Banta Corporation History

225 Main Street
Box 8003
Menasha, Wisconsin 54952-8003

Telephone: (920) 751-7777
Fax: (920) 751-7790

Public Company
Incorporated: 1901 as George Banta Printing Company
Employees: 7,000
Sales: $1.34 billion (1998)
Stock Exchanges: New York
Ticker Symbol: BN
NAIC: 323110 Commercial Lithographic Printing; 323115 Digital Printing; 323117 Book Printing; 323122 Prepress Services; 339110 Medical Equipment and Supplies Manufacturing; 541430 Graphic Design Services; 541511 Custom Computer Programming Services

Company Perspectives:

Succeeding in the Information Age requires more than keeping pace. The most successful companies look to the future and apply cutting-edge technologies that put them a step ahead. Banta Corporation offers an extraordinary suite of innovative, world-class capabilities that streamline the capture, management and distribution of print and digital information. We improve clients' competitiveness by providing solutions that help them deliver information in a variety of print and electronic formats, at ever-faster speeds and at lower costs. Key Dates:

Key Dates:

George Banta incorporates his printing business as George Banta Printing Company.
Company is renamed George Banta Publishing Company.
A two-story plant is completed in Menasha.
Company purchases its first web offset press.
42,000-square-foot Midway Plant is completed, located midway between Menasha and Appleton.
Company's name is changed to George Banta Company, Inc.
Acquisition program begins with purchase of Daniels Packaging.
Sales reach $50 million.
Company goes public through a $5.7 million initial public offering.
Revenues surpass the half-billion mark; company name is streamlined to Banta Corporation.
Company acquires Cork, Ireland-based BG Turnkey Services Ltd.; revenues top the $1 billion mark for the first time.
Company's stock moves from the NASDAQ to the New York Stock Exchange.
A restructuring is initiated, resulting in the elimination of 650 jobs and the closure of three facilities.

Company History:

Banta Corporation, one of the nation's largest printing and digital imaging companies, literally started in a small-town Wisconsin dining room in 1886. From its humble beginnings, Banta grew to become a technologically advanced, multifaceted reproducer of a wide variety of information, from small-run periodicals to educational and popular books to catalogs and direct marketing materials, with these activities conducted by Banta's Book, Catalog, Direct Marketing, Information Services, and Publications Groups. Among the products and services offered by the company's Digital Services Group are software and services for managing digital content, online publishing, electronic commerce, and web site hosting and maintenance. The Global Turnkey Group is involved in comprehensive supply chain management, from document printing through delivery to the end user, mainly for U.S. and European manufacturers of computer hardware and software. The Healthcare Products Group makes and distributes single-use healthcare products, such as examination gowns and dental bibs, and foodservice products, such as table covers and disposable bibs. By the late 1990s, Banta had acquired a diverse array of printing and digital imaging companies, reported sales of more than $1.3 billion, and maintained 33 production facilities in the United States and five in Europe located in Ireland, Scotland, and the Netherlands.

From Humble Beginnings to Pioneering Printer

In the 1880s, company founder George Banta was a traveling agent for Phoenix Fire Insurance, based in Menasha, Wisconsin, some 80 miles north of Milwaukee. Banta was also a printing buff and, much to the distress of his new bride, Nellie, he brought a printing press into the only room in their house big enough to accommodate it. Two years, one house, and one baby later, Nellie Banta insisted on evicting the press to a shed built in the backyard. George bought a noisy gasoline engine to run the press and also hired one full-time worker for the tiny operation whose main business consisted of printing his insurance forms.

After a fire in 1901 burned down the shed, Banta moved his equipment to a Main Street store front, added a platen job press, and incorporated the business as George Banta Printing Company, with the purpose of 'engaging in the business of job and newspaper printing, bookbinding, and manufacture of books and pamphlets.' Two years later the corporation was renamed George Banta Publishing Company. The strain of running the shop along with his insurance job took its toll on George Banta, who had a history of malaria and lung problems. In 1904 his doctors ordered him West to recuperate. To save their business, Nellie stayed behind in Menasha and took over as manager. She proved a determined and effective entrepreneur. Meanwhile, George, who had been a Phi Delta Theta member at Indiana University and remained active in the fraternity's national organization, landed a contract to print the Phi Delta magazine, and in time also signed up a number of other fraternities and sororities.

George's educational contacts--his father was dean of the Indiana University law school--helped the company win orders for university catalogs and annuals, as well as some textbooks and magazines. Thus, Banta Publishing grew mainly as a specialist in book and periodical printing. Not that it turned away commercial customers; in its early days, it regularly printed large-volume promotional booklets for Quaker Oats. In 1910 Banta was ready for its own building, a two-story plant just across the Fox River. These facilities, vastly enlarged over the decades, remained the site of Banta Company's offices, the largest division of Banta Corporation, and a complex of printing facilities into the late 1990s.

In 1911, 18-year-old George Banta, Jr., dropped out of college and assumed charge of the office. The replacement of Nellie was somewhat brusque, wrote Appleton Post-Crescent contributor Kay Roberts, but while the 'Founder's wife' reminisced that she 'missed the five dollars a week she earned,' she also maintained she had much to attend to at home and 'left with few regrets.' George, Sr., while periodically bothered by health problems, continued to be a major sales contributor and retained overall leadership as president until his death in 1935 at age 76. Nellie then assumed the presidency until she died in her 86th year in 1951.

The company continued to grow, with emphasis on the educational market. As a historical review in the 1990 annual report noted, Banta was emphatic on keeping 'pace with technological change.' However, 'rather than attempting to serve many markets, the company focused initially on ones in which it could build special strengths and capabilities.' Even though the company consistently ranked among the top five U.S. printers in the 1980s and 1990s, Banta liked to concentrate on numerous niche businesses and sought to be the leader or a strong contender in each market it entered.

By the onset of World War I, Banta was printing 184 scholarly, technical, and educational journals. The war years brought a harsher climate which lasted into the early 1920s, but then, as the decade progressed, Banta benefited from an 'explosion in education.' By the end of the decade, Banta found itself in the right place for an innovative concept. One of George, Jr.'s brothers-in-law, Russell Sharp, wrote an elementary school workbook and turned to Banta to produce it. The company soon became the leader in printing workbooks as these softcover scholastic aids became a major educational tool from first grade right up through graduate school. Eventually this expertise helped make Banta a leader in softcover books for the professional market as well as for 'trade' books (general interest books sold through bookstores).

Always technically progressive, Banta acquired its first web offset press in 1940. In the early days, the prevailing state of the art in paper, platemaking, ink, and other printing supplies limited the jobs considered suitable for offset. Banta became a pioneer in pushing development of improved supplies as well as speedier and higher-quality presses. As web offset developed into the printing method of choice for many applications, the expanding Banta Company established itself as a major player in the industry.

In 1946 Banta expanded beyond its home complex with the 42,000-square-foot Midway plant, built halfway between downtown Menasha and nearby Appleton. Even as it kept expanding its printing business, the company contracted its name, dropping the 'Publishing' to become George Banta Company, Inc. in 1954. The streamlined name also eliminated possible confusion about Banta's role: it did the production work for books and periodicals, while publishers (who create and market books) were its customers.

Late 1960s Through 1980s: Pressing Forward Via Acquisitions

Banta, which did barely $3.5 million in business at the end of World War II and $10 million in the mid-1950s, attained $33 million in sales by 1968. Family leadership had been interrupted in 1961 when John H. Wilterding, who had started at Banta in 1923, succeeded George Banta, Jr., as president. On Wilterding's retirement in 1965, however, George Banta III, the son of George, Jr., took over. Conglomeration had become the fashion throughout American enterprise, and the printing industry was no exception. George III related: 'We had many beautiful offers to sell out ... but we decided to remain independent.' Banta set out to prepare itself for the new order. In 1968 it brought in Menasha-born Kimberly Clark executive William H. Fieweger as president, with George Banta III as chairman, a post he retained until his retirement in 1983.

Within a year, the Banta-Fieweger team had the company's first long-range expansion plan ready, based on the recognition that the industry was 'becoming increasingly capital intensive' and hence required 'larger economic units.' The Banta plan aimed to: continue internal growth, 'notably from educational sources'; acquire selected small firms to promote expansion; and encourage technological advancement not just by buying new equipment, but by innovating new methods and directions. The acquisition program began in 1969 with the $2.4 million purchase of Daniels Packaging of Rhinelander, Wisconsin, which specialized in producing foil and flexible film wrap for food and other grocery products. Somewhat ironically, this first acquisition also became the first major unit disposed of by Banta; in 1989 the greatly expanded Daniels was sold for an after-tax gain of $9.6 million.

In 1970, Banta added periodicals printer Hart Press of Minnesota and Menasha neighbor Northwestern Engraving, which prepared color separations for printers and for whom Banta had been a major customer. These acquisitions along with internal growth boosted Banta sales volume above $50 million for the first time. In March 1971 Banta was ready to go public, selling 455,000 shares (a 29 percent interest) at $12.50 per share. Over the next two-and-a-half decades, the share value multiplied more than 25-fold.

Acquisitions continued through the 1970s and 1980s. Ling Products of Neenah, Wisconsin, acquired in 1973, made disposable products for the health and foodservice industries, such as examination gowns, table covers, and bibs. KCS Industries of Milwaukee, purchased in 1975, produced point-of-sale displays. Moreover, R.J. Carroll of Harrisonburg, Virginia, bought in 1976 and later named Banta Harrisonburg, provided Eastern production facilities for Banta's basic education-oriented business. Banta's most important acquisition came in 1988, under the leadership of chairman and CEO Harry W. Earle, when Minnesota-based Beddor Companies joined the fold. The move increased Banta's size by about two-thirds and put it into consumer catalogs and direct mail materials, among the fastest growing segments of retail merchandising. It also added to Banta's softcover capacity through printer Viking Press of Minneapolis (no relation to the well-known New York publisher Viking). The merger pushed sales above the half-billion mark in 1989 and brought Banta into the Fortune 500. At the same time, Banta further streamlined its corporate name to Banta Corporation.

1990s and Beyond

Acquisitions of 'high-quality' companies remained high on the Banta agenda in the 1990s. Thus, in 1994, Banta added Danbury Printing and Litho of Connecticut, augmenting its capabilities in the direct marketing industry with a strategic manufacturing facility in the Northeast. Another 1994 acquisition was United Graphics of Kent, Washington, which gave Banta a second western printing plant to complement its Utah facility, Bushman Press, acquired in 1991. Through the United Graphics purchase, Banta also added software giant Microsoft Corporation to its already broad roster of top-level computer industry customers. Donald D. Belcher came to Banta as president in the fall of 1994 from office supplier Avery Dennison and took over the chairmanship and CEO position from retiring Calvin Aurand, Jr., in 1995.

All told, Banta added 23 companies during the first quarter century of its acquisition policy. Banta succeeded in obtaining strong growth from companies following their acquisition, which meshed into its overall plan for 'aggressive and profitable growth' from internally developed new products and services.

Banta organized its many acquisitions into several product groups that operated as largely autonomous enterprises, an approach the company believed would make them 'quicker, more nimble, and better able to respond to customer needs.' The three largest groups in the mid-1990s, each with a little over one-fifth of total volume, were the Book, Catalog, and Direct Marketing units. The Banta Book Group handled both educational and general books, and also produced instructional games such as 'Trivial Pursuit,' a game wildly popular in the mid-1980s.

The Publications Group, which accounted for about one-eighth of total volume, put out more than 500 educational, trade, religious, and fraternal magazines with circulation mostly in the 15,000-to-350,000 range. Niche-conscious Banta specialized in this type of periodical rather than large-scale consumer magazines 'because they are less subject to cyclical variation in number of advertising pages; also because regular planned growth is easier to achieve, since each new periodical adds only modestly to sales.' Smaller groups were the Banta Digital Group, Information Services, and the more specialized KCS (signs, displays, etc.) and Ling (single-use products) units.

Banta planned to stay strong in the 1990s, noted Belcher, by 'investing ahead of the curve in new technologies.' Between 1990 and 1994, Banta reinvested $265 million in its operations, $87 million in 1994 alone. Such a figure represented around ten percent of revenues, more than double the industry average. Capital acquired in the early 1990s included a $20 million printing press whose wide web permitted the printing of 50 percent more pages across the web of paper while running at nearly 50 percent greater speed. In another plant, a Xeikon full-color digital system printed entirely from digital information, requiring no film or plates. Other electronic and optical systems, often enhanced by proprietary software programs, sped prepress preparation and after-printing processing (addressing and distribution), enabling Banta to offer fast turnaround and highly customized service, such as catalogs or direct mail pieces with content tailored for specific recipients. Similarly, college texts could be custom-bound to match a professor's specific course curriculum.

Chairman Belcher expected Banta's core business to remain 'imaging on paper,' even as the design, production, and distribution processes which turned out these familiar print products were being 'revolutionized by digital technologies.' In addition, he predicted that a broad array of nonprint products, including CD-ROMs and 'image archiving,' would show proportionally faster growth than print. An example of the new kinds of jobs that were being taken on by Banta was an electronic catalog for a major business-to-business cataloger that was essentially a CD-ROM version of its printed catalog. For computer industry customers, Banta not only printed instruction manuals but provided on-demand electronic printing, duplication of floppies, diskettes, and CD-ROMs, and assembly of software kits.

Though Banta had long expressed interest in the global market, foreign expansion had barely begun in the 1990s. In 1994 Banta established a software documentation unit in the Netherlands, which enabled domestic customers to download data for printing and distribution overseas. The following year came a much larger purchase, that of Cork, Ireland-based BG Turnkey Services Ltd. The Cork, Ireland-based company had annual sales of about $160 million and provided services to European computer industry customers similar to those offered by Banta's existing U.S. operations, including manual and promotional item printing, disk and CD-ROM duplication, software package assembly, and fulfillment. BG became part of the Banta Global Turnkey Group. Also in 1995, Banta moved into the burgeoning world of the Internet with the acquisition of New Frontiers Information Corp., a Cambridge, Massachusetts, software company specializing in the creation of online catalogs and ordering systems. Revenues for 1995 topped $1 billion for the first time.

Acquisitions continued in the late 1990s. In September 1997 Banta paid about $50.7 million in cash for the Omnia Group, a Troy, Michigan, supplier of single-use medical and dental products. The Omnia operation was merged into Banta's existing single-use products unit, which by this time was known as the Banta Healthcare Group. In October 1997 Banta acquired Greenfield Printing & Publishing Company--a printer of special interest and trade magazines based in Greenfield, Ohio--for about $21.3 million. Also in late 1997 Banta initiated a restructuring program, which entailed a $13.5 million charge and was completed in 1998. The company sold most of its KCS unit, including its point-of-purchase sign and display business; its interactive video operation; and three Banta Global Turnkey facilities in Sacramento and Irvine, California, and in Provo, Utah.

During 1998 Banta expanded into the Latin American market for the first time through the acquisition of a 30 percent interest in Morgan Impresores S.A., one of the largest printers in Chile with annual sales of about $45 million. Continuing to seek opportunities outside the United States, Banta in mid-1999 formed a joint venture with Grupo Imagen, a Queretaro, Mexico-based sheet-fed printer. During 1998 Banta made its first release of Bzmedia, a digital content management system for storing, archiving, retrieving, and 'repurposing' digital information for print or electronic distribution. In early 1999 leading educational publisher Houghton Mifflin Company selected Banta to develop two online education pilot programs to test Internet-based delivery of customized educational materials, as well as to begin development of a Búmedia system for the publisher that would encompass both textbook and Internet output. The company was also developing a Búcommerce electronic-commerce product which enabled Banta customers to sell and distribute their products through a web site.

Meanwhile, in January 1999 Banta signed a $100 million contract with IDG Books Worldwide, publisher of the bestselling 'For Dummies' series and other trade titles. Banta committed to printing a variety of books for IDG, and also agreed to provide inventory management, order fulfillment, distribution, and returns processing. The company built a 250,000-square-foot distribution center in Harrisburg, Virginia, which had a storage capacity for about 16 million books and was slated to be used exclusively for IDG products.

In April 1999 Banta announced a restructuring program aimed at generating annual savings of $18-$20 million by 2000. Underperforming facilities in Kent, Washington; Charlotte, North Carolina; and Berkeley, Illinois, were slated for closure, and 650 workers, representing about nine percent of the overall workforce, lost their jobs. The restructuring, which resulted in a fiscal 1999 charge of about $50 million, was part of a three-part program to position Banta for the early 21st century, with the second and third parts both being partially funded through the restructuring savings. The company planned to step up its acquisitions program, as outlined by Belcher: 'Recent acquisitions have boosted our technology and value-added service capabilities, and we are now accelerating our acquisition activities with the goal of aggressively growing our most profitable core print sectors and our healthcare business.' The third part of the program was to continue the company's aggressive development of digital technology products, such as Búmedia and Búcommerce.

Principal Subsidiaries: Banta Direct Marketing, Inc.; Banta Europe Corp. (Ireland); Banta Healthcare Products, Inc.; Banta Security Printing, Inc.; Banta Global Turnkey B.V. (Netherlands); Banta Global Turnkey France; Banta Global Turnkey Limited (Ireland); Banta Global Turnkey Limited (Scotland); Banta Packaging & Fulfillment, Inc.; Banta Software Services International, Inc.; Banta Specialty Converting, Inc.; Danbury Printing & Litho, Inc.; KnowledgeSet Corporation; New Frontiers Information Corporation; One Pass Network, Inc.; United Graphics Inc.; Wrapper, Inc.; Banta Publications-Greenfield, Inc.; Cidex International, Inc.; Banta Direct Marketing-Berkeley, Inc.; Omnia I, Inc.; Tidi Products, Inc.; Meadows Information Systems, Inc.; Greenfield Holdings Corp.; Banta Cayman Islands Corp. (Cayman Islands); Type Designs, Inc.; Ad Run Around, Inc.; Banta Ireland Corp.; Turnkey Services Holding Corp.; Banta Holding Corp.

Principal Operating Units: Book Group; Catalog Group; Digital Group; Direct Marketing Group; Global Turnkey Group; Healthcare Group; Information Services Group; Publications Group.

Principal Competitors: Anderson Lithograph Company; Berlin Industries Inc.; Big Flower Holdings, Inc.; Champion Industries, Inc.; Consolidated Graphics, Inc.; Courier Corporation; Dai Nippon Printing Co., Ltd.; Hart Graphics, Inc.; Mail-Well, Inc.; Quad/Graphics, Inc.; Quebecor Printing Inc.; R.R. Donnelley & Sons Company; Tufco Technologies, Inc.

Further Reading:

  • 'Banta to Restructure in a Four-Part Plan,' Graphic Arts Monthly, November 1997, p. 26.
  • Belcher, Donald D., Presentation on Banta Corporation to the New York Society of Security Analysts, company document, March 6, 1995.
  • Byrne, Harlan S., 'Banta Corp. Acquisition Doubles Sales, Moves It into Fast-Growing Field,' Barron's, May 29, 1989.
  • ------, 'Banta Corp.: A Power of the Press,' Barron's, March 20, 1995, p. 24.
  • Hawkins, Lee, Jr., 'Banta Shedding Parts of KCS: Firm to Close Printing Operation at Milwaukee Plant, Sell Display Business As Part of Restructuring Plan,' Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, September 27, 1997.
  • ------, 'Menasha-Based Banta Corp. Lands $100 Million Publishing Contract,' Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, January 28, 1999.
  • ------, 'Menasha, Wis.-Based Printing Firm Banta Corp. to Lay Off 650 Workers,' Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, April 13, 1999.
  • Joshi, Pradnya, 'Banta Acquires Software Company,' Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, October 10, 1995.
  • Olson, Jon, 'Banta Corp. Makes Move into Europe,' Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, August 29, 1995, p. D1.
  • ------, 'Banta Is Making an Imprint on Wall Street,' Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, September 16, 1995.
  • Roberts, Kay, 'The Founder's Wife,' Appleton (Wisc.) Post-Crescent, February 4, 1979.
  • 'Short and Sweet: Banta Digital Services Uses Digital Press Technology to Develop the On-Demand Print Market,' American Printer, September 1995, pp. 36-38.
  • Stapel, Jeff, and Lorrie Potash, 'Banta--90 Years of Growth,' Banta Company Magazine, 1991, pp. 18-20.

Source: International Directory of Company Histories, Vol. 32. St. James Press, 2000.