John Buffoni MD of the Ryedale Group reflects on combining the history of a family firm with forward looking innovation.

The invitation to write a Thought Piece has prompted an occasion for thoughtful reflections and an opportunity to share some of those in an industry which continues to fascinate me. After many years of involvement, starting as a compositor in my father’s company and working right through to the most recent recognition of the company’s achievements – the Stationers’ Innovation Excellence Award – it has been challenging, frustrating, and equally rewarding.

It can be a lonely place running a business. Running a business in North Yorkshire might not seem the most obvious choice. It was a limited choice – that was where the business had started. The journey has been made possible by the people who chose to be a part of the transition of the company from local stationer to technology innovator. It may seem obvious but it still needs saying, “People are the life blood of the company”. As a managing director it is our responsibility to determine how we work with them, how we benefit from their contribution, reward that contribution and find a way to lead the business. The culture at Ryedale has always been people focused. We have found ways to get the best out of them by respecting their individual talents and by creating opportunities for self-development. We pioneered Investors in People in North Yorkshire and then won the BPIF HR Seal of Excellence Award.

Subsequently, we have fully engaged with the excellent BPIF Levels 3+5 Management Training Programmes. The result has been a core of loyal people and a steady stream of new people who have brought their own experiences and expertise.

The Stationers’ Innovation Excellence Award presentation was a rare occasion, more rare that you might think and for an unexpected reason. It left me speechless (well almost). As we enjoyed the lunch feelings turned to nervous anticipation as the presentation began – in alphabetical order.

When the presentations to companies whose names began with the letter R had been and gone – and we had not been mentioned – we wondered if it might be that the first letter of ‘The Ryedale Group’ is T. Well, the T’s came and went without a mention. The next feeling was of disappointment and embarrassment as we had brought our Bank Manager to impress. Perhaps we had been too optimistic and, anyway, how could family firm from North Yorkshire have the nerve to expect recognition in London? So, when the announcement was made that we had been given the ultimate accolade “Stationers’ Company Innovator of the Year” – overall winner – I had been through the full cycle of emotions. Fortunately my brother Steve was on hand to answer some of the technical questions posed by the inquisitive Peter Day.
The full impact of our achievement came over time, on the return train journey and then back at Kirkbymoorside when the people at the company grasped the significance and reflected their excitement. It was truly an occasion for celebration. As the Bank Manager said, “Gents, just a brief note to say a very big thank you for yesterday and an even larger “CONGRATULATIONS” for what was a truly exceptional achievement. To win such an award is in itself rewarding and recognises all the hard work, time and process that you and your colleagues have invested. To win the award in the competition of so many international names is truly terrific…”

All this comes at a time when I am looking to the next generation to take up the reins of the business. A new youthful team has been put in place to take up the business of innovation and commercial development and to hold true to the culture of Ryedale.

My thoughtful reflections have reminded me of the way in which each member of the company contributed in their own way and their entitlement to share the pride in the achievements. Innovation is a watchword at Ryedale. We have turned the seasonality of our business to our advantage by using the quieter periods to research and develop. We have worked with the Universities to develop robotics, we have invested heavily in IT and we were early adopters in UV and then H-UV ink curing. We have enthusiastically pursued funding opportunities to further invest in R&D and our understanding of Printable Electronics. However, all of these initiatives start and finish with our people. Maybe that’s why a family firm from North Yorkshire was being recognised at Stationers’ Hall and why the Stationer’s attention to innovation is so important.

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