The Corporate

By Leander, Tom | Global Finance, September 1999 | Go to article overview
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The Corporate


Leander, Tom, Global Finance


From the ink-stained environs of old-style newsrooms to the explosion of information on the Internet, Robert M.Johnson has media in his blood. Johnson, 53, is chairman and chief executive of Bowne & Company, the world's largest financial printer. Bowne tapped Johnson in 1996 to build a bridge between the two worlds, and built he has. In a flurry of deals, Bowne has snatched up Internet and information companies and created new divisions that leverage the company's access to the raw material of its business-financial information-into electronic services for banks, investment banks, and law firms. Result: Bowne has become the first major printer to remodel itself as an information company.

"Very simple and powerful forces have reshaped our business," says Johnson."It has become increasingly global. Deregulation and the opening of free markets around the world has created a demand for our specialty-financial printing. So, too, has it increased the need for speedy communication of financial information and security of information.We're not only prepared to encounter the demands of this environment; we're making every effort to ensure that we're ahead of the pack."

Bowne is well known in financial circles in the United States as the company Stays up all night during big M&A negotiations waiting for lawyers and investment bankers to hammer out the terms of a deal that must run in the documentation to comply with transparency demands laid down by the Securities and Exchange Commission. This business can be as complex as a major newsroom going full tilt on election night. Information culled from a myriad of sources must immediately be packaged and printed and out on the street in a matter of hours.And like a newspaper keeping a lid on a breaking story, a printer must keep tight security on the information it handles.

The beauty of Bowne's transformation is that the company has diversified by taking the essential ingredients of this business and presenting them in a faster and more supple electronic form. Under Johnson, Bowne has bought an outsourcing unit from R.R. Donnelley, a Chicago printer, for $105 million, which creates, manages, and disseminates financial and legal documentation for financial houses and law firms on location. It has greatly expanded its Internet unit by acquiring four separate Internet firms for a total of $26 million.

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