The Soar Spirit

Last Friday at the Challenger Programme we did the report back against the unthinkable goal we set ourselves for 2011. It was gratifying that everyone was able to report either success or substantial progress (though sometimes not in the area they intended at the start of the year).

One of the outstanding successes was from Soar Print, who last week were announced as the overall winner for medium-sized businesses at the Sustainable 60 Awards.

The judges said that sustainability was in the family firm's blood. "How they have integrated it across the business should be adopted and admired as best practice in New Zealand," the judges said. Jenny Carter has driven the project in her role as Finance Manager, but with full support from CEO Fred Soar, Sales Manager Brian Landry and Operations Manager Chris Agius.

Fred and Jenny are the third generation of Soars to run the business, and theirs is a great story about family values but also adaptability: since their grandfather founded it in 1920, the firm has weathered the Great Depression, WWII, the sharemarket crash of 1987 and the GFC.

The firm faces its greatest challenge of all right now, which is the decline of the printing industry. The sustainability that the judges said courses their veins has to share space with a tremendous resilience: they are constantly working to create a point of difference that creates value for prospects and customers alike. They have invested in technology that enables them to specialize in short runs at a better quality and a lower cost than their competitors. They continue to work at fixing the core, applying lean manufacturing to get greater and greater productivity. And they have already begun to create their second horizon, starting with pdf2print, which enables designers and customers to submit print-ready pdfs online. The next step is the ability to take printing online.

Nothing sums up their spirit better than the review and planning meeting I had with them yesterday, where we talked about their unthinkable goal for 2012. The overall sentiment was “right, we’ve achieved our sustainability goal, and we need to maintain that. So what’s our next big thing?”. And we talked about what Soar wants to achieve in 2012, but in the context of how its goal would engage the whole team and create an advantage in the marketplace.

That’s the wider meaning of sustainability: the capacity to endure. It’s not a policy, it’s a spirit. It’s a respect for the past and a willingness to embrace the future. And that’s why Soar will be able to celebrate their centenary at the end of this decade, albeit in a far different place from where the first Fred Soar started out.


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