The Bottom Line

Tursso Companies: Meet the ‘Solutionaries’

By Rock LaManna | July 21, 2014

Much ado is made about the visionaries of our world. We love our Steve Jobs and Mark Zuckerburgs, who envision a breakthrough product or service, and then create the means to make it happen. But what are “visionaries” actually doing?  Aren’t they really solving a problem? Making something easier, faster, and/or more convenient? They’re ultimately providing a solution.

I’m going to coin the term “solutionary.” I will apply it to Tursso Companies, who specializes in printing labels for the pharmaceutical and medical devices industry. 

Based in St. Paul, MN, Tursso has been built on solving the daunting challenges of the pharmaceutical and medical devices industries. From heavy regulations to a need for heavy quality controls, these clients are extremely demanding. Instead of shrinking from this kind of challenge, Tursso Companies seeks it out. To understand why, consider the company’s past, and the man who cast the mold for an organization of solutionaries: Dennis Tursso.

Long before he founded Tursso Companies, Dennis once sold business machines on the East Coast. As he searched for potential business, he found an interesting challenge in the public utilities.

The power companies’ substations were freezing over in the wintertime, preventing access to employees and limiting the utilities’ ability to reroute power supplies. Dennis studied the issue, then returned to his company’s plant manager.

They collaborated on the design of a machine that would allow access during the winter months, but the engineer was uncertain if he should proceed. “It’s not my job,” he said. Dennis replied: “Then I’ll pay you on the side.”

A few weeks later, the machine was made, and the utilities were gaining access to their substations. Orders for new machines immediately followed.

When he purchased a small printing company back in 1970, Dennis Tursso used this solutionary approach to grow his fledgling company.  Manufacturing products for clients like 3M, Tursso Companies was named Small Business of the Year in 1992. Dennis was invited to the White House, where he found himself chatting business in the Rose Garden with President George H.W. Bush.

The solution model was off and running.

The Solutionaries Make a Bold Move
As Tursso Companies grew in size, the organizational culture continued to foster this focus on problem-solving. It eventually led the company to reassess its marketplace focus, and set its sights on a very challenging sector. 

“We had a lot of success with 3M back in the 70s and early 80s,” says Bruce Rankin, current Tursso Companies President and CEO.  “But we had to find new market niches.”

Tursso Companies set its sights – and its problem solving ability – in an industry in which innovation and creative thinking are often shortchanged due to rigid regulatory standards: label printing for pharmaceutical and medical devices.  

Operating within the industry’s tight parameters was a challenge Tursso was all-too-willing to embrace. The company, already accustomed to tackling difficult projects, soon merged a zeal for quality controls with its relentless passion for innovation.

It led to one of the company’s most unique products:  the InfoPac.  The industry was in need of small, informational booklets to accompany a pharmaceutical bottle. Instead of printing the booklet separately, Tursso Companies developed a proprietary solution. 
They created a machine that merged offset and flexographic technologies. It took years to create, perfect, and ultimately maintain, but eventually, they had a proprietary solution. Now not only does Tursso Companies serve their own customers with InfoPac, they also subcontract for other label printers.

What Tursso Looks Like Today
The relentless quest to tackle the tough problems has resulted in a company with two facilities (St. Paul, MN and Fort Dodge, IA) and 90,000 square feet of production space. It employs 80 people, sells its products internationally, and boasts 14 years of steady, progressive growth.

The company is cGMP compliant for the pharmaceutical industry, and is also ISO 9001:2008 certified. Every employee is thoroughly trained on the need for absolute compliance, and despite what sounds like a high-pressure environment, its retention rate is nearly 100 percent.

So how does Dennis Tursso’s solutionary instincts of the past translate into innovation for Tursso Companies today? Here are some examples:

Getting creative. Here’s a perfect example of how Tursso uses creativity to solve a client’s problems. A client had a unique internal requirement for their booklet label.  The company wanted to inspect the printed label booklet frontwards and backwards; wrap it tight around a cylindrical bottle; affix it easily to the bottle; and make it easy to open for customers.

The client met with Tursso teams, and after a two-month trial period, a unique product was engineered. It underwent four different line trials to ensure it met all the handling requirements of the production line and the field. In the end, Tursso had solved another problem by creating a solution from scratch.

Being responsive. When you’re dealing with pharmaceutical companies, you have to be incredibly responsive. 
For example, a recent Tursso client was waiting on FDA approval for a new heart stent. They waited, and waited, and waited, and as a result, so did Tursso. But when approval finally came, everyone had to act, and act fast.

The company wanted to be the first to market with the product, so Tursso had a team ready to go, 24x7.  Tursso produced the labels with 48 hours of receiving the order, and they were immediately shipped on a private jet to the client’s location.

Committing to quality. Part of being able to solve a problem is having processes in place to help you refine and improve your systems.  Tursso Companies has made a significant investment in its quality processes.

The company’s Quality Department includes a manager, three quality technicians and eight inspectors. Every job requires sign off from the Quality Department, and the production process includes three quality checkpoints.

The quality process is in adherence with the company’s cGMP compliance and ISO 9001:2008 certification. Rankin notes that it’s critical to have a separate quality department, ensuring that the production team doesn’t have to be solely responsible for producing the job and checking their own work.

Investing in technology. Tursso technology purchases are specifically aligned with its commitment to quality. All of its presses are equipped with state-of-the-art camera verification, which allows press operators to stop a run when the slightest defect is noted.

Tursso also uses digital presses for some of its short-run, quick-turn jobs. It’s an ideal solution for the many pharma and medical devices clients that come to Tursso with small prototypes that need fine-tuning.

Providing a solution before a problem occurs. Part of being a great solutionary is heading off problems before they occur.  That was the motivation behind creating Tursso’s two-plant, redundant manufacturing capability. 

In the event a natural disaster would disrupt production in one of Tursso’s two facilities, the other is ready to immediately assume operations. The plant is close enough that Tursso’s management team can quickly shuttle between the two facilities while maintaining day-to-day operations. 

“It’s hard for a pharmaceutical company to just switch vendors,” he says. “Our redundancy ensures that wouldn’t have to happen.”

Having capacity to grow. One of the biggest challenges facing any company is its ability to handle growth. Rankin says that Tursso has extremely flexible work schedules that allow its production employees to work anywhere from 7 to 10 hours a day. 

They can also easily ramp up to 24/7 production, and there are substantial growth opportunities in its redundant Fort Dodge location.
Rankin says that the proximity to the Iowa plant allows for the same cost structures and helps retain the “midwestern work ethic.”

The Solutionary Cultures
Continue to Thrive

One the most difficult challenges facing any company is instilling a culture of innovation, quality and commitment.  Tursso Companies pulls it off with flying colors, but they don’t do it by subscribing to any trendy management concepts or schools of thought. 

They do it by using the same common sense, problem-solving approach that put the company on the map. The idea is that everyone in the company is a problem-solver within their own job, and that all of these jobs are extremely important to the function of the company as a whole.

The company-wide buy-in to problem-solving focus can be traced back to Dennis Tursso’s early days.  His daughter, Michelle Rencher, who today leads the company’s flexible packaging division, saw how customers reacted to someone who solved their problems. “He would do anything and everything to get them what they needed,” she says.

Despite the company’s devotion to process and compliance standards, it’s Tursso Companies flexibility and lack of rigidity that defines its approach to customer service. They strive to meet a client’s unique requirements, whether it’s in communication, procurement or a unique product.

In the end, that agility leads to solutions, just as it did when young Dennis Tursso devised a method to thaw those entryways in the Northeast substations.

“It’s funny, if you solve problems, then people think you’re a visionary,” Dennis says.

Or a solutionary, as the case may be.

Rock LaManna, President and CEO of LaManna Alliance, helps printing owners and CEOs use their company financials to prioritize and choose the proper strategic path. Rock can be reached by email at
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