October 6, 2014
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Ryan Jackson's outsourcing services aim to improve how companies operate

PHOTo / Tim Greenway
PHOTo / Tim Greenway

Ryan Jackson

CEO MPX and SFX America, Portland

MPX, SFX America

2301 Congress St., Portland

CEO: Ryan Jackson

Founded: MPX, 1941; SFX, 2011

Business: MPX processes electronic and mailed statements; SFX is a vendor of MPX that handles fulfillment, printing and mailing

Employees: MPX, 32; SFX, 16

Revenue: MPX, $18 million; SFX, $6 million

Contact: 774-6116

Tossing a baseball nonstop from hand to hand — a souvenir he caught at a Fisher Cats game — Ryan Jackson, 34, exudes a surprising casual confidence considering he's the CEO of two related companies that combined are expected to bring in $24 million in revenue this year.

That's eight times the amount since he joined MPX nine years ago, then three years later took over as CEO and in another three years founded and became CEO of related company, SFX, which he owns. But he doesn't want to stop there.

Next year he wants to grow both companies by another $2.4 million. Since that will put revenues at $26.5 million, he says he'll be headed toward being a top 50 company in Maine in a couple years.

"I want to be a lot higher than the Top 50," he enthuses. "We've been fortunate through the cruddy economy. When times are tight, lots of clients move toward outsourcing."

He estimates outsourcing saves clients 15% to 20% compared to handling statements in-house. And with the expertise at the two companies, he's managed to save money for clients. Banks must mail out privacy statements once a year, he explains, costing about 50 cents each. For 20,000 customers, that comes to $10,000. He suggested appending the notices as part of customers' regular bank statements, bringing down the cost of the privacy statement mailings to 5 cents, or $1,000 versus $10,000.

Forsaking buggy whips

MPX, originally Maine Printing, was started in downtown Portland in 1941 by the father of Bob Willis, who is president and chief financial officer of MPX. Willis told Mainebiz earlier that he saw Jackson's strong business skills and technology acumen within six months of his joining the company.

"He [Jackson] drove the company to be a critical document production and fulfillment company from only a printing company six years ago," Willis said at the time. "We were in a buggy whip business." Fulfillment involves taking an order, for example, from the Maine Tourism Office, and executing it. The company also sends out product samples for Hunter Panels, a maker of board-like wall insulation, among other clients.

MPX takes documents from banks and other businesses, and uses its custom software to graphically improve the statements and then get them to customers electronically or by mail. Jackson says it costs $1 million to get a document or statement to look good, for example, translating a customer-submitted statement produced on an old dot-matrix printer into a slick, modern-looking document.

Sister company SFX then handles the print part of the operation: its Pitney Bowes inserting system can fold 30,000 sheets per hour automatically and stuff 9,000 envelopes, then put postage on them.

"We handle $10 million a year in customer postage," says Jackson.

SFX prints 13 million pages per month for customers including Time Warner and the Bank of Maine, and mails about 3 million documents per month. Using its own online payment technology, it also processes some 70 million images for 250,000 users.

Focused on technology

Jackson, a native of Cape Elizabeth, realized in high school that knowing about computers, software and programming could give him a leg up in the business world.

"I knew if I combined business with technology, there wouldn't be anyone more experienced than me," he says.

Jackson holds undergraduate and graduate business degrees from the University of Southern Maine. He feels strongly about being educated and then working in the state rather than leaving and returning.

"I was recruited by Dartmouth to play baseball," says Jackson, who played left field. "But I went to USM to get business degrees." While getting his Master of Business Administration degree, he had an internship in L.L. Bean's e-commerce department. He also was a business analyst for Unum Group for two years, then joined MPX in 2005.

That started his meteoric rise within the company. Tasked by Willis to put MPX's top 100 clients online so they could make orders electronically instead of by phone or fax, Jackson not only accomplished the work, but also met with all of the customers. He took over the customer service department at that point.

One of his biggest challenges came in 2011, when he formed SFX to replace operations that MPX had been outsourcing to three different vendors: print and mail, programming, and envelopes and printing. "It was a lot of friggin' work," he recalls. "We rewrote 75 projects in six months."

He owns SFX, and says there's a defined succession plan in place that eventually may have him buying MPX from Willis.

People who know Jackson say he has the ability to read people and to come up with solutions to problems as a result. Jackson says he does that because, "I've thought through what it's like to be in a person's shoes, like the president of a bank. So when I leave the room, they can't do without me."

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