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Entrepreneurial Spirit: Harry Stephens, President & CEO, Founder, DATAMATX - Part 1-3

 

Entrepreneurial Spirit:

Harry Stephens

President & CEO, Founder
DATAMATX

Xplor’s 2006 President’s Award Recipient

 

Celebrating a 30th Anniversary: Part 1 of 3

 

By Aaron Kiel and Jennifer Beaver

 

For some, turning 30 might not seem like a cause for good cheer. But for Harry Stephens, whose company DATAMATX will celebrate three decades of business in 2006, 30 seems just fine.

 

DATAMATX helps companies increase customer relationship value through the generation of targeted, focused and relevant billing statements and customer documents.  But for Stephens, the company is much more than that. It represents the achievement of his personal dream: “To grow a company that others might respect and admire as an innovator in our industry.”

 

As a high volume transaction output (HVTO) professional and entrepreneur, Stephens is living his dream. “Success in my work, life and contentment overall,” he says. But it took many years, dedication and hard work.

 

The road to HVTO

Stephens started in the high volume transaction output industry working with data processing services in 1979 with what was then a new technology---a laser printer, specifically the Xerox 9700.

 

 

 

After 10 years of experience, his entrepreneurial spirit kicked in. “I just felt it was time to go out on my own,” he explains. “After watching other businesses, I thought I could do it better.” In six short months, DATAMATX was up and running.

 

With three state-of-the-art redundant processing facilities---Atlanta, Ga., the corporate headquarters; Phoenix, Ariz; and Richmond, Va.---DATAMATX is one of the nation’s largest privately held, full-service providers of first-class print, mail and document distribution. DATAMATX services include personalization, redesign, composition, Internet application and EBPP solutions, CD production and archiving.

 

Always on the cutting edge of billing outsource solutions, DATAMATX recently installed state-of-the-art printing and inserting equipment in its three facilities. Today, DATAMATX processes and distributes over 400,000 business-critical documents daily for over 250 national corporate customers.

 

But when Stephens first began DATAMATX, he had just one positive goal: “To achieve success and to have it last.” After 30 years, it would seem that he has met that goal.

 

Believing that it was wiser not to undertake the business venture alone, he hired and partnered with top-notch people in the technical and programming end of the business. “Sometimes it is not possible to have controlling interest when you are starting a new business, but I believe one of the principals must be 51+% of ownership, and accept the majority of the risk,” Stephens believes. “Both of my original partners were good in their respective areas, and I had previously worked with them.”

 

His financial backing came from a variety of sources. His previous employer purchased $15,000 worth of company stock; his parents loaned him $5,000; and his two partners contributed working capital totaling $7,000. “There were no bank loans available, and I had little home equity, but I did have lots of encouragement and plenty of fortitude,” Stephens remembers. Because he had very little working capital, it took a short three-months to reach a positive cash flow and break-even sales volume.

 

Belief in his success was just as important as financial reward. To succeed, Stephens says, “You need four things---and I felt I had them---determination, ability to work hard, knowledge and contacts.”

 

Like all businesses, DATAMATX has faced some challenges. “There are highs and lows every day. For example, some previous business contacts were afraid to use our service in fear of us probably going out of business,” Stephens recalls. “The data processing services we offered were the lifeblood of their business.”

 

For Stephens himself, one the biggest challenges was adapting to a new role. “It was difficult to go from a doer to a manager,” he explains. “A good doer is not usually a good manager.” Because his business environment is so dynamic, however, Stephens has retained his entrepreneurial role in order to keep making the changes that make the business successful. And it’s a role he likes because it is more of a challenge.

 

Today, Stephens clearly identifies the strengths and weaknesses of his business. Like any successful entrepreneur, he also has ideas about combating those weaknesses.  “Technology is our strength,” he says. "Our weakness is the difficulty in dealing with what some customers see what we provide as a commodity. We like to provide value-added services using new technologies and continue to change as new technology evolves.”

 

Over the next five years, Stephens plans to continue on course. “The business has changed, and with the changes came new goals,” he explains. “But the big-vision goals have not changed. There will be greater opportunities in the future based on business process changes.” To grasp those opportunities, Stephens plans on staying abreast of the changing environments in both the marketplace and technologies. But he doesn’t plan on tackling the future alone. He says he will tackle the future with the “involvement of our people, hiring of more fresh minds, continuing to investigate and invest in the latest in technology for the benefit of our clients,” he says.

 

With 30 years as a successful entrepreneur, Stephens naturally has some sage advice to pass on.

 

First, don’t dwell on the past; use it as a sharper lens for the future. “I make it a practice not to look back,” he points out. “It is important to keep going forward. Past experiences help in the vision for future opportunities.”

 

Next, identify the keys things you need to make your company succeed and proceed with caution. “Get experience, get contacts, get with good people, stay up with, and invest in, technology, continue to risk---but carefully,” he advises.

 

Stephens has several important messages for budding entrepreneurs. “Don’t expect others to do it for you,” he shares. “Stay on top of your company’s finances daily; expect to sacrifice---hard work at low pay for a long time. And you must be willing to take risks---just evaluate them first.  For all of this, however, the payoff can be great.”

 

Stephens also cautions those who need a lot of daily security to avoid the role of entrepreneur. “Risk takers with street smarts are the best candidates as well as those with strong determination and sticktoitiveness,” he explains.

 

Stephens notes that one should remember that running a business is stressful. “I heard it said that you leave working 40 hours a week for someone else so you can work 80 hours a week for yourself, but I wouldn’t have it any other way,” he says. What’s his biggest stress? Being responsible for families other than his own. He combats the feeling by keeping his head down, working hard and moving forward. “When things get tough, just dig in faster and deeper,” he advises.

 



Entrepreneurial Spirit:

Harry Stephens

President & CEO, Founder
DATAMATX

Xplor’s 2006 President’s Award Recipient


Be Bossed Before Becoming the Boss: Part 2 of 3

 

By Aaron Kiel and Jennifer Beaver

 

Though Harry Stephens founded his successful billing statement and customer document generating company 30 years ago, he still greets every day as an entrepreneur. With three locations and state-of-the-art equipment, DATAMATX is a fast-paced, constantly evolving player in the high volume transaction output (HVTO) world. In Part 2 of this three-part series, he looks back on some of the things that shaped his destiny.

 

Stephens is a native of Atlanta and currently resides in Alpharetta, Ga with his wife Patricia.  After graduating from Furman University, he served two years in the United States Army as an Artillery Officer, then for three years he taught high school mathematics. Prior to founding DATAMATX in 1976, Harry worked for Electronic Tabulating Services as executive vice president.

 

His parents were a strong influence that led to his success and entrepreneurial spirit. “Having gone through The Depression, they wanted us to have a better life than they did,” he remembers. “Mother wanted all four of her children to go to college---and we did. Our graduation pictures in full cap and gown hung on the living room wall until the day she died. Her pride and profound influence on me was so important, I wanted to live up to it in everything I did.”

 

Stephens learned valuable lessons from his mother that have helped him in the world of business. “I try to avoid dishonest people,” he explains. “My mother was a stickler on honesty and it is one of my core values because of it. She said I would be in more trouble if I did not tell the truth than I would be by telling the truth.”

 

Even as a child, Stephens exhibited entrepreneurial qualities. When Coca Cola offered kids the opportunity to sell the beverage locally, he started a Coca Cola stand in his front yard when he was only eight. By age 10, he had his own paper route---a precursor to life as a business owner. “As a paperboy, I had to deliver the product and also collect for each subscriber/customer, which is much like being in your own business,” he says.

 

In a prescient move, Stephens took college classes that would be very valuable to his eventual career as an entrepreneur and business owner. He majored in math with a minor in business and education at Furman University in Greenville, S.C. “My education helped me because it developed my expertise in finance, accounting and business management,” he notes. “All of which assisted in the start of DATAMATX, when at that time---with just three employees---a lot of the accounting and business management fell on me.”

 

Before starting the company, the career choices Stephens made---school teacher, second lieutenant in the U.S. Army and vice president at a data processing service---contributed to his success by providing discipline. “I truly believe you must learn how to be ‘bossed’ before you can be ‘The Boss’,” he explains.

 

Of course, Stephens is quick to acknowledge that a number of factors contributed to his success. For example, he considers his “sticktoitiveness” as his most valuable asset. “I have the word on a plaque on my wall in my office,” shares Stephens. “I also don’t like to succumb to stress; I just do something about it.”

 

Stephens has learned a valuable lesson from both success and failure: Never give up. “Business is a marathon, not a sprint,” he says. His other integral piece of advice: Learn from others. “Observe their successes and failures,” he advises. “Particularly study the successes of other companies in your industry.”

 

This leader of DATAMATX is upfront about his strengths and weaknesses. “My strength is my ability to anticipate when it is time to change our business model based on the changing business climate,” says Stephens. “When change is needed to move forward, I have changed.” And what about the other side of the coin---his weaknesses? “My weakness might be that I sometimes put off making major decisions and changes, and overanalyze and study the problem,” he comments. “Which has proven sometimes to have paid off, but other times it has not. I try not to set a bad precedent.”

 

In his 30-year journey with DATAMATX, both his strengths and weaknesses have affected his success. “Being resilient to change has been critical,” Stephens believes. He adds, “I think you also have to be a great ‘doer’ in your own business, but you must earn the respect of your associates to become the organization’s leader.”

 

In 30 years, DATAMATX and Stephens have gone through many transitions with numerous successes. His most triumphant moment was re-engineering the business from a data processing service bureau to document distribution services provider. “It is very exciting to be a technology business that offers document distribution solutions---both paper and electronic solutions,” says Stephens.

 

 Harry Stephens with DATAMATX CFO Robert Grant

 

Next issue: “Industry Advocate, ‘President’s Award’ Winner” - Part 3 of this Entrepreneurial Spirit series on Harry Stephens.

 



Entrepreneurial Spirit:

Harry Stephens

President & CEO, Founder
DATAMATX

Xplor’s 2006 President’s Award Recipient

 

Industry Advocate, “President’s Award” Winner: Part 3 of 3

 

By Aaron Kiel and Jennifer Beaver

 

Harry Stephens is president and CEO of DATMATX, one of the nation's largest privately held full-service providers of first-class print, mail and document distribution. In the previous sections of this series, Stephens spoke about the importance of being a “doer” and about earning the respect of people in the industry. In our final chapter, we’ll look at the many ways Stephens has put that philosophy into action.

 

An industry advocate

Continually advocating for a postal system that is healthy and robust for business mailers, Stephens recently addressed the United States Postal Service (USPS) Board of Governors about postal reform and the current state of the postal system. He also recently joined the National Postal Policy Council (NPPC) to ensure that the system remains an efficient and affordable medium for his clients, who mail millions of billing statements and customer documents every year.

 

And if running a successful business doesn’t keep Stephens busy, then his role as industry leader and advocate certainly does. He currently serves on the Executive Board of the Greater Atlanta Postal Customer Council and is a member of the Major Mailers Association, Xplor International and The Electronic Document Systems Foundation. Stephens is also an elected official to the Board of Trustees for The Imaging Network Group, Inc. (INg).

 

For Stephens, participating in industry organizations like the National Postal Policy Council is critical. "The U.S. postal system is still the largest distributor of billing statements and other customer documents," explains Stephens in a recent press release. "Companies outsource their mailing services to DATAMATX so they can focus on their core business areas. I am committed to ensuring that my clients have the best, most efficient mailing system possible helping them operate cost-effectively in every area of business. Becoming a member of the NPPC is just one more way I am working to make that happen.”

 

Recipient of Xplor’s 2006 President’s Award

Along with other fellow Xplor International members, Stephens put his business expertise and contacts to good use in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. His efforts garnered him Xplor’s 2006 President’s Award. Stephens and DATAMATX opened their facilities to fellow Xplor member Pel Hughes, a New Orleans-based printing and direct mail provider whose plant was located in the heart of New Orleans and flooded by several feet of water caused by Hurricane Katrina. By making part of its Atlanta facility available to Pel Hughes, DATAMATX allowed its colleague to reestablish critical operations, maintain communication with the customers and subsequently remain in business. 

 

Following the hurricane, DATAMATX made a portion of its Atlanta facility available to Pel Hughes and helped the company establish several critical business operations including a central communications center; telecommunications; web site presence and email; data communications for receiving transmissions from customers; and a private network for rebuilding automation and processing infrastructures. DATAMATX also assisted Pel Hughes in the purchase of mission-critical equipment and software, including a new, fully configured dedicated Solimar System for document delivery; two new Dell servers to provide processing capabilities for data; a Xerox DocuPrint 4635 Laser Print System for centralized print production; and a Pitney Bowes Series 8 system for mail inserting.

 

OutputLinks congratulates Harry Stephens on receiving the 2006 Xplor President’s Award and offers kudos to the DATAMATX team for 30 years of dedication to the industry.

 

 

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