Magazine article Editor & Publisher

Shirley Henderson, Packaging Operations Manager, the Seattle Times

Magazine article Editor & Publisher

Shirley Henderson, Packaging Operations Manager, the Seattle Times

Article excerpt

"I used to spend 60% of my time on packaging issues -- at least it felt like that." No more, adds Seattle Times Operations Vice President Frank Paiva. Not since he hired Shirley Henderson out of circulation, where, she admits, she didn't appreciate what it takes to make a newspaper.

Since then, "it's been a great learning experience," she says, praising the Times for opportunities to advance. A stint in single-copy sales proved fast-paced, and connected sales and newsroom interests -- "what's on the front page." But packaging, she says, is "definitely the most challenging department I've ever worked in. The only norm is that there is no norm," with constant product and staff changes and advertising initiatives bumping up against equipment limitations.

Henderson's first task was turn-around in an area typified by turnover industrywide. "Shirley inherited a depleted management group trying to manage a very difficult department," says Operations Director Katherine Hunter. With a new team of managers and help from human resources, Henderson moved to training and accountability, where formal expectations were previously absent.

Feeling lucky to have her current personnel, Henderson accepts the award "on behalf of the entire group" because successful packaging relies not on a star, but on "a combination of experts" with various skills.

"The managers, across departments, work so well together," without animosity or turf battles, she says. After nine years, she adds, "I still avoid making decisions in certain areas" without consulting the appropriate managers. Noting that some excel at planning, some have mechanical aptitudes, and others possess unusually good interpersonal skills, Henderson says that together they're all responsible for making it work.

For operators, she looks to "knee-deep" training on the job more than formal sessions, reserving meetings to get operators to understand "how vital they are to our success." And two of eight assistant managers were once inserter operators, offering necessary firsthand machine expertise.

"She's tough as nails" in performance expectations, yet is well liked, Paiva remarks. With an operation no longer typical of the industry, Henderson doesn't stand for the industry's typical mailroom disparagement, he says, and she won't let its workers view it or themselves as anything less than an essential part of operations. …

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