EFI CEO Jeff Jacobson on Emerging Printing Industry Trends, Growth Opportunities
The 21st edition of EFI Connect, held in January at the Wynn Las Vegas, marked a seminal point in the history of EFI. It served as both the first Connect event where 30-year industry veteran Jeff Jacobson would take center stage as the opening keynote speaker since being named EFI CEO last August, as well as the first conference where EFI customers could learn more about the future direction of the formerly publicly-held company since it was acquired by private equity firm Siris Capital Group for approximately $1.7 billion.
Despite his hectic schedule, Jacobson took the time to answer some questions from Printing Impressions. Our Q&A follows ...
Printing Impressions: During the past three decades, EFI has done a lot to drive the switch from analog to digital printing. Where do you see continued growth and opportunity in that transformation for both EFI and your customers?
Jeff Jacobson: Two markets with huge opportunity for growth are digital textile and digital corrugated. We expect textile and corrugated to be great growth areas this year. There are a significant number of customers who have already entered into the digital corrugated market when just a few years ago it never would have even been a consideration for them. The influence of solutions like Nozomi have really begun revolutionizing the industry and opening doors for companies to see success in what were previously isolated sectors.
We are fortunate that our productivity software is already the industry leader in a growing segment, and we will continue to expand our solutions, develop encompassing suites, and expand geographically and into SMB. Fiery has been the clear leader for decades, and will continue to expand into the newer areas of print.
Overall, I think we’ll also see the continued importance of AI (Artificial Intelligence) and the influence of big data. The integration of these will play a large role in the production workflow to meet the technological need for quick, accurate decision making and execution, especially as the market moves more toward digital and needs more automation to efficiently handle the increased customization that digital enables.
PI: Now, that you have been in your new leadership role at EFI for a while, do you see any specific industry trends emerging?
Jacobson: As I mentioned, current industry trends show an increased interest in digital corrugated and digital textile, and we will continue to see growth and innovation in display graphics. Print is a dynamic and quickly evolving industry, but actual change tends to occur at the pace of every four to six years. I think trends that have most recently emerged will be ones that continue to drive migration for some time – AI integration, machine learning, workflow, multifaceted and end-to-end solutions, etc. Implementation of new technologies into new and different markets will continue to grow and shape our customers’ business initiatives.
PI: Formerly publicly held, EFI is now owned by a private equity concern. Private equity firms seem to have "discovered" the printing industry, making investments to acquire both printing companies and industry suppliers. Why do you think these PE firms now favor our industry, when that didn't seem to be the case before?
Jacobson: When you think about private equity groups, they’ve sometimes trended toward new and emerging markets. But, with a history that spans hundreds of years, print isn’t exactly new. Combined with the rise in digital technology, I think that print as an overall industry should be given serious consideration, especially in the areas of industrial inkjet, where the analog to digital shift is in the nascent stages. Within recent years, it’s become clear that print is a fundamental industry that can be empowered by digital.
I think EFI stands out in a way that other companies do not in terms of interest to a company like Siris Capital. We have a large base of customers in growing digital markets, and then really rapid-growth industrial technology opportunities. So, I do think the company was certainly able to attract private equity interest because of how EFI has positioned itself as an innovator, and because of the leading positions we’ve established in key markets. Siris saw our vast opportunities for growth and our industry-leading technologies, and knew we were a worthy investment.
Jacobson: We’re thrilled to have both Doug and Geoff at EFI. They will both play key roles in strengthening and growing our customer success initiatives. Doug’s experience as a senior print executive and R&D technologist will be integral to growing and delivering market-leading products that will bolster our customers’ business success. With his background in mechanical engineering and experience in executive-level service and operations roles, Geoff is the best fit we could have envisioned for advancing our strong customer success mentality in global inkjet market operations. Our customers will surely see further innovation in both our products and our service thanks to what Doug and Geoff will bring to the EFI table.
PI: We're seeing a lot of upheaval of late on both the print service provider and industry supplier side of the printing industry. Do you think further industry consolidation and M&A activity is inevitable?
Jacobson: I believe we will see further consolidation, but I also believe we will see new entrants into the industry, as the industry expands into adjacencies.
PI: There has been a lot of industry discussion about "convergence" of commercial print providers into new markets, applications and services (packaging, wide-format, direct-to-garment, etc.). What do you think is driving that?
Jacobson: Ultimately, I think what’s driving the convergence of print markets not previously seen together are customer needs combined with the technology that we now have. A lot of businesses have identified areas of growth that are outside of their main or traditional market, but which will complement their business because it’s what their customers are asking for.
As we’ve continued to develop cutting-edge technologies that shape and expand our customers’ capabilities, you’re seeing that businesses are better able to meet varying customer demands with better efficiency — they’ve become solution providers in several different vertical markets because the technology and demand are both there. I have always believed that R&D and technology are derived from the pull of the market demands and needs, as well as the push of invention into the market which comes from technology leaders like EFI.