Branch-Smith Printing Division experienced 72-percent
growth in sales over four years and held that gain
in 2002, when the industry declined 6.6 percent.
Branch-Smith Printing has grown its customer base
from 91 in 1998 to 167 in 2002.
Value-added sales per employee have increased 33 percent
during the past five years.
From 1988 to 2001, Branch-Smith Printing slashed its
level of volatile organic compound emissions from
13 tons to six tons, below the 10 ton threshold for
state reporting requirements.
On May 21, 2003, Vice President
Dick Cheney and Commerce Secretary Don Evans presented three
organizations with Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Awards
in recognition of their performance excellence and quality
achievements. Among the winners was Fort Worth, Texas’
Branch-Smith Printing, which won in the small business category.
One of two sectors of Branch-Smith Inc., the printing
division provides turnkey printing services--including designing,
printing, binding and mailing--related to sheet-fed printing
of multipage bound materials. The company’s products
include publications, magazines, catalogs, directories and
From 1996 to 2002, ratings for customer satisfaction with
product quality--a key differentiator for Branch-Smith Printing--exceeded
those for its competitors. The company’s ratings ranged
from 8.3 to 8.7, whereas major competitors rated 7.9 to
8.1. Since 1998, its sales growth rate has outperformed
the industry rate every year.
What follows is an interview with David Branch, president
and chairman of Branch-Smith Printing. This is the last
of three interviews with a representative from each 2002
Baldrige Award winner. The previous conversations were published
in the July and September issues of Quality Digest.
QD: How long have you been
pursuing the Baldrige Award?
the journey in 1992 with TQM and received our first exposure
to a primitive set of statements in 1994. We self-ranked
our system to find out where the biggest gaps were, which
happened to be Category 6--process. We then pursued ISO
9000 registration so we could get our processes documented.
Texas came out with a pilot program for Option 1 and Option
2 applications at about the same time. So, the fall of 1995
was the first actual application that we put together for
the state program. We did that, got the feedback report
and realized that we didn’t know much about what we
were doing--even though we’d been to some of the workshops.
I became an examiner for the state award the next fall.
That really triggered us to move along. The following year,
I examined again and also put in another Option 2 application.
The next year, we submitted a Level III application and
received the 1999 Texas State Quality Award.
During the next application cycle, we applied for the
Baldrige Award and the next year earned a site visit. The
following year, we won the award. Essentially, there were
six application cycles altogether.
QD: Was it advantageous to
be an examiner while going through the process yourself?
I think it was
critical. I don’t think we’d be here without
it. You can understand from the other side of the table
what Baldrige is all about. As an examiner, you have to
know the criteria well enough to provide a feedback report,
and that helps when you apply them to your own business.
Being an examiner is like that old metaphor about golf:
It’s one of the most excruciating forms of pleasure.
I intensively learned the important things to take back
to my organization.
QD: How important is the feedback
important. In a small organization like ours--we’ve
gone from 50 employees to around 80--there are hidden recesses
of the organization. There are things that you find out
from your communication process. But because of my examiner
training and understanding the criteria, we can provide
self-feedback pretty well in such a small section of an
organization. The application side can be every bit as powerful
as feedback from knowledgeable examiners.
QD: Are there other quality
processes that you’ve been involved with?
ISO 9000 is the
only other “brand name” initiative we used--initially
doing so to document our processes. But as we improved processes
through the Baldrige criteria, ISO 9000 was updated to be
a little more similar to Baldrige. We now use ISO 9000 to
document all of our processes.
QD: What made you decide to
improve quality at the company?
It was 1992, we
were up against Japanese competition, but we didn’t
have a good hold on what quality really was. We were a small
family organization and wanted to learn more about quality.
So we started off with a 24-month quality consortium comprising
a number of Baldrige and Texas State Quality Award winners.
It was basically a quality peer group for two years of training.
Once we were on the path to ISO 9000, we felt we were taking
a more aligned approach to quality. Another trigger was
my examiner training, which led us on to our next step in
QD: Are there any parts of
the criteria that you felt didn’t really apply to
No. I think there’s
relative importance. There’s nothing in the criteria
that’s not relevant. The important thing is prioritization.
In our case, we were first going after improving supplier
management, tracking nonconformances and creating real profits.
We were also looking to reduce repetitive purchases of a
lot of the same materials.
QD: Were there specific criteria
that were particularly challenging?
challenging and continues to be at some level. The thing
about Baldrige is there’s no limit to how much you
can improve. You can always take it deeper and deeper. More
questions can always be asked, like, “What about this
next level, and how is your performance there?”
QD: What are some of the challenges
that a small organization faces when striving for Baldrige-level
A lot of what it
takes is simply the resources to produce an accurate application.
You still have to write the checks for such a small organization,
so the financial affect of applying is a little more difficult
than for a larger organization.
If the process is a cake, recognition is like the icing.
It’s the cake we’re really after. This was a
little difficult to communicate within the organization.
The recognition is just grand, but that really wasn’t
the point of it all.
QD: Based on the feedback report
that you received this time, what things will you be working
on for the future?
One point we’re
very aware of--and we have action plans in place to resolve--is
diversity within the organization. We have some Spanish-speaking
and Asian employees, including a handful who are not fluent
in English. We’ve had “English as a second language”
instruction to try and bridge that language barrier, but
it hasn’t been very cost-effective at all.
The feedback we received on our efforts concerning diversity
was something we’d already recognized and are trying
new ways to resolve. We just hadn’t been very effective
and are still trying to do something about it. From the
feedback we received, we’ve decided to bring in language
training for our leaders instead of coming at it from the
The idea of translating all of our documents for the sake
of one Cambodian and two Spanish speakers is simply not
as effective as bilingual communication to get our jobs
done faster. In a larger company--in which you’ve
got enough employees
to justify it--translating the documents is probably cost-effective.
But these kinds of communication issues are different for
a smaller company.
The great thing about the Baldrige criteria is that they
consider small businesses in terms of what makes sense to
them. They know that things that make sense to large businesses
won’t necessarily work for a smaller company.
QD: Will you apply again when
be surprised, although it’s kind of early to know.
We’re trying to figure out what we’ll do every
year: track all the measures that we utilize and document
our management systems and processes for change--which is
really one of our strengths. We’re not going to fall
out of that pattern because it’s easier to do it the
way it’s designed. All the employees know how to contribute
ideas; we all know what to expect and how the business will
keep running. We might apply in several years, but right
now we’re trying to assess how we’ll adapt to
changes when they occur in the criteria.
This interview was conducted by Kennedy Smith, Quality
Digest’s associate editor. Letters to the editor regarding
this article can be e-mailed to email@example.com.