VOL. 12 January ISSUE YEAR 2011
in Vol. 12 - January Issue - Year 2011
MFN’s 10th Anniversary! How a small vision turned into a globally-successful organization in the metal finishing industry
1st issue of MFN with 12 b/w pages
Steven Baiker, Publisher and Founder of MFN
The publisher and founder of MFN, Steven Baiker, is certainly not a person who likes being in the center of attention. To the contrary, he always makes it a point to operate in the background. However, the 10th anniversary of MFN is an event that calls for him to speak up for once. The story about MFN is worth being told, so the Chief Editor Andrzei Wojtas insisted on interviewing Steven Baiker for this 10th anniversary edition.
(?) A. W.: Steven, since I’m MFN's Chief Editor, of course I have a lot of detailed information about your organization. After 10 years we have 53 members from 20 nations with offices in 14 countries. Besides publishing a magazine, MFN offers process training in up to 8 languages, publishes books and market studies. I know it was not always like that. On celebrating this special occasion, how did it all get started?
(!) S. B.: Well, allow me to begin from the moment that lit the spark, so to speak. The idea for the magazine came when I was working for a company that was involved in the metal finishing industry. I was responsible for promoting their products on a global scale, but there was basically no budget for marketing. So I started to write articles about the technology, which I had published all over the world. This did not cost anything and on rare occasions our company would even get paid by the publisher for our editorial contribution. Dealing with all those magazines, I realized that there is no globally-distributed publication for surface treatment. I could not understand why nobody provided that service. This was at a time in which globalization was becoming a prime issue for many companies. One often could not depend on a local market alone anymore. For me it was clear that a company that distributes its products worldwide must also have an interest in getting information about its industry from all over the world and not only locally. So here was my business model in one sentence: I wanted to publish the first globally -distributed magazine within the surface preparation industry. A bold goal, I know. Especially for somebody who had only about €10'000 to finance this idea and who had never worked in the publishing industry. In every regard not much to start a business with...
(?) A. W.: You had your business model, basically no money, so what came next?
(!) S. B.: I contacted two larger players in the industry and made them a suggestion. They would get discounted advertisement rates for a certain period of time and in return they would give me all the postal contacts they had within the industry. They agreed. At that time I had around 800 addresses and two initial advertisers to help me cover the printing and mailing costs. We started with 12 black & white pages... 10 years later, I get a bit embarrassed looking at the first issue of MFN. It was very "home made" and the layout was a standard layout offered by Microsoft's Publisher software.
Since financially everything was very tight in the beginning, we saved costs wherever possible. I still remember my friends’ kids helping me to put the address stickers on the magazines. We would sit around the table chatting while putting these stickers on. Or how I always drove the magazines from Switzerland to Germany with my little, red Nissan Micra 1.2 liter, since the postal charges were cheaper there. The trunk of this tiny car was so overloaded with the heavy magazines that I had to drive very slowly. I prayed that I wouldn’t hit any pothole, since that would have been the end of the trip.
(?) A. W.: Sounds like there were a few tense moments. But I assume the situation improved quickly?
(!) S. B.: Yes, indeed. MFN hit a real niche. It was like the market was waiting for us. Within a year we had a full color issue with 36 pages and we took the step of publishing the magazine 6 times a year instead of only 4 times. At some point we relocated the printing from Switzerland to Singapore to save on the costs. The Singaporean printing shop opened a FTP station just for MFN so that we could upload our high resolution PDF and make our printing data available to them. At that time this concept was very new. The industry was used to receiving data on CDs by postal mail and we were exploring new terrain. And certainly we were the only customer that this printing shop had who was located 10'000 kilometers away. The size of the magazine grew continuously. After 10 years we have 80 pages and we are active in many different segments in addition to the magazine.
(?) A. W.: What do you think contributes the most to the success of MFN?
(!) S. B.: I hesitate to use the standard term "teamwork" because I feel it is said in almost every interview too extensively. But I am absolutely convinced that the lone ranger type of personalities who were able to run a business "their way" have no real chance anymore, especially in a global market surrounding; too demanding are the skills required to compete in a global environment. Therefore different human resources have to work together to achieve one defined goal. But even more important than technical skills, it is invaluable to learn how to deal with different cultures. While I lived in different countries and visited probably over 40 of them, I would not dare to claim that I truly understand, for instance, Asian cultures, all European or North & South American cultures. I respect all of them but really understand only my own culture. So from the very beginning we tried to include as many people from different countries as possible. We always count on local support and with very few exceptions we let the local partners make the final decision. So indeed it comes down to teamwork on a global scale. We also made it a point to establish worldwide connections to universities or to any organization that had a say in our field of interest. As an example: instead of trying to locate every engineer in country "X", we contacted the organization "Y" of which the engineers of country "X" were members. So we ended up having plenty of partnerships, increasing our global network dramatically. This incredible networking combined with our international team contributed greatly to our success.
(?) A. W.: The answer you just gave could be true for any global business. But talking about publishing a magazine, did you do anything different?
(!) S. B.: We certainly tried. I did not have a publishing background so my ideas were not really conventional. One project was to start with process training. Good quality training will increase the reputation of the "brand" and will serve as a marketing tool. Every time we promote the training we also indirectly promote the magazine and viceversa. At the moment we have 3 training centres in Germany, Brazil and Holland. Including all the workshops and on-site trainings, we teach to around 1000 persons a year. Furthermore, we established MFN offices in strategically-relevant countries. So readers have a local contact and we improved our means of communicating with local organizations and companies. These offices are also promoting our training so there are a lot of synergies.
Another idea was to integrate columns. MFN has around 8 regular columns. That is something I have not seen yet in other surface preparation magazines. Some of the columns are not even connected to metal fishing, but are of general interest and serve as a "break" to the more technical content. My main objective is to give as many readers as possible a reason to open the new issue of MFN. Some may only be interested in the column "Science Update", where we publish papers from Universities, others like the interviews and some may even favor only the small column "Other Side of The Coin", in which a hobby of a MFN team member is introduced. My ultimate objective is to make sure that readers always find at least one good reason to open MFN.
(?) A. W.: MFN offers a lot of different process training. How did you recruit all these trainers?
(!) S. B.: By publishing a magazine in a certain field, one automatically has access to a lot of experts, specialists and even professors. They often have great potential to become good trainers for particular topics. Doing so we have recruited over 35 trainers from 20 countries over the years. In order to be in line with the concept of MFN, we chose only topics that are of global appeal. So even some of our training is just locally available at moment or just in a few countries, but our objective is always to finally carry it out globally. That philosophy is actually true for whatever we do. It has to have global potential.
(?) A. W.: Talking about E-books, Palms and information provided only as an online service. Are you worried about MFN soon not being available on paper?
(!) S. B.: I certainly observe it closely but I am not really worrying about this issue too much. Firstly I believe one has to divide between "general" news and "special interest" news. General news with all the free-of-charge newspapers, magazines and on-line services are in a much more competitive surrounding. MFN belongs to the special interest segment which is consumed differently. MFN is not the type of information that you read during breakfast or waiting for the train. While I doubt it, but if indeed, it should happen that newspapers and magazines are mostly read on E-books and Palms in a few years, the special interest magazines will be last to follow. And even in that case, the printing shop is the one who will have to worry. Because the information we provide will always have to be financed by advertisement and subscriptions. On what platform that information is finally consumed is not so relevant. What I believe is really not a good idea is to offer the printed version of the magazine basically identical to the online version. That certainly destroys the value of the printed version. I have verified that myself. If I scroll through a magazine online, I do not even open the printed version when it arrives by post. If ever, it will take a long time until magazines available only online build up the same reputation as their printed counterparts. The fact that certain information is worthy of being printed still gives it a lot of credibility. This is true for one simple reason: almost anybody who has access to the internet can post some kind of magazine on the net, but not so many are in a position that allows them to print and distribute a magazine on a large scale.
(?) A. W.: MFN sometimes also publishes books and market studies. It is not a huge part of the business, but what is the motivation for doing that?
(!) S. B.: Yes, when we publish books or market studies, our objective is not that it must be a business segment that contributes greatly to the financial well-being of the company. We want it to support the two main activities of MFN, which are the publication of the magazine and the training courses. This by increasing the reputation of the MFN brand. I feel it makes much sense. If you are able to publish a book or a market study about a particular topic, people will give the courses and the magazine more credibility. And this is why we are so interested in doing this. We like to prove that MFN deserves the position it has in the market.
(?) A. W.: Every business has its "stories", which are told during dinner parties. Has there been anything unusual which is connected to the type of business MFN is in?
(!) S. B.: Yes, of course, we had some quite out-of-the-ordinary incidents. Not all of them are very funny. On one occasion we found out that the magazines that were supposed to have been shipped over to the USA never arrived, while all other countries had received them. So over 2000 magazines were missing. After big arguments with the postal service, they agreed to reprint the magazines at their cost and ship them again. Unfortunately with a delay of around 6 weeks. Another time we kept receiving reports of magazines missing from a certain country in Europe. Finally the post office "secretly" included GPS chips in a number of envelopes and identified the problem. In connection with our education business segment we have been often influenced by political or natural disasters. Once we had to postpone our International Workshop & Trade Show in Singapore due to the outbreak of SARS and another time there was heavy rioting in South Africa and it was too dangerous for the trainer to travel. Furthermore, during the biggest volcano eruption in Europe in recent years we had trainers and magazines stuck at airports since the ash clouds would not allow any flying. We also had a "near miss" with one of our workshops in Sichuan, which was held just weeks before one of China's biggest earthquakes in decades in the same region. These are just some examples and, like I mentioned, not pleasant ones. One starts to realize in what a small and vulnerable world we are living in.
(?) A. W.: On a personal note - what do you enjoy the most about running an organization like MFN?
(!) S. B.: Thanks to the publication, it is very easy to connect to almost anybody in the industry worldwide. If you approach a company by introducing yourself as a member of the "Press", you automatically meet or communicate with the decision makers. In many cases with the very top managements. You often find highly intriguing personalities in such positions. On the one hand you can learn a lot from them and on the other hand the drive and spirit such people often have is motivating and shows you what a difference a certain mind set can make.
I am also fascinated by the work within the MFN team. So many different cultures, religions and beliefs are combined and yet we try to find a way to make things work. It is not exceptional that I find myself communicating, in one way or the other, with five continents on the same day. That really broadens one’s horizons and makes a difference in how you see and judge things in general.
(?) A. W.: The following question will not take you by surprise. It is a must for this type of interview. How do you see the future of MFN?
(!) S. B.: I am very optimistic. Globalization has such a strong effect on businesses in general, as it has on our organization. Thanks to the fact that the magazine is distributed to nearly seventy countries and thanks to the worldwide reach of our training course, MFN is placed strategically well in the market. I still see great potential for growth by adding new topics to the magazine and to the courses. In addition, there are certain territories in the world, without being specific, in which growth is just a matter of time. MFN has its infrastructure successfully in place and has a very lean organization. So for us to benefit from the huge potential offered by the market is not really a great financial risk anymore.
(?) A. W.: I think I am more or less done with my questions. Is there anything you would still like to add?
(!) S. B.: Yes, celebrating this 10th anniversary, I would really like to thank each and every one on the MFN team for making this success possible. It has been a joint effort and certainly not always easy, but I am especially happy that with many members of the MFN team I have developed an excellent relationship that is beyond just business. I am sorry that I did not mention by name the people contributing to the success of MFN. But since there would be too many to cite, I thought it would be better not to single out anybody. I would also like to express my appreciation to our loyal readers and to all the MFN partners that have worked with us for so many years!
(?) A. W.: Steven, I would like to thank you for the interview and I hope that we have a similar talk ten years from now!