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Industry In-depth: Diane Jacobson from Ellis Lehman Signs

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09 September 2015 - Meggan McCarthy from Practical Sign & Digital Graphics interviews Diane Jacobson, who was recently appointed Managing Director of Ellis Lehman Signs.

EARLY LIFE

Jacobson was born in the Free State but grew up in Cyrildene. She completed her BA at Wits University, majoring in English and Psychology. Jacobson has been a top achiever at the best sign manufacturing companies in the South African industry and has 23 years of industry experience. She started as a graphic designer at Brilliant Signs in 1985, where she first met and worked with Ellis Lehman.

She then went to the USA for a year and worked in a sales position at Artkraft Strauss, a famous 118-year-old company that has a long and proud history of illuminating Times Square in New York. She had to return to South Africa when her visa ran out and rejoined Brilliant Signs. She joined the Romano Group in 2004, where she went on to be promoted to national sales manager. Jacobson had reached the peak of her career managing national and international brands in the motor and retail industries, among others, and managed projects for prestigious brands such as BMW, Volkswagen, Audi, Bosch, Caterpillar and locally, Cell C and Edcon to mention but a few. In 2015, she decided to take on a new challenge and purchased Ellis Lehman Signs. 'I've been lucky to inherit a wonderful team and I look forward to taking the company's legacy forward and propelling it to greater heights. I will continue to grow the culture of service that Ellis built.'

WHAT DO YOU ENJOY MOST ABOUT WORKING IN THE PRINTING INDUSTRY?

It is dynamic, creative and interesting. No two jobs are identical, and because it is an industry that serves a variety of businesses, it offers exposure to many types of people and companies. I've worked with fantastic people and managed very interesting projects, from manufacturing plants to religious institutions, to petrochemical companies to retailers and sports events. I have met wonderful people over the years and have had the opportunity to travel to interesting places. It is an industry that has allowed me to grow my business skills in a creative space.

ON WORKING IN A MALE-DOMINATED INDUSTRY

I have worked with many women over the years who have been extremely effective, and whose attention to detail and work ethic have brought them tremendous success. They have often outshone their male counterparts.

WHAT IMPORTANT INDUSTRY-RELATED CHANGES HAVE YOU NOTICED OVER THE PERIOD OF TIME YOU HAVE BEEN PART OF IT?

There has been a revolution since I started my working career, and technology has changed the entire industry. Adapting to change has been a natural progression that I have embraced and welcomed. We've come a long way from the days when we used to hand draw all our presentations, doing tracings that we copied onto paper and then rendered in colour. We did complex designs for casinos that were all hand drawn and then hand cut. It was fun, but it took days; technology has really sped things up and allowed us to do much more and to supply more professional offerings. Customer demand has increased and has brought clients into the industry that previously couldn't access it because of time and cost. The amount of print, advertising and branding has grown enormously and that's been a good thing for the industry.

The only thing that's been 'lost' is that people who worked in design and sign-writing before technology took over were real artists; whereas today you just need to know how to work your way around a graphics or CAD package. But the benefits that technology offers far outweigh this aspect.

WHAT DOES THE PRINTING INDUSTRY NEED TO DO TO KEEP UP WITH DIGITAL TECHNOLOGY, WHICH IS COMPETING TO REPLACE PRINTED PRODUCTS?

The printing industry and digital technology are inextricably linked, and keeping up with trends is imperative in the 21st century as things are changing all the time. Having representation on social media is increasingly important in all industries. But fundamentally, like every industry we service a need, and whether that need is fulfilled by a paintbrush or a digital printer, the principle is unchanged. Technology is a tool and just provides products in a different form.

WHAT ADVICE DO YOU HAVE FOR SOMEONE STARTING OUT IN THE INDUSTRY?

Listen, learn and understand the basic concepts of design before you go into anything else. Pay attention to detail and see your client as a partner.

ANY HOBBIES OR INTERESTS?

I am an avid reader, and a lover of theatre and movies. I have a keen interest in history and I'm very connected to my Jewish roots. I make time to exercise regularly, but as a single working parent, much of my time has been dedicated to my working life and to supporting my family.

WHAT IS THE KEY TO BEING SUCCESSFUL IN THIS INDUSTRY?

The answer is really simple: understanding and servicing the needs of customers. They are the lifeblood of all business. There is so much poor service out there, so doing things better and paying attention to detail and the final finished item sets anyone apart.

www.ellislehmansigns.com