Navigating Change: Ira Jackson

By Lydia Herndon

15 May 2020

In the 20 years since he participated in Tuck Diversity Business Programs, Ira Jackson, Jr. DBP'98 DBP'00 has led his full-service commercial printing firm Perfect Image through a number of “seismic shifts.” “Printing has gone from being one of the top three channels of communication—print, radio, and television—to one of dozens,” he notes. “The challenges of digital innovation disruption are well documented. Alongside this transformation, since I purchased Perfect Image nearly 30 years ago, macroeconomic shifts like the Great Recession have resulted in commercial printing firms in the nation consolidating by 50%.”

The Atlanta-based firm is one of a few certified minority-owned commercial printers in the nation. Today their in-house six-color process manufacturing, variable digital printing capabilities, and marketing support solutions set them apart from other printing companies. “On one hand, the impact of the tangible changes we have made is self-evident in our continued presence in the market,” Jackson says. For printing firms in the 21st century, survival is certainly a mark of success, but Jackson emphasizes continuous growth in his business. “Tuck challenged me and my classmates to look forward, beyond today’s immediate success, towards a vison of organizational sustainability, and to think about the keys to our clients’ success in the future.”

After receiving a scholarship from the Georgia Minority Supplier Development Council, Jackson attended the Building a Successful Diverse Business program in 1998 and returned to Tuck for the Growing an Established Diverse Business program in 2000. Although some of the details of his time at Tuck have since faded in his memory, Jackson vividly recounts how these programs impacted him. “I do not recall the names of many of the incredible professors who taught me 20 years ago. Wherever they are, however, they have my gratitude for imparting the best thinking of the day and bringing the highest levels of energy, integrity, and commitment to my fellow classmates and me,” he says.

Jackson notes that Tuck’s programs balance content tailored to diverse business owners with more broadly applicable best practices. “When looking at Perfect Image’s accomplishments, like surviving profound industry transformation, the Great Recession, or navigating the disrupted business landscape created by the COVID-19 pandemic, Tuck provided us with the tools we needed to succeed—tools every business needs, diverse or otherwise.”

As he looks back on the past 20 years, Jackson sees two primary changes in his business that draw on his time at Tuck. More tangibly, Perfect Image has diversified its portfolio of printing and marketing capabilities to better deliver on its brand promise to be “More than a printer.” The emphasis on strategic planning in Tuck’s programs helped Jackson lead Perfect Image through the process of segmenting their customer base to better curate their services to clients in education, nonprofit, and mid-sized organizations. Perfect Image transitioned from a manufacturing-centric business model, which focused on maximizing the volume of print orders and utilizing the top-of-the-line presses and equipment the firm had invested in, to a client-centric model, which allows Perfect Image to holistically support their customers’ marketing strategies and provide a greater return on their investment.

A second legacy of Jackson’s time at Tuck is his commitment to ongoing leadership development. Thinking back to his first several years at Perfect Image in the 1990s, he recalls, “Professional development was on the back burner.” While he diligently worked to guide his company through daily operations, Jackson needed a reminder to continue to develop himself and his leadership team. “My father’s managerial admonition was that the speed of the captain is the speed of the crew. Challenging myself and growing my skillset are critical components of effective leadership and management,” he says. By setting aside the time to participate in strategic retreats at Tuck, Jackson rediscovered the value of investing in leadership development and has intentionally cultivated an emphasis on learning and growth at Perfect Image over the past 20 years.

As Jackson looks to the future of Perfect Image, he sees strategy as foundational to their next steps. “Our team understands that strategy precedes positioning, positioning precedes execution, and execution precedes results. Any other approach is the business version of ‘ready, fire, aim,’” he says. The need for strategic leadership has come into sharper focus for Jackson during the COVID-19 pandemic. Printing has been designated as an essential industry, allowing Perfect Image to continue to serve their clients in more than 25 states and U.S. territories.

“With so many businesses forced to close during this crisis, we understand our ability to operate is a privilege,” he says. He credits his experience at Tuck with preparing him to do so responsibly. “The decisions we make today have lasting impact on the future. It is humbling to recognize Tuck has been helping diverse businesses like mine make more effective decisions for more than 40 years,” he says. “First and foremost, in every step we take going forward is our commitment to test and retest our assumptions about our business. Now, more than ever.”

Learn more about Tuck Executive Education