Susan Heaney: A Quiet Achiever
In the male-dominated Australian Printing Industry, Susan Heaney stands out – not for standing on the rooftops shouting ‘look at me!’, but for flying comfortably under the radar for over 30 years as one of the very few female Managing Directors of a commercial printing company in Australia, Heaneys Performers in Print, based here on the Gold Coast in Molendinar.
We took several minutes of Susan’s time to ask a few questions about her and the business.
Q: How did you become involved in what must have been a very closed ‘boys club’ in the print industry?
The company founder, my father, asked me to come and help on a part-time basis – I started here and never left – is the simple explanation! I became increasingly involved in the management side of the business, and as it came time for Dad to retire, I thought – hey! I have been doing the hard yards all of these years as a wage earner – maybe I will do it for myself. So I borrowed a whole lot of money, and have, over the years, bought out my father, and then his equity partners. I have been MD and sole Director since 2007.
Q: Mmm, 2007 – just in time for the GFC?
Well, yes – as they say, timing is everything, and my timing couldn’t have been worse! Compounded by the fact that I had just completed a townhouse development, that I couldn’t get power connected to, print sales slumped at just the wrong time. I re-grouped, re-structured and put my nose to the grindstone – what else can you do?
Q: It certainly seems as though a good dose of persistence is needed in running a successful operation. What other attributes do you need as a recipe for success?
I can summarise what I think it takes to create success as:
- Have a great work philosophy and keep work/ life balanced
- Enjoy your family
- Stay current with technology and what’s happening in business
- Surround yourself with the best people you can possibly afford.
Q: Okay, so let us expand on the work/life balance.
‘I look forward to the challenge everyday,’ Susan Heaney exclaims, whilst, as usual, multi-tasking with a spreadsheet, phone calls and emails. ‘My philosophy is to attack the day and live in the moment – time waits for no man! (or woman in this case).’
As a head of the Coast’s most awarded and innovative printer, you would assume Susan Heaney is consumed by business.
‘Absolutely not!’ comes the return, lightning-sharp volley, ‘I work to live, not live to work. I have seen way too many of my colleagues in the Industry that have the work life balance totally around the wrong way. When I first started with the business it was as a young single mother, who firmly had family as number 1 priority – which focus remains today. I am passionate about family, travel and life – the work bit finances the other three.’
Family: – Susan Heaney has a blended family these days. Daughter Rebecca has now been joined with the 4 children from her partner John, plus the addition of 2 grand-children and counting!
‘Family is such a blessing, and to be able to be involved in the lives of our children and grand kids brings an immense joy each and every day. Whether it is the new job of one of the kids, or the first steps of a grand-child – all magic moments to be savoured.’
Q: So how do you juggle the demands of running a multi-million dollar business with your key objectives of family, travel and life?
Be very, very organised, disciplined with my time, and surround yourself with the best team and delegate to those with the talent. That allows me the time for my other pursuits.
Q: And what about your other interests outside of print, both business and personal?
Don’t think of Susan Heaney as a 1 trick business pony. In addition to her role as MD, she is also a Director of Media Super, an Industry super fund with over $5.4 billion under management – and a leader of Australia’s superannuation Industry on returns generated for its members. Media Super is part of the Industry SuperFunds family.
Industry SuperFunds are run in the best interest of our members, with the goal of providing the best possible retirement outcome for millions of working Australians. These Funds do not pay commissions to financial advisers, have low fees and a long history of strong investment performance.
When you belong to a super fund that’s run to benefit you, and only you, you’re in good hands.
Leading up to and following the Financial Services Royal Commission, I am continually staggered at how relaxed people, including some of my staff, are in relation to whom they entrust their retirement to. Yes, we have seen a big swing into Industry Super funds from the private Funds.
Q: And what do you do when not at work?
I am fortunate, with my partner John to have 5 beautiful children and 2 grand children – that is our focus.
My passion is travel and photography – work just gets in the way.
Our daughter Rebecca, a Zoologist, heads a research team in Botswana – and we visit there as often as we can, the other kids all live in WA, so we do a fair bit of travelling to the west coast.
And along the way on all my travels, I catalogue our adventures through photography – which then merges into another hobby, scrap-booking. I am never short of something to do!
Q: From a business perspective what benefits from the Gold Coast Games this year have you seen on the Coast?
Benefits? Yes and no! The infrastructure improvements are the ongoing noticeable differences with improved traffic around the Coast, together with the upgraded sports facilities.
Business-wise, the Games time was a disaster. The State Government didn’t help. On the contrary, it conducted a warning campaign that effectively scared regular visitors to the Coast away. I think this will have a knock-on effect in years to come – with those regular visitors being frightened away having found alternate locations to holiday. Also I fear that we (the Gold Coast) will have to fight hard to recover their patronage.
On the Sunday prior to the Games opening I recall driving around the Coast. I have never seen so few people in Surfers Paradise or Broadbeach. I felt for the poor restaurateurs who struggle at the best of time. With an average head count on that day of 2, I was amazed at just how quiet tourism on the Coast was.
Q: Some businesses did report a sales spike – did you see any sales lift?
We were fortunate that we were the primary Gold Coast print contractor for GC2018, and as such we did enjoy a considerable lift in the months and weeks leading up to the event. As I mentioned, this was then tempered with the drop we experienced over the 2 weeks of the games. Overall, I am pretty happy with our sales numbers over this time.
Q: It has been tough times for the print Industry – how is HPIP weathering the storm?
We are fortunate that in the last 3 years I have continued investing in people, technology and business. This has enabled us to continue growing, in a shrinking market. Three years ago I acquired Styleprint, another commercial printer that was based in Mermaid Beach, and like us, had been operating for 30+ years. Together with my latest acquisition – Surfers Inkspot – another long-term Gold Coast printer – we have integrated all of the business into HPIP creating synergies from our lean manufacturing program. We improve our profits through improved efficiencies, and gained sales growth through more customers from the additional businesses.
Q: Do you think this is the new way of doing business?
Certainly I think in a manufacturing market-place like print, where margins have narrowed, and the demand is shrinking from traditional products, we need growth to sustain the ongoing investment, and acquisition has been one way of achieving these aims.
Q: You mentioned new technology and innovation – how do you assess what new technology is going to be right for your business?
Well, like most business these days we are technology driven, our processes, systems and equipment get things manufactured faster and cheaper – identifying the winners of this race is key – there are multitudes of vendors all spruiking the latest and greatest, and it is with careful research and assessment that I make my decisions – unlike yesteryear, where you could afford to take a gamble on the latest and greatest, knowing that there was adequate margin in the business to cover in the event of a major error of judgement.
These days, wafer thin margins, rapidly evolving technology, that is, for the most part, coming with a very short shelf life. Twenty years ago, you could purchase a piece of gear, with the expectation, if you bought at the top quality end of the market, you would get an economic life of 10 years out of the equipment. These days – 3-5 years is the norm, so therefore the ROI on the equipment has to reflect these shortened life expectancies – and as with all new technology – they are all not winners – so picking the best technology for the business can be tricky – again, research, education and experience.
Q: Where does innovation lie with your business strategies?
We are no longer ‘just a printer’ – ‘from business cards to billboards’ is our mantra when I am asked what type of printing we do. Gone are the days when a client would give you a brochure and not expect it delivered until 3 weeks later. We are now down to 3 days for that type of work, and a lot of our digital print work is print on demand – order in the morning and it’s out of the door that same day.
Innovation is not only a key driver in my business, but a necessity in order to keep our business and our product offerings relevant to our customers.
Over the last 5 years I have invested over $2 million in new equipment, acquisitions, and training to ensure that HPIP remains at the forefront to the industry.
It’s not only necessary but it can be great fun and rewarding work. Whether it’s a thank you from a family that has had a recent bereavement which we have printed a family portrait on canvas for, to working with large companies and this last year being involved as the GC 2018 Commonwealth Games’ major print supplier was incredibly satisfying.
The culmination of this was us printing a magnificent ‘Share the Dream’ book which GC2018 distributed as a Games memento.
Q: What was your most difficult GC 2018 assignment?
Too many to mention! – short deadlines were the order of the day – and our report card measured 100% on –time performance.
Whether it was placing a life size 50 metre swimming pool floor graphic into Gold Coast airport in the dead of night, or constructing the medal dais in the main stadium with a similarly tight deadline, or delivering passes to the Games HQ – it was all part of the gig!
It was a once-in-a-lifetime business experience
Q: How do you drive innovation in your business?
‘Lean, Green, and mean!’ exhorts Susan Heaney.
To stay successful in the ultra competitive graphics arts industry we need to operate lean. In our case to understand and implement the best of lean manufacturing processes, reduce time and waste. This helps with our green commitment. As Queensland’s first Sustainable green printer we pioneered the processes and techniques in reducing our waste, energy consumption, improved our recycling of paper, chemicals and consumables. This commitment culminated in me being Australia’s Female Manufacturer of the year in 2012. This process and commitment is ongoing – we measure and try and drive our waste down, and recyclables up each and every year.
Q: What about new product lines?
Well this last year we adapted our production technologies and achieved HACCP certification
Q: HACCP – it’s not a disease?!
No, it’s about preventing contamination and keeping food safe.
We achieved Food Safety certification for the production of food standard cartons and packaging. Our customers need it as part of their distribution through the major supermarkets. We see this as another emerging market, where we are able to provide high quality printed material that is certified to the HACCP food safety standard at a very economical cost.
For us, its all about understanding the requirements, and generally, about modifying our production process, or more often training our staff in what is needed.
Q: And surrounding yourself with the best people?
I have 33 great team members who jump on board with our initiatives, and support HPIP to being the best it can be.
As I say, get the best talent you can possibly afford. That is a key difference in separating ourselves from the competition, be it another Gold Coast printer, or more often than not, printers from China, by having highly skilled professionals, supported by the best contemporary technologies, we can compete with the lower cost international markets, as we say time, quality price – you must be competitive across all three, and with our reputation for delivering high quality product on time at a competitive price, it allows us the edge against the others.
Q: So what does 2019 hold for Heaneys Performers in Print?
‘Watch this space,’ says Susan Heaney with a wry smile.
I am never one to shout out what we are doing in the business – all I can say is I play a great hand of poker! 2019 is our 40th anniversary of being in business on the Coast – we will celebrate that success. We aim to be an innovative high quality producer of printed material that exceeds our clients expectations. That is what drives us and the business forward.
And from observing the ‘Award wall’ at HPIP’s offices, with over 50 industry awards decorating the walls, that is no hollow claim.