Industry friends of Harry V. Quadracci recalled the Quad/Graphics founder yesterday as an up-by-the-bootstraps entrepreneur whose contributions to the direct marketing community equaled his considerable business success.
Quadracci, whose death July 29 at age 66 was ruled an accidental drowning, had been a member of the Direct Marketing Association's board of directors since 1999 and was active in the Wisconsin Direct Marketing Association and other industry groups.
Quad/Graphics, based in Pewaukee, WI, hosted monthly “breakfast club” meetings of the WDMA and supported the group's annual conference, said Grant Johnson, president of Johnson Direct, Brookfield, WI, and past WDMA president.
“He was always very affable,” Johnson said. “I think he loved this business.”
DMA president/CEO H. Robert Wientzen said he spoke with Quadracci at least once or twice a week on policy matters, including postal reform.
In addition to being involved in direct marketing, Quadracci was a lawyer and had a keen sense for accounting, financing and business, Wientzen said. Quadracci often surprised people with his wide range of interests and talents.
“It was a very unusual combination of things,” Wientzen said. “I've never met anybody else with that kind of background.”
Quadracci left his job at W.A. Krueger & Co. in 1970 and, with money from a second mortgage and loans from his family, launched Quad/Graphics the next year with a leased press at a 20,000-square-foot abandoned millwork factory in Pewaukee.
Though Quadracci was a natural risk taker, he was aware of the dangers involved in starting a company from scratch.
“He said, boy, if that didn't work out, he was going to be in trouble,” Wientzen said.
For all his business acumen, Quadracci endeared himself to others through his generous and whimsical nature, Wientzen said. He was known for his grand entrances to company events, in one instance arriving on the back of an elephant and in another dressed as an admiral.
Wientzen recalled talking recently with Quadracci about his enjoyment of ice boating, a sport that involves skiffs on skates that can travel up to 60 mph. When they traveled together, Quadracci enjoyed showing Wientzen all the gadgets on his private plane.
Quadracci was venerated in the Milwaukee area for his patronage of community organizations. His $10 million donation to the Milwaukee Art Museum in 1996 is credited with being instrumental in the construction of a new addition, which was subsequently named the Quadracci Pavilion.
The donation was the largest gift Quadracci gave to civic institutions in the Milwaukee area, but far from the only one. He was a regular patron of the museum and the Milwaukee Repertory Theater, among other causes.
Quadracci made a name for himself as an honest dealer and a man of his word, Wientzen said. In 2001 he was made a member of the DMA executive committee after just two years on the board of directors, a sign, Wientzen said, of the respect his colleagues had for him.
According to a Quad/Graphics statement, condolences to Quadracci's family and company have been pouring in from around the world. Officials from Quadracci's home village of Chenequa, WI, where his body was discovered, all the way up to Wisconsin Gov. Scott McCallum issued statements expressing their sympathies.
“Harry was a very special person who was smart and generous, with an unshakable vision of building, growing and moving ahead,” McCallum, who worked with Quadracci on workplace child-care issues, said in a statement. “I have known Harry for more than 20 years and have always admired his commitment to his family and his community.”
In September 2001, Forbes magazine rated Quadracci the 333rd richest person in the United States with a net worth of $780 million. His brother, Tom, who is a co-founder, executive vice president and board member of Quad/Graphics, has succeeded Quadracci as CEO of the company.
Police found Quadracci at 3 p.m. July 29 dressed in swim trunks and submerged in about 4 1/2 feet of water under a pier near his home on Pine Lake. A funeral Mass for Quadracci was scheduled for noon Friday at the Basilica of St. Josaphat in Milwaukee.
Quadracci's death comes as the company recovers from a fire at its plant in Lomira, WI, that took the life of a cleaning-company employee and destroyed a 10-story automated storage building. A report by the Dodge County, WI, Sheriff's Department, one of the agencies investigating the fire, blamed structural failure for the disaster.
According to the report, released July 26, three witnesses who were in the 10-story automated storage facility just before it collapsed and burned reported hearing a loud noise and seeing an aisle of racks in the southeast corner of the structure fall. The collapse spread north along the 770-foot building and eventually brought the facility down.
One of the witnesses reported seeing an electrical panel fall, sparking from the ceiling. None of the witnesses saw any signs of fire prior to the collapse.
The report said two companies that had installed the facility's automated racking system had been working in the storage facility during the month before the fire, fixing problems with welds in the system. Neither company informed Quad/Graphics that the structure was unsafe to use, nor were there any concerns about safety, the report said.
The federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration and the Wisconsin Department of Commerce are conducting investigations into the fire. Quad/Graphics said both agencies have told the company that it may be some time before conclusions about the source of the collapse and fire are released.