From laundry floor to international businessman - A life In print

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At 73, print industry legend Arthur Frost plans to keep on working despite the burden of a 'not–too–good' knee replacement.

From humble beginnings, sleeping on the floor of a laundry in Paddington in his teenaged years, the winner of this year's Media Super Print Industry Legend award got off to a rocky start. He claims he got into the print industry by mistake.

'My first job was in a bank but when I became a licensed bookmaker, I didn't think that my banking career was a natural fit,' he chuckles. Besides, he needed Wednesdays off to get to the races.

Arthur needed to find flexible work. As a salesman, he was a natural and flogged anything 'from pens and pencils to meat pies, and eventually printing'.

He went to work selling print with Lamson Paragon in 1966, but his natural curiosity led him to range far and wide across the business, accumulating knowledge as he went. When Canadian interests took over the company and renamed it Moore Paragon, it was time for Arthur to look further afield.

Earning his stripes

He eventually bought a small subsidiary from them and built that up. He was printing ticketing, and BASS was one of his biggest clients. Arthur had seen early that magnetic stripe ticketing was the way of the future, so when news of an electronic funds transfer system using this technology began leaking out of the USA in the early 1980s, Arthur was all ears.

'EFTPOS was an exciting new technology for moving funds around financial systems,' he said. 'So we rolled our ticketing business into a new public company, Eftech, and from 1985 started installing EFTPOS technology into retail outlets across Australia.'

Then, disaster.

'We'd probably put in around 60 per cent of the terminals available in Australia when the stock market crashed in 1987.'

While Arthur eventually found white knight Norton Opax to allow Eftech to keep going, this was only a temporary fix. Arthur unwittingly became a victim of the machinations of international business takeovers involving print behemoths Norton Opax, McCorquodale, De La Rue and Bowater.

During that time, Arthur never strayed far from the print industry. With Placard, a Melbourne plastic card company, another business producing paint charts and colour cards and the ticketing business still feeding his family, he still had enough distractions while the international players decided his fate.

When eventual victor Bowater realised it owned a 40 per cent share in a public company in Australia that was installing EFTPOS, it decided it had little appetite for this new technology, and it was time for Arthur to move on again.

A paragon of printing

In 1990, Lamson Paragon began trading again, this time with Arthur Frost at the helm. It started as a business form supplier with just two workers – one to get the orders (Arthur), the other to process them – but the business began to grow.

Eventually a cheque printing business, ChequeMates was born, which is now run by his son Rodney. This entity provides another example of how the Frosts respond quickly to changing technologies.

'As fewer people needed cheques, ChequeMates diversified and became a transactional, processing and mail house facility,' Arthur told Media Super.

The Lamson Paragon Group now employs more than 80 printers and has businesses in Perth, Melbourne and Sydney.

Where to from here

'The sad thing about the industry is that, for the first time, we are no longer replacing people who leave.

'Two things have impacted on us. The forms industry is practically dead in the water. All forms have gradually migrated to intranet systems. From 80 per cent of our work 10 years ago, it is now a maximum of 15 per cent.

'Secondly, many forms buyers who still need print have gone global and source their printing where it's cheapest. The only advantage we can offer local buyers is turnaround. We can get it to clients in two weeks, whereas they may have to wait five or six weeks for overseas suppliers,' he said.

Go international

Again, Arthur has stepped up to the new challenges. A new business run out of the Philippines, Integrated Solutions, offers clients an overseas option for processes such as estimating, graphic arts, accounts payable and accounts receivable. This service is available 24/7 over the internet.

Arthur quotes his own positioning statement: 'We're your partner, not your competitor'.

'This cooperative model offers our clients ready solutions, and allows us to exploit niche requirements' he said. 'We mop up the smaller specialist work.'

And of the future?

The international media fair DRUPA, held every four years in Dusseldorf in Germany, announces the very latest technologies and debates the way forward.

'After this year's conference, I am much more optimistic for the industry. New technologies are becoming available that will automate presses and processes. These will help save us,' he said.

Arthur has four grandchildren, and it's his concern for their future that drives him to keep abreast of where opportunities will arise for them.

'Rather than concern ourselves with jobs disappearing, we should be mindful that new jobs will arise to replace them. In fact, one commentator suggests that my grandchildren will be employed in one of the 90 per cent of jobs that don't even exist yet.

'With the advent of the internet, renewable energies and driverless cars in my lifetime, I can't imagine what waits just around the corner. Soon, I think we will be printing solar panels,' he laughed.

'While I am optimistic for the future, I am grateful to have lived in the era that I did. It was a good one,' and with that, the indefatigable Arthur Frost went back to work.