The Path Back to Printing
By choosing to pursue a career in printing, Donna Horbelt, director of Auxiliary Enterprises, Printing and Media Services, at The University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston (UTHealth), has come full circle, following a line of women — her grandmother and mother — who have worked in the printing industry.
Ironically, the Lubbock, Texas, native was a biology major in college, but through many changes in her life, found herself being drawn back to print.
“My mother and grandmother were a huge influence on me,” she explains. “They both worked at a printing company [Craftsman Printers] in Lubbock, Texas, that printed college catalogs. My grandmother worked in the bindery and my mother was the bookkeeper. That was my first experience with printing.”
In 1975, Horbelt’s grandmother got her a job as a proofreader at Craftsman Printers, where she later advanced to editing tape. She then found a typesetting position at Lubbock Typo.
After college, Horbelt moved to Houston and began work at a commercial print shop in the typesetting department, and eventually became manager. She then moved into the advertising business and became a production manager.
“My grandmother got me into this business, which is kind of funny because we lived on a cotton farm, where we chopped weeds every day in the summer from 6 a.m. to noon for $1 per hour,” she recalls. “My grandmother’s sons ran the farm and, not one to sit still and stay at home, my grandmother decided to work.”
Horbelt credits her grandmother for teaching her the importance of having a really strong work ethic and the necessity of paying attention to detail.
When Horbelt first came to UTHealth in 1990 as a job coordinator, her main job functions were to estimate and handle all customer service projects for MD Anderson Cancer Center, part of The University of Texas System. She later became the assistant director, and her duties remained the same along with the responsibilities of managing the production areas.
In 2002, Horbelt decided to take a six-year break to pursue another business, until she received a phone call in 2008.
“They [UTHealth] called and asked me to come back because the in-plant was in terrible shape. My boss gave me 18 months to turn the in-plant around, and to make a profit or we were going to have to close.”
Horbelt saw that she had her work cut out for her.
“No new technology had been added since I left in 2002. The equipment was outdated and in need of repairs, an old DOS-based management system — that was on its last leg — was still being used, and we had lost our entire customer base. We were over a million dollars in the hole.”
Despite this, she was able to turn the shop around.
“It was a long haul, and I was just fortunate enough to be able to match up with a really big department here at UT that was going somewhere else for all of their printing, and they offered to give me a shot,” she says.
In the second year, Horbelt produced a $2.5 million project for one client. “It was real touch and go, and I barely pulled it off in time,” she admits.
With the support of her supervisor, Charlie Figari, the in-plant received the funds it needed to upgrade the shop and repair the equipment. Horbelt and her team began to call on old customers who had gone to other vendors to try and retrieve their business. The in-plant made up its $1.3 million dollar deficit in three years and has been able to turn a profit every year.
“It took a lot of hard work and support from management and our employees to turn the shop around and become a shop we could all be proud of,” says Horbelt.
Today, the 22,000-sq.-ft. shop has an operating budget of about $3,500,000 and employs 20 full-time and two part-time employees. The in-plant is streamlined with automated inventory and billing and an online ordering system.
Some of the printed products that UTHealth produces include magazines, newsletters, brochures, posters, pocket folders, stationery, invitations and envelopes.
“Most of our business is word of mouth and we strive to be a visual presence on campus,” relays Horbelt. “We also print an annual calendar for all employees with holiday and vacation schedules that is a big hit. In addition, we also try and send out a marketing piece annually to promote our services — normally in the spring.”
Listening to her employees’ needs and keeping staff motivated has been key for Horbelt, who says that she is very fortunate to work for an agency that also provides great benefits.
“I have been able to provide raises for my employees for the last five years,” she says. “In addition, we work with each employee regarding working hours and try to accommodate a nice balance between work and home. We have a tight group and with cross training in all departments, we can accommodate special needs and time off as needed.”
Becoming an in-plant manager has been a choice Horbelt has never regretted. “In fact, I love my job and really can’t see doing anything else. Every day is different and my employees and customers are like family to me. Without this job and these people, I would have a very dull life.”
Horbelt’s passion and dedication to the printing industry shows through the numerous awards that UTHealth has received over the years. “Our walls are so covered with awards — 89 to be exact since 1994 — that we will need another wall,” she says.
One personal achievement she received in 2016 was receiving her Certified Graphic Communications Manager (CGCM) certification from the In-plant Printing and Mailing Association (IPMA). Horbelt also says she is grateful for the valuable knowledge and support that she has received through in-plant associations like IPMA and the Association of College and University Printers (ACUP).
“I am also on the board of Printing Industries of the Gulf Coast, our local PIA chapter,” she reveals. “I like to give back when I can and offer assistance when I have knowledge that might help another in-plant.”
When not managing UTHealth’s print shop, Horbelt likes to read, travel, go to the beach and spend as much time in nature as possible. Divorced after 34 years of marriage, Horbelt says that she has finally met her soul mate and best friend.
“He is in the printing business as well, so we definitely understand each other — through the good and bad,” she says.
Horbelt has two sons: Stephan, 34, who is an attorney and the editor of a magazine in Los Angeles (“He calls me a lot with printing questions and he edits articles for me. We make a great team,” she says with pride); and Taylor, 27, who is seeking a different career path.
“He has no interest in printing and I am encouraging that,” she remarks. “He is my true moral compass and motivates me every day to be a better person.”