William R. Barker, Operations Vice President, Media General's Florida Communications Group, Tampa

By: Mark Fitzgerald Until that transformative day when, as a college student urged on by the girlfriend who would become his wife, he walked into The Jackson (Tenn.) Sun and was hired on the spot by the packaging manager, Bill Barker always thought he would become a physician. Now, 27 years later, he is vice president of operations for Media General Inc.'s Florida Communications Group, overseeing properties that include The Tampa Tribune in a market that has endured more economic pain for a longer period than almost any other part of the country.

Fortunately, Barker developed a healing touch without making it to medical school.

With a combination of new technology, smart downsizing and outsourcing ? and people skills that helped convince production workers to decertify the Tribune's last two unions after a century of representation ? Barker has brought down operating costs by several million dollars and, Florida group executives say, introduced more efficiencies and improved service with a workforce that has shrunk by 125 positions.

"Bill has a lot of skills that go well beyond knowing presses and inserting equipment and capital expenditures," says his boss, Florida Communications Group President John R. Schueler. "He brings new thinking, new ideas and unique ways of doing things."

One example was winning the contract to print USA Today. The Tribune had shied away from it for years. The production windows weren't right. The press configuration wouldn't work. But Barker was sure it could be done somehow. He was right: Production launched in record time, and within a couple of months Tampa was ranked among the top 10 remote plants in efficiency. USA Today adopted Tampa's launch plan as the standard for new sites. And the contract generates more than $2.3 million in new revenue.

Barker has had even more opportunities to think in nontraditional ways since he began overseeing the operations of WFLA-TV in a converged corporate structure. "The larger lessons learned from WFLA have been outside of operations," he says. "TV is just much more consumed with, and attuned to, the customer, and much quicker to market than newspapers."

But Barker has also been quick to implement strategies of addition by subtraction on the print side, too.

The fleet was outsourced to Penske Truck Leasing and Logistics, replacing a unionized workforce and saving about $2 million. The call center was outsourced to Indonesia. Barker took an especially interesting approach in outsourcing ad production to Express KCS LLC in India. The Trib took over ad production for its sibling Winston-Salem (N.C.) Journal. "We wanted to manage the outsourcing through one point," he says, ensuring both papers make the most efficient use of Express.

The necessity to lower costs gave Barker a chance to implement his long-held belief that "there needed to be a tighter coupling between what was traditionally production" and distribution. The production element in the changes was the installation of two 42-head Muller Martini SLS 3000 inserters, which allowed the Tribune to go to the field with one insert package on Sundays rather than two or, occasionally, three. The extra capacity also allowed the paper to handle Sunday packaging for two New York Times Co. papers, the Sarasota Herald-Tribune and The Ledger in Lakeland.

With Ken Harding consulting, routes were dramatically restructured to require far fewer drivers. Daily service-quality measurements drummed into managers the importance of service and sales. And when the Trib was forced to pull back on its sprawling distribution footprint, data identified less profitable areas. "There are some areas now where we think we can go back into in ways that will be more effective," Barker says.

Schueler says Barker accomplishes these efficiencies by getting buy-in from employees and managers, often by giving management responsibilities to workers who had none before.

Barker has no regrets about choosing newspaper operations over medicine. "Part of what motivated me to get into medicine was to help people and get involved in serving the community," he says. "I feel very strongly that we serve a purpose, that we help people with what we do."

Career Highlights
Production positions at Gannett sites, including USA Today, 1983-90

Appointed operations director for Media General's flagship Richmond (Va.) Times-Dispatch, 1990, assisting with construction and start-up of its plant, opened in 1992

Member of Media General's first Leadership Development Program and graduate of Leadership Metro Richmond, 2002-03

Chaired Media General's Virginia Coalition to achieve operating efficiencies through collaboration among group properties, 2003-04

Named Florida Communications Group operations vice president in 2004 and Media General operations and distribution solutions group south regional vice president in 2009


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