and for the charitable Canstruction initiative that benefits the Vancouver Food Bank.
“Nikos is a guy who is full of excitement and exuberance all the time,” said Stu Watson, a former president of Umbro Canada, who chaired Kallas’ former TEC cohort. “The president of a company really sets the tone for the culture of a company.”
The exuberance Watson remembers could soon play out if Metropolitan makes any acquisitions – something Kallas said he’s considering.
He just has not yet found the right target company: a smaller venture based in Vancouver or an adjoining suburb that has a similar culture.