By: Jessica Stephen, Special to The Daily Reporter April 7, 2016 12:16 pm
From delivery guy to president, Tom Taubenheim appreciates that he didn’t have a traditional path to the front office.
“It’s not a common story,” admitted Taubenheim, president of A/E Graphics in Brookfield.
Sheer economic interest led him to join the printing company, which provides document reproduction for architects, engineers and construction firms.
“I needed a job,” he laughed.
It was 1990, and driving truck seemed like an OK gig. At first.
“It was stick-shift delivery cars back then, no air conditioning and just the radio, and I had to learn how to drive stick shift the night before I started the job here,” Taubenheim said.
Two years later, he had worked his way inside as the new office manager.
For nearly 10 years he answered phones, processed accounts receivable and collections. He eventually started managing bid documents for contractors. And, by September 2001, he was president — an opportunity that arose when A/E President Fred Gennerman and Vice President Mel Kirsch retired.
“They were like our two fathers raising us here,” Taubenheim said.
With guidance from Gennerman and Kirsch, Taubenheim took over A/E with the company’s other four most-tenured employees: Tim Davis, now the IT director; John Sieber, who runs A/Es’ Milwaukee branch in the Third Ward; Joe Shaw, who runs the Brookfield location; and Dan Schmidt, who runs the Epic Color division.
The five of them are charged with leading the company as it celebrates its 40th anniversary this year.
“It’s neat to look back and see how far we’ve come, but it’s such a niche business a lot of people don’t even realize some of the things we do,” Taubenheim said. “And our company has changed so dramatically over the last couple of decades; it’s hard to pinpoint how people see it. But it’s commonly known as blueprinting; we call it plan printing.”
They print hard copies, of course. But A/E also offers access online, allowing customers to post projects and download digital files, and they sell, lease and service equipment so architects, for example, can print out their own CAD drawings — all innovations that, Taubenheim said, helped the 18-employee firm remain relevant after the recession.
“Once the economy tanked, it forced us to diversify,” Taubenheim said.
It’s part of the reason A/E has stepped up efforts with its Epic Color division, which was recently brought back in-house at the newly remodeled Brookfield headquarters after years at a facility two miles away in Menomonee Falls.
The move, along with the addition of a flatbed printer, has allowed the company to produce everything from construction site signs to wall murals for schools.
“Things we never thought we’d do, even five years ago, we’re getting into now. It’s kind of a whole different world for us, but it’s kind of a natural progression,” Taubenheim said.
The Daily Reporter: What surprises you most about your work?
Tom Taubenheim: How much passion I have for what I do, even with the challenges our industry faces with technology advancements and the pressure that is put on us to keep in touch or predict trends. I think this passion is attributed to my co-workers, who are a great bunch of professionals and many of which have been committed to us for a very long time, especially as we came out of the great recession. Our customers are also a large part of my drive. I know we have great people to serve them, we care about them and their jobs and families and they are part of who we are. Our product and service offering are second to none. Relationships with our customers just come naturally to us. I guess you can call it confidence.
TDR: What would you change about the construction industry?
Taubenheim: Perhaps being more open-minded about certain technology and how that can improve their work processes both internally and in the field. Some companies embrace this, many more don’t. However, I feel as the older generation retires, we will see a larger fundamental shift toward doing things more differently than before.
TDR: What other job did you consider trying?
Taubenheim: Well, I always wanted to be a radio announcer full-time. I did work radio at several stations part-time for 10 years and did my share of voiceover work for commercials. I had professional voice lessons when I was young, but the pay and job stability of radio work couldn’t match where I was going with A/E Graphics.
TDR: What job would you not like to do?
Taubenheim: I have great respect for the steel erectors, roofers and HVAC folks that brave the elements and heights. That is not for me, that is for certain. I’m thankful for them.
TDR: What device could you not live without?
Taubenheim: I like my iPhone. It connects me with my family and job and helps me better manage my life and priorities. It syncs with my iPad, laptop and desk phone. These advancements have helped me better manage my work life and family life.
TDR: What is the most useful thing you’ve learned since starting your job?
Taubenheim: Listen, be respectful and don’t immediately react. Be deliberate and put yourself in the other person’s shoes when making a decision. Another one that has proven itself for me over and over is when one door closes, another one opens. That is for sure. I also am a firm believer in the power of positive thinking. It has gotten me through some very difficult times in my life.
TDR: What do you wish you’d learned sooner?
Taubenheim: Although the dive in the economy starting in ‘08 was tough, it made us more aware of something we could have managed better previously, which was our labor and supply costs. We are far more efficient today.
TDR: What would your colleagues be surprised to find out about you?
Taubenheim: Maybe a couple things actually, and I hope this isn’t used against me. I am a diehard fan of NASCAR and racer Matt Kenseth. I am also a big fan of Barbara Mandrell going back to when I was 9 years old.