After five years at the helm of Onlineprinters, Dr. Michael Fries wants to devote himself to other entrepreneurial tasks. On July 1st, his successor will be Roland Keppler.
“We were a craft-oriented printing company and became a print shop that did e-commerce. Today we are an e-commerce company that prints,” said Dr. Michael Fries, the CEO of Onlineprinters until 30 June 2019, describing the company’s transformation process. Onlineprinters owes much of this paradigm shift to Michael Fries. After five years, at his own request, he is leaving the company to devote himself to other entrepreneurial tasks, explains Onlineprinters.
New impulses for Onlineprinters
Roland Keppler will take over as Chairman of the Management Board from Dr. Michael Fries on July 1st. While Fries knows Onlineprinters and the printing industry inside out, Keppler is now a manager from the classic service sector. As CEO, the industrial engineer has led companies such as Europcar car rental, the car sharing provider car2go (from December 2014) and TUIfly (from autumn 2016 to the end of 2018), where he had previously worked from 1999 to 2009. Keppler is regarded as a prudent manager who has recently developed new strategies in the aviation industry, which is dominated by strong turbulence and rivalries, such as closer links between tour operators and airlines.
Now he is to lead Onlineprinters together with CCO Christian Würst and CFO Dirk A. Müller, to further advance the international growth course of the Onlineprinters Group and to further intensify the focus on customer needs. With his background Roland Keppler will certainly set new strategies for Onlineprinters. It remains to be seen where the journey will take us. “We want to continue to grow dynamically internationally, to integrate the Group’s companies even more strongly and to win new customers through innovations. I am looking forward to the tasks ahead,” explains Keppler.
Dr. Michael Fries joined Onlineprinters at the beginning of July 2014 after having built up the online printing business at Cewe Color parallel to photofinishing and photo book production with the brands Viaprinto and Saxoprint. Prior to this, Fries gained management experience at Boston Consulting Group and was responsible for prepress and sheetfed printing at Bertelsmann subsidiary, Mohn Media.Fries already knew the online print business inside out when he came to Neustadt an der Aisch and drove the international expansion of the online printer.
Under his leadership, Onlineprinters has become a through and through “industrial printing house” and has grown significantly. In 2017 Onlineprinters acquired the British company Solopress, and in January 2018 the Danish online printer LaserTryk was acquired. Thanks to this internationalization strategy, Onlineprinters is now one of the top 3 online printers in Europe with more than 1,500 employees and an annual turnover of 200 million euros.
Since 2016, Bregal Unternehmerkapital has supported the growth of Onlineprinters as a majority shareholder and Project A Venture. Since then, they have jointly invested in the further digitalization of production processes and online marketing expertise. Internationally, the Onlineprinters Group now operates over 18 web shops in 30 countries.
“Whether something is good or bad, you know at the earliest after five years, says a Chinese proverb. I think Michael Fries has done his job well and will leave a lasting impression”. – Bernd Zipper
Growth still there
Dr. Michael Fries has provided significant momentum for its continued growth. He has set the course from a product-centric to a consumer-focused business model. “A web shop that is only used as a digital sales channel has had its day,” believes Fries. “Particularly in the B2B sector, customers need additional benefits over and above the mere purchase of products. This is why online printers are currently moving from the shop to the digital platform. Under the leadership of Michael Fries, more and more products have been integrated into the portfolio as part of a one-stop shopping strategy – Onlineprinters is now a full-service provider for print advertising.
In an increasingly competitive market, Michael Fries did not focus on confrontation, but on cooperation. He is convinced that the trend will continue towards cooperation: “Special prints, local consulting services and individual services are the strengths of traditional printing companies. Many of them purchase products such as stationery, posters and brochures from online printers and work as resellers. At the same time, online printers also buy from specialist suppliers – for example, letterpress business cards or promotional items – and then offer these print shops a sales platform.”
But that doesn’t mean that local print shops have no future, on the contrary. Dr. Michael Fries is convinced that “Those who face the transformation process can continue to grow strongly in the future”. However, he admits that online print shops will continue to change the printing industry and assumes that the sales of online print shops in Western Europe will continue to grow at double-digit rates over the next few years. “The industry is undergoing a brilliant, disruptive change that leaves no stone unturned,” says Fries: “Every company must question its business model and adapt it to the new demands of the market.
My take: I have come to know Michael Fries less as a fleeting visionary and more as a pragmatic doer in the online print industry – authentic and realistic. His strength lies in his analytical and systematic approach to a task. This has also distinguished him over the years at Onlineprinters. His know-how covers not only the printing business, but also all the operational processes that are essential for the online printing business. He has expanded in-house marketing competence, significantly enhanced IT processes, restructured production organization and made many other adjustments. With Michael Fries, Onlineprinters not only loses a CEO, but also a figurehead. I am sure he will remain with the industry – now he is doing what everyone else is doing in summer: Vacation. On this note – have a nice summer!