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LEXMARK’s PAUL ROOKE TAKES LEAD AS COMPANY’S THIRD CEO
Twenty years ago, Paul Rooke had recently finished a stint at IBM’s headquarters in New York, learning the ins and outs of being a corporate executive. He returned to Lexington, his home for several years earlier, in the midst of one of the city’s most iconic business moments.
IBM’s longtime typewriter factory was separating from its Big Blue parent at a time when its core product was becoming passé in favor of computer printers. Today, the man tapped to study in Armonk, N.Y., because of his leadership potential is just the third chief executive in the two-decade history of Lexmark International. It’s that history that the company plans to celebrate in grand style this week, commencing with a party for employees and retirees Sunday on its 374-acre campus.
Rooke was named CEO in October, after Paul Curlander, Lexmark’s leader during the majority of its history, announced his retirement from day-to-day operations. Next month, Curlander will also retire from the company’s board, leaving Rooke to lead Lexmark into its third decade of business.But who is the man at the helm of the company that has long been a research-and-development stalwart in a region better known for horses and manufacturing?Rooke, 52, has spent nearly half his life in Lexington, earned a master’s degree in business administration from the University of Kentucky and has held numerous management posts at Lexmark. Roundly complimented, he’s a "Lexmark original," as the employees who have been with the company from the start are called, having never worked professionally anywhere but the company and its predecessor.
‘Calm, cool and collected’
The son of a high-ranking Dow Chemical executive, Rooke grew up in Texas but moved to Michigan after his father’s promotion. The third of four sons, Rooke was the president and valedictorian of his high school class.An aspiring tennis player, Rooke had an even-tempered demeanor that was obvious from an early age, said his mother, Esthermae Rooke."His tennis coach always said that in a tournament, he would have to go over to the court where Paul was playing to see how he was doing because he would never slam the racket or jump up and down," she said. "He stayed calm, cool and collected."Rooke gave up his childhood dreams of being a professional tennis player when he entered the University of Michigan, where he graduated in 1980 with a degree in mechanical engineering. "I was always interested in how things work," he said.He immediately went to work for IBM in Texas. As a manufacturing engineer, he was to provide support to the assembly lines that were cranking out the iconic Selectric typewriters."On my first two weeks on the job, I was asked to go down the line and build one," Rooke said. "This gave me insight into how tough it is organizing the people and the parts."
Four years later, he was sent to Lexington as part of a consolidation and focused on automating the early IBM printers that used typewriter technology. About that time, he went to work for John Trisler, who became a mentor as he progressed at IBM and later Lexmark."He had an immense ability to manage several different balls in the air," said Trisler, who wound up working for Rooke later in his career.Trisler said Rooke’s leadership skills can be traced to his ability to listen. He said Rooke would use whiteboards in meetings to help visualize colleagues’ descriptions.He would be writing, listening, talking and thinking, "which is pretty hard to do," Trisler said.It was such an effective technique that Rooke’s mentor used it himself when he became judge-executive in Mercer County after retirement.
Those abilities and others led Rooke to be selected to work with the New York executive who oversaw IBM’s Boulder, Colo., facility.Upon his return, he began a series of jobs, including project manager and marketing and sales manager. His major promotion came in 1998, when he was named president of Lexmark’s ink and toner division.By 2000, he was running the company’s laser printer division, and in 2007, he was tapped to turn around its struggling inkjet division."We needed a strong executive with a track record of success," said Curlander, the executive chairman and former CEO. "Paul Rooke is a very, very strong executive."
In four years, Rooke and his team refocused Lexmark’s inkjet products on business customers rather than their historic appeal to consumers, many of whom were not printing enough to meet the company’s profit expectations.It was a challenge for Rooke, who before then had taken on the task of switching the laser printer sales force from selling just printers to what Lexmark calls "solutions," ways for companies to better manage printing.Rooke said, "I believe you grow the most with the toughest challenges, and those were different challenges but ones that really stretched my development."
Succeeding in those challenges made him a natural choice to follow Curlander, the former CEO said."In every role he’s done with Lexmark, he’s demonstrated strong leadership and strategic vision," Curlander said.Rooke’s background in both of Lexmark’s key products impresses industry observers, including Brian Alexander, director of technology research for financial services firm Raymond James and Associates."He’s got a strong track record of improving both of those businesses," said Alexander, whose firm has received non-investment banking securities-related compensation from Lexmark in the past year.
Turning around the inkjet division continues to be a goal for Rooke and Lexmark, which has been revamping the division since 2006."I would have expected it to perform better by now," said Alexander, noting that he had hoped to see growth in ink sales.Asked whether Rooke’s promotion might hamper the turnaround because he’s no longer overseeing it directly, Alexander said he doubted it because of the leadership underneath Rooke."He’s developing the right strategy," Alexander said, "and I think he’s a strong leader."
Work and life in balance
He has taken on significantly more responsibility in his years at Lexmark, but observers applaud Rooke’s work-life balance.One of the activities he’s most involved with is Lexington Young Life, a Christian youth outreach group that his eldest daughter joined while attending Paul Laurence Dunbar High School.Rooke, who attends St. John’s Lutheran Church, served on the youth group’s board for a decade and was chairman for six years."I’ve seen the way he’s led me and led us," said Matt Harrison, area director of the organization. "To know we have a business leader in the community with that kind of character is very exciting."
Rooke also has stayed involved with UK since earning his M.B.A. in 1991. He was inducted into the Gatton College of Business and Economics’ Alumni Hall of Fame in 2009. As part of the M.B.A. program’s "Project Connect," Rooke frequently speaks to the university’s students."He’s been really challenging to them and inspiring to them," said Devanathan Sudharshan, dean of the Gatton College.It’s that kind of inspiration that observers say he’ll bring to Lexmark’s roughly 3,000 employees in Lexington."People like to work for him," Curlander said. "They respect his abilities, and they trust him."
Said Trisler: "I know I’m putting a lot of pressure on him to do well, but I’d rather have my money on that horse than probably anyone else."And as Lexmark enters its third decade of business, Rooke pledged that the company will grow as it develops new ways to solve its customers’ problems.He said, "I’m as excited as I’ve ever been in terms of Lexmark and what we’re doing
Author2011-03-30 at 9:01:28 am
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