Lexmark's Goal: Solve The Nagging Problems - InformationWeek

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3/11/2004
06:26 PM
John Soat
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Lexmark's Goal: Solve The Nagging Problems

CEO Paul Curlander sees services that help customers solve "the nagging problems no one gets around to" driving the printer maker's future.

Lexmark is a $4.8 billion company and, according to its Web site, it's "a leading developer, manufacturer, and supplier of printing solutions--including laser and ink-jet printers, associated supplies, and services--for offices and homes in more than 150 countries." Lexmark specializes in low-cost, high-quality printing devices and takes pride in developing and owning the technology its manufactures. Lexmark advocates a "distributed printing" strategy--low-cost, high-speed devices optimized for document management, workflow, and controlling the output and movement of paper.

Lexmark is headquartered in Lexington, Ky., deep in horse country. The low, squat buildings that house half of the company's 12,000 employees, its management, research and development, and even some of its manufacturing operations sit among rolling hills of grass and trees, with horse farms dotting the surrounding countryside.

Lexmark chairman and CEO Paul Curlander is gracious and charming, reflecting the traditional Southern ambience. But he's also thin, energetic, and intense. Curlander has been with Lexmark since the beginning, when the printer company was spun off from IBM in 1991. He's been CEO since 1998 and chairman since 1999. Curlander holds a master's degree and a doctorate in electrical engineering from MIT.

InformationWeek senior executive editor John Soat recently sat down with Curlander to talk about printers, business processes, and controlling the movement of paper. (This interview has been edited for length and continuity.)

InformationWeek: What business is Lexmark in?

Curlander: We're in the distributed printing-solutions business--that's what we do, both in the consumer market and in the corporate market.

InformationWeek: But Lexmark talks a lot about business process and workflow--these aren't the kinds of things a printing company usually talks about.

Curlander: When we started Lexmark back in 1991, we were very focused on selling hardware. We could sell features, functions--those kinds of things. What we found, on the corporate side at least, was that the priorities of CIOs have changed. Printing in general isn't on their radar screens. The key things they're focused on now are their business processes. And as we studied their business processes, even with all the investment in E-business infrastructures, there are hundreds, even thousands of paper-based processes existent in corporate accounts. Because the reality is, until someone reengineers them to leverage the infrastructures that have been put in place, they won't change.

InformationWeek: So the paperless office was just a myth?

Curlander: It was an interesting concept. But the reality is, what had to go was the movement of paper, because it slowed down your business to the physical speed at which you could move paper.

InformationWeek: Do you talk much with CIOs?

Curlander: We try to. I spend time talking with CIOs. We have advisory councils where we talk with CIOs. But we find, with our focus on processes, that the CIO is only one of the people we need to talk to. We need to talk to the line-of-business manager who owns that process. We even talk to the chief financial officer or somebody out of the finance group, because a lot of the savings we bring to bear by changing the process is not captured in one person's profit-and-loss statement in a large company.

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