Printer says business built on faith, hard work

Rick at desk

Rick Sauers’ Stone Mountain office at The Sauers Group Inc., where he is president and CEO, was once filled with prestigious awards and other honors from his career in the printing business. Many honor his service to local, regional and national professional organizations. One day he decided to remove most of them and display “what I want to look at every day and what I want visitors to see when they come here.”

There are still business recognitions such as the Benjamin Franklin (Benny) Awards, which he describes as “the Oscars of the printing business.”

The Sauers Group Inc., is the only company in the southeast to have won back-to-back Bennys.

Still, most of Sauers’ office décor reflects what he calls his “spiritual awakening.” One piece of artwork, for example, depicts Jesus washing the feet of a man in business attire. There are also Bibles, a set of Last Supper figurines, framed spiritual quotations and books—lots of books. Among them is the book Sauers said helped to launch his spiritual path, Intercepted by Christ by Dan Dehaan, which details the spiritual journey of Falcons player Steve Bartkowski.

“I can’t separate my business life, my personal life and my spiritual life,” Sauers said. “They all blend and overlap. I try to treat everyone—employees, clients, family, friends, visitors—in a way that reflects Christ. I know that I didn’t build this company—it was Jesus working through me.

“Even when I’ve had to dismiss employees—including those I had to dismiss for cause—I always did it in a way that did not demean or humiliate the person. When I laid people off during a downsizing, I always gave them a generous severance package even though I wasn’t required to give them a nickel.”

Sauers said he did not attend church regularly when he was growing up. “My mother was a perfect example of kindness and respect for other people, but she rarely took us to church and never talked about spiritual matters.” He said he was surprised to learn through his older sister that his grandparents and great-grandparents were preachers and missionaries. “I was astonished. I wish I had had a chance to discuss this with my mother, but she passed away before I found out who her people were.”

Among the traits Sauers said he gained from his mother’s example is a strong work ethic. “Even though she did not receive the title or pay she deserved because she was a woman, many people recognized what a great asset she was to the company,” he said, noting that the national retailer his mother worked for gave her the title assistant regional human resources manager—even though there was no regional human resources manager—to avoid giving her a manager’s salary.

“As companies often did back then, they got rid of her when she reached her 50s. After years of excellent performance ratings, they suddenly gave her a poor rating. It was blatant age discrimination. She was devastated.” Even though she was soon offered a much better job than the one she lost, Sauers having witnessed his mother’s pain vowed, “I will never treat anyone unfairly; I will never discriminate against anyone for any reason.”

He discovered his talent for business at an early age. As a high school student, he took a job in a Decatur grocery store and was made assistant manager when he was still a teenager. After graduation, he was promoted to manager.

“I decided I was on my way to becoming president of the company,” he recalled, noting that the office of the current president of the regional grocery chain was in the store he managed. “He saw me every day and really liked the way I was running the store, but I was working long hours and going to college in the evenings. It was getting to be too much for me. I went to him and explained that I needed help.” The grocery executive wasn’t sympathetic. He berated Sauers for “wasting his time” in college, saying that he had become successful with only a sixth-grade education.

Soon after, Sauers launched his career in the printing industry, a career that in April reached the 50-year mark. His brother-in-law asked him to join a family business, Decatur News Publishing Co., a publisher of metro weekly newspapers. He was made head of the division that printed non-newspaper material. Sauers took what he described as the “stepchild” division, working as a “one-man show” doing everything from typesetting to sales, and made it into a highly profitable entity.

When the owners decided to sell the business in 1992, Sauers bought his division, which he had grown to a major player in the southeast printing industry with more than $18 million in sales.

Sauers said his true business success has not been in terms of dollars or prestige. “What matters are the lives that have been touched through this business, the people who have learned a better way to interact with other people by seeing the way we treat clients and each other. It’s as old and simple as the Golden Rule—you just treat other people the way you want to be treated.”

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