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Companies huge and small benefit from alumni abilities

Editor’s note: In terms of the achievements of our approximately 90,000 alumni, RIT is an extremely successful university.

The best way to demonstrate that fact is by showing some of the contributions RIT graduates are making at work. There are countless examples!

We start with one story about an individual’s career in a major corporation, and another on a smaller company that has been affected by the efforts of the many RIT alumni it employs. Future issues of The University Magazine will bring more.

On the job at Xerox

In the late 1970s, Xerox Corporation “was attacked by offshore companies,” recalls William R. Ernisse ’71. Suddenly, the company that created the photocopier faced an unprecedented threat to its existence.

Xerox responded with its revolutionary 10 Series copier line, winning back market share with reliable, customer-friendly products. It was a pivotal moment for the company and for Bill Ernisse.

William Ernisse '71

“I was proud to be part of that,” says Ernisse, now vice president of sales operations and marketing for the Western Sales Operations of Xerox in Santa Ana, Calif. It was the first time Ernisse helped rebuild the company — but not the last. The corporate giant’s missteps are as well-documented as its tremendous technological achievements. The challenges translated into opportunities for Bill Ernisse.

“I first met Bill in 1972 on the 25th floor of Xerox Square,” says Dick Leo, vice president, Xerox Global Services. “Both Bill and I were just beginning our careers at Xerox. In those early days Bill impressed me with his ‘can-do’ attitude. No challenge was too great for Bill. He also had an instinct to direct his energy toward our customers and the people in the field that worked with our customers. These days Bill is one of our most accomplished field generals whose judgment is widely respected.”

A Rochester native, Ernisse majored in business administration at RIT and went to work for Xerox in 1970 on a co-op job. “I didn’t even know what Xerox did when I started,” he quips. It’s his way of saying that he was young and had lots to learn.

“What RIT provided in terms of the technical aspect, co-op and academics, is just so useful,” he says. Xerox has long turned to RIT for well-prepared graduates. The company is the second-largest employer of RIT alumni, with more than 2,000 currently on the payroll. (Eastman Kodak Co. employs nearly 4,000 RIT grads.)

Ernisse says the RIT connection enhances working relationships with alumni and non-alumni within the company. “When you’re 3,000 miles away and you need to interface with people (at Xerox facilities) in Rochester, it’s a great ice breaker to say you went to RIT.”

Ernisse began his career with Xerox as a financial analyst. The company sent him to Florida as a sales rep in 1973, beginning a series of moves from Florida to Rochester until 1984 when he moved to the West Coast. Since then he has held a number of key management positions, including vice president of worldwide training and vice president of field operations for Xerox’s Western area. Prior to his current position, he served as vice president and general manager of Xerox of Greater Los Angeles Customer Business Unit.

Today, Ernisse’s organization is responsible for sales operations from the Midwest states south to Texas and west to Alaska and Hawaii. It represents multi-billions in annual revenue.

“We’re charged with growing that,” he says, “and with ensuring customer satisfaction.” He helps lead a sales force of more than 1,000. The competition is the toughest it has ever been. It’s a daunting, awesome responsibility, of course, but those aren’t words Ernisse uses. What he says is, “It’s really fun, trying to put the strategies together and win.”

That sort of enthusiasm helped Ernisse earn in 1990 the company’s top achievement award, the President’s Award. Ernisse was one of 15 winners worldwide. He has won other top awards from the American Society of Training Development and the National Society for Performance and Instruction.

What’s next for Xerox? The self-monikered “Document Company” is positioned to be a leader in the business of “the blending of hard copy and the digital world,” says Ernisse. Companies face an increasing need to send and retrieve information instantly and store it indefinitely. There’s a potentially huge market for efficient, inexpensive, easy-to-use, reliable products that can convert hard copy into digital information. Ernisse believes Xerox has a major advantage, because “we know more about the document and can do more than any company.
“We have the best software and services for the job,” he says. “That’s really where we’re going to go.”

From RIT to “the best workplace in America”

It all started in 1978 when Larry Schindel ’76 went to work for Automated Graphic Systems Inc. He was the first RIT grad hired by the three-year-old computer-typesetting firm in the Washington, D.C., area.

When Schindel started, the company had 35 employees and $1.5 million in annual sales. Today, AGS has $40 million in total sales and about 300 employees, including 17 RIT alumni, all graduates of the School of Printing Management and Sciences (recently renamed the School of Print Media. See page 3). The alumni hold a variety of positions, working in sales, customer service, production and technical areas.

Among the 17 RIT grads who work for AGS are, from left: Larry Schindel '76, Adam Rutkowski '01, Kullen Dickinson '00, Liz Kowaluk '00, Kristi Grady '00, Donald Bachand '80, Alan Flint '92, Mark Czajka '89, Renee Livingston '01, Jason Byrnes '96, Steve Szoczei '94 and Bill Bois '83.

“I think the RIT grads are appealing to the company because we learned the basic knowledge and applied it quickly,” says Schindel, billing coordinator and estimator. He must have set a good example; he says he never had to persuade the company to seek out RIT grads. Today, AGS actively recruits on campus and at RIT job fairs. The company brought four 2002 grads to Maryland for interviews in May.

AGS President John Green says the RIT alumni have “very definitely” contributed to the company’s success in very specific ways. For instance, an RIT graduate led the company’s entry into CD-ROM production a decade ago. Today, Mark Czajka ’89 is director of new technology, and Adam Rutkowski ’01 is director of digital print. Sales representatives Alan Flint ’92 and Kullen Dickinson ’00 are both recipients of the company’s Ben French Award, named in honor of the company’s founder and given annually to a top sales and customer service employee. (Flint was winner for 1998, 1999, and 2000, and Dickinson won for 2001.)

“All the RIT grads we have here play a critical role with the company,” says Green, who is not an alumnus. “They earn their keep very rapidly – they don’t have to go through a long learning curve. That’s very valuable to an employer.

“And what’s more, they know the industry and they like the industry.”

All but one of the RIT grads work in AGS’ Maryland plant. Although they now span more than a quarter century, Schindel says, “There’s a close camaraderie among the RIT grads.”

Adam Rutkowski says he sees other grads every day, and when an RIT student interviews at the company, the alumni join the recruits for lunch and conversation. Rutkowski, a native of Baltimore, calls AGS “more than a printing company. It’s very progressive, ahead of the curve.” His job presents the kind of challenging tasks he likes – and was trained to handle.

AGS, founded in White Plains, Md., has three operating facilities serving customers in New England, Mid-Atlantic, Southeast and Great Lakes regions. The company provides design, typesetting, desktop publishing, database management, CD-ROM production, pre-press, printing (digital, sheetfed and web) and related services for the book, directory, magazine, journal and commercial industries. In 1999, AGS became part of Consolidated Graphics Inc., which is made up of 65 companies nationwide. Since 1990, AGS has appeared in Printing Impressions Top 500 list of
leading printing companies in North America.

In 2000 and 2001, AGS received the prestigious “Best Workplace in America” award sponsored by Printing Industries of America.

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