A Conversation with Chuck Dawson of Harland Clarke

Monday, July 9, 2007

by: Meena Thiruvengadam
San Antonio Express-News

Houston native Chuck Dawson, 58, has been in the check printing business for more than 30 years. Now chief executive and president of San Antonio-based Harland Clarke, he has seen the industry shrink to just two major players. He shares his thoughts on the business and his plan for making sure Harland Clarke evolves as Americans continue shifting away from checks and toward electronic payments.

Q. Do you ever foresee a time when there are no paper checks?

A. I started in this business in 1975. When I left IBM where I was selling computers, I think there was a front page in a magazine that said a checkless society was right around the corner. Obviously, that hasn't happened yet. I think it's a very slow evolution and will continue to be a slow evolution. I don't know if I'll see it in my lifetime.

Q. How has the check printing industry changed in the past decade?

A. The check decline started in 1997. It has been a real slow decline for the past 10 years, about 3 or 4 percent a year. All of the competitors have continued to diversify their capabilities so they can do more for the financial institutions. We've seen a lot of investment and growth in marketing services, contact center services, business-to-business services, all done on behalf of our clients for their customers.

Q. How is Harland Clarke evolving?

A. Think of yourself as a customer of a financial institution: The bank wants to acquire you, they want to retain you, they want to grow your profitability to them, they want you to stay satisfied with them. They do that in a lot of different ways. They might do direct marketing. They might have Web sites, call centers, all of those types of things. We've built all those capabilities so banks can outsource that to us.

Q. What interested you in pursuing a career in business?

A. When you're that young, you're not really sure what you want to do. I've just always been interested in business. I was not drawn to be a writer or communicator. I really wasn't interested in teaching in schools, but I was interested in business.

Q. What type of checks do you carry?

A. Let's see, what does my wife carry? She gives me money every once in awhile. They're usually scenic, mountain scenes, golf series, simplistic with a logo or something like that.