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Saying Good Bye to Paper-based Forms

Robert Harbage, chairman and CEO of Uarco, is in shirtsleeves, seated at a table strewn with half-empty coffee cups, and nursing a case of laryngitis. It’s no surprise, given the 5 a.m.-to-midnight workdays he’s been clocking as he engineers a transformation of the Barrington, IL, business forms company.“If you don’t get up to speed, you …

Robert Harbage, chairman and CEO of Uarco, is in shirtsleeves, seated at a table strewn with half-empty coffee cups, and nursing a case of laryngitis. It’s no surprise, given the 5 a.m.-to-midnight workdays he’s been clocking as he engineers a transformation of the Barrington, IL, business forms company.

“If you don’t get up to speed, you don’t get off the runway,” insists Harbage, 48, a former McKinsey & Co. consultant and senior partner at Ernst & Young LLP who was brought in last September by Uarco’s parent, Settsu Corp., a Japanese paper group. “And there isn’t anybody here who won’t say we’ve done more in the last year than in the past 40 years.”

What Uarco has done is make the jump to producing customized electronic business forms demanded by its customers in addition to paper ones. While rival Reynolds & Reynolds has staked out the auto dealership business, Uarco is targeting hospitals and health maintenance organizations, hoping to regain lost market share in the $8.5 billion forms industry.

While the industry so far has failed to keep pace with its increasingly technology-minded customers, it now seeks to grow by participating in the second wave of corporate re-engineering that is reorganizing the type and amount of data companies need to collect.

Settsu is pumping more than $100 million into new technologies such as digital printing, but Uarco also uses existing Microsoft and IBM software and hardware to produce customized paper-based and technology “solutions” such as automatic ordering of inventory.

By the year 2002, Harbage aims to double privately held Uarco’s sales, now about $650 million. A milestone on that journey: Earlier this year, Uarco beat out competitors Reynolds & Reynolds and Moore Corp. in the battle for GE Capital’s business.

Meanwhile, the move to electronic forms has necessitated a few internal changes at Uarco. Since he came on board, Harbage has trimmed the company’s work force by 10 percent to just under 5,000, and says eight of the company’s 31 plants will be closed this year. “We should be able to save $35 million, about 15 percent of our production and distribution costs,” he reckons.

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