John Sarantakos: A Life of Printing
John Sarantakos got his introduction to printing at a very early age. He was seven when his father started bringing him and his brother Mark to work at his high school in-plant in Harvey, Ill. His dad — the late J.T. Sarantakos, a well-known in-plant manager in his own right — gave the boys small tasks at first, like hand collating, but by junior high, John Sarantakos was shooting film and running cutters and collators.
“My favorite thing was pouring lead pigs for the Linotype. Dad would say, ‘wear your leather shoes today,’” he recalls, adding with a laugh, “There weren’t too many child labor laws back in the ’60s.”
The elder Sarantakos, who also taught printing at the high school, was strict with the boys.
“You either worked or you didn’t eat lunch,” John Sarantakos says.
The experience inspired a strong work ethic that has fueled decades of success. Sarantakos now runs one of the largest in-plants in the country, the University of Oklahoma’s Printing & Mailing Services, which boasts 88 employees and annual sales of $16.7 million. No other university in-plant generates as much revenue.
A Teacher at Heart
Though he didn’t set out to follow in his father’s footsteps, Sarantakos’ career took a similar trajectory. He attended Western Illinois University where — no surprise — he worked at the in-plant to support his studies. He graduated in 1981 with a B.S. in Industrial Education and found a teaching job at Livingston Area Vocational Center in Pontiac, Ill., where he also coached football.
After four years there, Sarantakos returned to school for his master’s degree. He earned it in a year and a half from Central Missouri State University, where his dad was running the in-plant at the time. After graduating, he was hired as an assistant professor there.
“Teaching at a university’s the greatest job ever,” he proclaims.
Nevertheless, with a family to support by then, he was willing to consider higher-paying opportunities. So when Joe Goss, director of Indiana University’s in-plant, called him in 1988 and asked him to be his associate director, Sarantakos took his leave.
In his nine years there, he developed an integrated database for job ticketing and estimating, expanded the operation to three shifts and developed contracts with local printers for work the in-plant couldn’t handle.
In 1997, the director’s position at the University of Oklahoma’s in-plant opened up and Sarantakos jumped at the opportunity.
“I fell into the perfect situation,” he remarks. “The in-plant was in really good shape.”
Though the on-campus facility was in a very old building, the staff and equipment were first class, he says. With strong support from administration, Sarantakos implemented some new ideas, adding multiple shifts, increasing insourcing and using that new revenue to get new equipment, like a saddle stitcher and a five-color manroland press.
In 2005 he orchestrated the in-plant’s relocation into a new 45,000-sq.-ft. plant five miles north of campus. There, the in-plant installed an eight-color, 28×40˝ Heidelberg Speedmaster 102 perfector in 2008.
“That transformed everything we did,” he says. “It opened up some new markets for us and certainly made us more cost effective and more productive.”
Over the years, the in-plant has used that press and its other equipment, such as its Kodak NexPress SX3300, to produce many award-winning pieces. At last count, the shop has won more than 240 awards for its printing — including an In-Print Best of Show award.
“We take a lot of pride in the contests,” Sarantakos says. Collecting worthy print samples is an all-year process involving many employees. And after winning awards — like the six the in-plant won in this year’s In-Print contest — Sarantakos and his staff hold a special presentation ceremony on campus to which he invites customers and administrators. Customers are presented duplicate awards to thank them for their business.
Focus on Customers
This is all part of the strong customer service focus Sarantakos emphasizes at the in-plant. He also encourages staff to participate in university events and sit on committees, to keep the in-plant fresh in customers’ minds. As a result of all this, support for the in-plant is high on campus.
“I worry about outsourcing, but I don’t worry about it as much as a lot of people do, because I know that we’re in good standing here,” he admits.
Sarantakos has been involved in the In-plant Printing and Mailing Association (IPMA) for many years and is proud to have been elected president of the association.
“Being on the board for all these years has been rewarding because I’ve seen how the association has grown,” he says.
Under his direction, OU’s in-plant has earned IPMA’s Print Center of the Year, Mail Center of the Year and Promotional Excellence awards. He’s very proud of his staff for making such recognition possible.
“They do such great work,” he praises. “It makes my job easy.”
Always looking to increase the in-plant’s value to the university, Sarantakos is not shy about adding new services. In recent years the shop added a Mutoh hybrid flatbed printer, a Colex contour cutter, a Duplo business card slitter and even garment printing capabilities.
Sarantakos’ desire to look for new services to provide is evident in his home life as well. When his daughters took to swimming and began competing in high school, he became restless sitting in the stands. So he got himself trained and became a nationally certified swim official, which allows him to officiate swim meets around the country.
Related story: Ink And Blood Do Mix: In Memory Of J.T. Sarantakos
Bob has served as editor of In-plant Graphics since October of 1994. Prior to that he served for three years as managing editor of Printing Impressions, a commercial printing publication. Mr. Neubauer is very active in the U.S. in-plant industry. He attends all the major in-plant conferences and has visited more than 130 in-plant operations around the world. He has given presentations to numerous in-plant groups in the U.S., Canada and Australia, including the Association of College and University Printers and the In-plant Printing and Mailing Association. He also coordinates the annual In-Print contest, cosponsored by IPMA and In-plant Graphics.