Joe Duncan: Directing Digital Innovation
“I came out of college with a liberal arts degree, and I really didn’t know what I wanted to do for a living,” recalls Joe Duncan, vice president/director, print innovation and technology for Leo Burnett USA—the worldwide marketing communications powerhouse that manages such household brands as Kellogg’s, Heinz, GM, Wrigley and Hallmark.
But this uncertainty resolved itself quickly in the mind of this 2006 Publishing Executive Hall of Fame inductee. When he happened upon an inside sales job at an envelope manufacturer, he says, “I really didn’t like anything about the job, except the printing side of the business. The company mostly did folding and converting, but it also had a print operation, which fascinated me. It piqued my curiosity.”
He decided to follow his gut, making the move to a Milwaukee-based sheetfed printer, where he worked as an estimator.
“Those two jobs really taught me a lot about the mechanics of print. I’d learned how envelopes were printed with rubber-plated flexography, and how fine offset printing was done—how the plates were made, how inks and papers worked together,” Duncan recalls. “It was a better education than any four-year degree I could have gotten in printing.”
But in those days, Milwaukee’s economy was on the decline, and Duncan began to fret over his future there.
“I was afraid Milwaukee was going to be the next Fort Wayne or Toledo during the days when the auto industry began to lose out to Japanese competition,” he explains. “I felt that Chicago might offer me more diverse career opportunities, and I was fortunate to find a printing company there that was growing and doing some really interesting things. And that was where I’d learn the most about business—working for Madden Communications in Chicago.”
Duncan held several jobs within the organization—spending time in production before making a switch to sales, managing important accounts, like Kraft Foods. In 1999, he made his next career move—this time, to Sells Printing of New Berlin, Wis.—selling print to Fortune 500 clients.
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