packagePRINTING Talks With Clarence W. Schawk, Chairman of SGK
Clarence W. Schawk credits Marine Corps leadership skills as the foundation of his success in prepress and brand development.February 2014 By Tom Polischuk, Editor-at-Large
The story of Clarence W. Schawk is a classic American success story and a uniquely Chicago one, spanning six decades and five continents. It includes the Great Depression, WWII, entrepreneurship and family, along with successive revolutions in the worlds of printing, technology, marketing,and branding.
Clarence W. Schawk, now 87, is the chairman of SGK. Almost every day he drives ten minutes to the global headquarters of his company, a business he started in his aunt's basement 60 years ago. The Des Plaines, IL, venture has grown from making offset printing plates for black-and-white reproduction to creating strategies and packaging designs for such iconic brands as Coca-Cola, Unilever and Merck. Much of this expansion has happened in the past 20 years, as the brand services industry has undergone huge changes. SGK (formerly Schawk, Inc.) anticipated these many changes and benefitted from them.
Change and adaptation that has defined the company's history was ingrained in its founder from the beginning. As a young U. S. Marine Corps veteran in Albany Park, Schawk landed a job at a local printing company. He applied for a job in the bindery department, "because that's where all the overtime was." Instead, he wound up in the platemaking department, which turned out to be a lucky break. There he learned more complex skills and began to understand the nuances of graphics workflow—today, a defining expertise of SGK.
Mr. Schawk has seen the evolution from black and white to color, from analog to digital, from packaging to multi-media, and where his own company is concerned, from prepress to leading-edge global brand development and deployment for Fortune 100 clients.
Today, SGK is led by CEO David A. Schawk, one of five children resulting from Clarence's marriage to his childhood sweetheart, Marilyn Rieck. From its humble beginning as Schawk Litho Plate on Kedzie Avenue, the company is a global player with revenues of nearly $500 million and offices in Chicago, New York and San Francisco; London and Brussels; Shanghai; Singapore; Sydney; Sao Paolo; and more. What follows is a unique perspective from a man who has seen monumental changes in the business of brand graphics services.
pP: What drove you to start your own company?