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Operational Excellence
Warren Blankenburg
Production Manager
The (San Luis Obispo) Tribune

In the packaging and distribution department of The (San Luis Obispo) Tribune, machine inserter Merly Nanalis creates works of art with markers on a whiteboard. Her drawings are inspired by the number of times her department hands off preprints on time to the circulation department. Each new streak starts off with a zero – recently represented by a simple egg. The next day’s on-time performance resulted in a numeral 1 hatching forth … and so on.

Under the direction of Production Manager Warren Blankenburg, the numbers often hit the double digits, with a record 69 consecutive on-time days earlier this year. The real artistry, says Publisher Chip Visci, is in how Blankenburg has taken a department with leadership, equipment and performance problems and turned it into a model admired throughout the newspaper.

When Blankenburg took over, no one could remember the last time the department had made deadlines for an entire month. The most important thing, he believed, was to restore the group’s self-confidence.

He rolled up his sleeves alongside the employees, using knowledge gleaned from his early days of working for his family-owned weekly. “I don’t give up,” Blankenburg said. “If we mess up, there’s no need to berate anybody, but man, we’ve got to figure it out.”

And figure it out they did. Blankenburg’s colleagues in advertising and circulation credit him with helping their departments succeed. “Warren works through the details to make sure we get our bundles on time and that the bundles are neat,” Zone Manager Cathy Veley said. “He’s done a phenomenal job.”

Major Accounts Manager Terrie Banish agrees. “Whether it’s calling me in the middle of the night to verify an insert order or agreeing to play a silly character in an advertising sales event, he is always there to help,” she said.

Blankenburg now has to convince his staff that perfection, while a laudable goal, is not always possible. “Late is late, but sometimes it isn’t our fault,” he said. “My ongoing challenge is to convince them that they’re not failures if they miss one deadline.”

As for the whiteboard, it’s become a draw. Colleagues from throughout the building stop by to check it out.

“Now my employees feel that they’re as important as everybody else in this building,” Blankenburg said. “That wasn’t the case before.”

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