Blood, Sweat and 20 Years

As In­ter­na­tional Web ex­press marks its an­niver­sary, CEO By­ron Shear­down re­flects on the shift­ing land­scape of 21st cen­tury print­ing

BC Business Magazine - - International Web Express -

Board­ing the flight home from a Euro­pean trip, Wil­liam By­ron Shear­down winced as he saw the head­lines. CRI­SIS ON WALL STREET. FEAR SHAKES WORLD MAR­KETS.

Oc­to­ber 12, 2008. The stock mar­ket was tank­ing, banks were tee­ter­ing on the brink of col­lapse.

Shear­down looked over at his wife, Monika, sit­ting be­side him. A month ear­lier, she had pulled to­gether the last of her in­her­i­tance to help her hus­band ful­fill a dream: to buy his own print­ing press. They had just com­pleted the pur­chase of In­ter­na­tional Web ex­press. Now, as the eco­nomic cri­sis deep­ened, Shear­down's dream risked turn­ing into a night­mare.

If there's a char­ac­ter trait that best de­scribes Shear­down, it's con­fi­dence. The 48year-old en­tre­pre­neur and fa­ther of three has spent the last eight years mak­ing in­vest­ments to ex­pand IWE'S ca­pac­ity—buy­ing up older print ma­chines from bank­rupt com­peti­tors and up­grad­ing soft­ware for the desk­top pub­lish­ing mar­ket. He re­cently pur­chased a high-qual­ity UV press, a way to make IWE com­pet­i­tive in the low-cost glossy mag­a­zine mar­ket. “You've got be­lieve in your­self to make the right de­ci­sions,” Shear­down says. “Al­ways be look­ing ahead to where the in­dus­try is go­ing, not where it is now.”

The shift from ana­log to dig­i­tal has un­doubt­edly changed the in­dus­try. But Shear­down be­lieves there's still a place for hard copies, es­pe­cially for ad­ver­tis­ing. “Busi­nesses were at­tracted to on­line be­cause they thought they were sav­ing money,” Shear­down ex­plains. “But now, many are returning to print, be­cause they see it gets re­sults.”

Shear­down was born in Van­cou­ver, but spent his for­ma­tive years in White­horse, and re­mem­bers los­ing peo­ple to vi­o­lence, drugs, jail and suicide. As a teenager liv­ing through long, cold Yukon win­ters, Shear­down sensed a busi­ness op­por­tu­nity. In 1988 he opened Park Av­enue, White­horse's first mini-golf and ar­cade cen­tre. A zon­ing dis­pute over his video games pit­ted Shear­down against City Hall, and his David vs. Go­liath story made him front-page news. But fame wasn't enough to over­come by­law in­frac­tions, and Park Av­enue was forced to close.

Shear­down moved south to at­tend print school at Van­cou­ver Com­mu­nity Col­lege. Just be­fore grad­u­a­tion, he con­vinced Hori­zon Pub­li­ca­tions to hire him as a sales­man. His busi­ness acu­men and can-do at­ti­tude made him one of the re­gion's top reps, and soon he was com­pet­ing for cus­tomers with a ri­val com­pany called In­ter­na­tional Web ex­press. “We'd steal one of their clients, they'd get them back, then we'd go around again,” Shear­down says.

Af­ter 15 years at Hori­zon, Shear­down was ready to go into busi­ness for him­self. He con­sid­ered start­ing his own com­pany, but a sur­prise phone call from the founder of IWE led him to put in an of­fer in­stead. Shear­down took pos­ses­sion in March 2009, at the height of the worst eco­nomic cri­sis since the Great De­pres­sion. But Shear­down has never shied away from a chal­lenge.

To pun­dits pre­dict­ing the so-called “death of print,” Shear­down says the num­bers speak for them­selves. IWE'S rev­enue has grown from $3 mil­lion to more than $10 mil­lion, and in Novem­ber 2015 the com­pany hit a record $1 mil­lion in sales in a sin­gle month. What started as an eight-per­son op­er­a­tion now em­ploys 54, from old-school ma­chin­ists to cut­ting-edge dig­i­tal de­sign­ers and ev­ery­one in be­tween. “It's a team ef­fort,” Shear­down says. “We wouldn't be suc­cess­ful if we didn't work to­gether.”

As owner of the last in­de­pen­dent press in B.C., Shear­down sees his role as more than sim­ply en­tre­pre­neur­ial. As a pub­lisher, he is also a de­fender of democ­racy—no small re­spon­si­bil­ity th­ese days. IWE prints news­pa­pers in 22 lan­guages, some­thing that fills Shear­down with pride. “I've al­ways be­lieved in free­dom of speech, and I love that the diver­sity of opin­ion that we sup­port. In other parts of the world, news­pa­pers are banned, and pub­lish­ers have been jailed, threat­ened and killed. So by keep­ing our presses rolling here, we are demon­strat­ing our com­mit­ment to free­dom of ex­pres­sion.”

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