• Vale Geoff Selig.
    Vale Geoff Selig.

The print community is mourning the sudden passing of industry titan Geoff Selig, executive chairman of the $1bn IVE Group who has died while on holiday in Europe.

Selig passed away following unforeseen complications after an accident. The board, management and whole IVE family have expressed deepest condolences to his family following the tragic event, as has the wider print community.

The business Selig led has grown strongly since its float on the ASX in December 2015, through a strategy of diversification. Its entry into folding carton came last year, when it bought Melbourne-based operation JacPak. It is now converting part of its Silverwater site in NSW to mirror the JacPak operation, and aims to create a $150m a year folding carton business.

Geoff Selig’s impact on Australian print cannot be overstated. Just 59 years old, he passed away as the head of the $1bn business IVE, the largest part of which was the biggest print operation in the country.

In an industry which since the turn of the century has seen a vast rate of attrition among print businesses, especially the larger ones, Selig’s ability to create an agile, sustainable, growing print business has stood out. His model and methods have inspired many others, albeit on a smaller scale.

Today, IVE stands alone at the top of the domestic print industry, far bigger than any other company in the industry. Its breadth includes its commercial heatset and sheetfed printing, digital print, sign and display, mailing, and folding carton. It also operates in several non-print and data areas, and has positioned itself to the market not as a printer, but as Australia's 'leading holistic marketing agency'.

Selig built the original Blue Star Print Group from his family business Link Printing, which, until it powered ahead in the 1990s, was just one of many similar commercial print business. He grew the business by using an astute understanding of market trends and customer needs to inform his strategic steps – by making wise investments and acquiring businesses that could be integrated into a complete solution.

Then, 20 years ago, he sold that business to private equity fund Champ for $325m. He continued to run it for three years before taking a break from print for the next three years. He was president of the NSW Liberal Party from 2005-2008, a high profile role, which was a fairly demanding exercise at the time due to factional shenanigans. He emerged again in print in 2010 as the new owner of Caxton Web, then bought Blue Star back, six years after he sold it, as the p/e dream of the financiers morphed into an unsustainable reality. He then set about buying much of rival p/e backed business Geon when that dream crumbled to dust.

Just three years later, the Blue Star business was rebranded as IVE and floated on the ASX, raising $175m, much of which was then used to invest back in the company, and laying the foundations to take it to today’s $1bn behemoth.

Along the way, IVE bought two of the country’s five big heatset operations Franklin and AIW for $116m, while seeing off its biggest rival Ovato, which was itself a merger of PMP and IMPG. It also moved strongly into DM, buying one of the country’s biggest print and digital mailing houses SEMA, as well as The Mailing House. It bought a host of other businesses, including printers such as Fineline, as it continued its growth trajectory.

That growth trajectory saw revenue almost triple from $382m in 2016, its first year as a public company, to almost $1bn last year – a figure that is likely to top that $1bn marker for the current financial year. Few, if any, print businesses have tripled their size in less than a decade.

All this happened as IVE was dealing with huge shifts in print buying and in its high-volume customers – the country's two biggest magazine publishers Pacific and Bauer becoming one, and closing multiple titles. Coles also dumped its catalogues overnight, for which IVE was printing a significant 10 billion pages a year.

Part of Selig's modus operandi was to bring in the best talent in print; the upper echelons of the company today are populated by an array of print leaders, many of them former heads of companies which IVE acquired.

Despite his remarkable success, Selig remained a modest man – as approachable to those on the shop floor as to those from the top end of town. He was generous in his support of the wider print industry, and was a leading progressive influence in print, positioning IVE as an industry pioneer in diversity, inclusion and staff welfare.

His sudden passing represents a significant loss for the print industry, which sends its condolences to his family, friends and all at IVE.

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