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New name, new head for The Antioch Company

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The year 2008 has been a momentous time of change for The Antioch Company and its leaders. With the sale of Antioch Publishing, Lee Morgan’s retirement as president and CEO of the company in June, and his wife Vicki Morgan’s retirement two months prior as senior executive director for Creative Memories, the company now plans to move its headquarters from Yellow Springs to St. Cloud, Minn. As the new president and CEO of a business her grandfather Ernest Morgan started in 1926, Asha Morgan Moran will run the company, which is now called Creative Memories, from the Minneapolis area where she resides with her husband and two children.

The relocation of company headquarters has been part of the succession plan since Moran committed to the family company and settled in Minneapolis in 2001. By the end of the year, the move will have drawn five to 10 corporate positions from Yellow Springs to St. Cloud, just one of which so far will be filled by a current employee who has agreed to commute, Moran said. Beyond those finance, supply chain and human relations positions, the local production facility should not see many changes and could have opportunities for growth, she said.

“We’ve made a decision to keep Yellow Springs where it is because there is a team of workers there who are highly skilled and who are committed to a certain level of quality,” Moran said. “Legacy counts too, but it’s the fact that many of them have such great skills.”

The Yellow Springs facility on Dayton Street will continue to employ about 60 to 70 workers who supply the $250 million international photo scrapbooking company with about 25 percent of its printed products, including photo albums, pages, slip covers and decorative frames and stickers. (Another 30 percent of Creative Memories’ products are manufactured in St. Cloud, while the remaining 45 percent is produced overseas).

While competitors have challenged Creative Memories to keep up with product and direct sales trends, the publishing industry as a whole has seen a downturn, Moran said, which has taken the business from $350 million to $250 million over the last five years. But Creative Memories is broadening its identity by expanding into the digital photo market and leveraging the Web to help consultants teach their customers to create their own digital albums, Moran said.

And while St. Cloud had handled most of the distribution for domestic products, the Yellow Springs facility will soon launch the manufacturing and distribution of a new home decor line of wall transfer adhesive frames with photos inside, she said.

The company has come a long way from its start in 1926 as a bookmark and bookplate business initiated by Lee Morgan’s father, Antioch College graduate Ernest Morgan. Lee Morgan took over what was then called Antioch Bookplate Company in 1971, and in 1985 bought a bankrupt photo album company in St. Cloud. Two years later, Morgan and cofounders Rhonda Anderson and Cheryl Lightle launched Creative Memories, which together with the publishing company and several other smaller business ventures was eventually rolled under The Antioch Company.

But Creative Memories grew faster than its owners ever imagined, and according to Vicki Morgan, caught her family by surprise. Lee Morgan went from his job down the street that let him come home for lunch and be back by 6 o’clock for dinner every day to suddenly commuting to St. Cloud four days out of the week.

“I had been lulled into this sense of what our lives would be,” Vicki said, adding that when that rhythm was blown out the water, she was more than happy to go with the flow.

The first year, Vicki joined the endeavor as one of the six original Creative Memories consultants simply because teaching people how to create photo albums “looked like a lot of fun,” she said.

As it turned out, Vicki not only loved her job helping customers but she taught so many others to love it too that this year she retired as head of a team of 1,500 women across the U.S. who were feeding a scrapbooking addiction in their communities and helping to grow the industry from their own homes.

After commuting for 10 years, the Morgans finally bought a second home near St. Cloud, and prepared for the passing of the company torch to the next generation.

Moran decided shortly after high school graduation that it made sense for her to join the family business someday. With an MBA from Northwestern and nearly three years in finance with Anderson Consulting, in 2000 she caved to the pressure that was building from her family to join the company. She worked as a Creative Memories consultant from her basement in Chicago for three months and then joined the executive team that year to help open manufacturing and distribution facilities in Germany and the UK, she said. In 2001 Moran became chief operating officer of the entire Creative Memories business, which now operates in nine countries around the world.

“I love this business, I love the values of the organization, and I think I have the knowledge and the cultural compatibility to make this a smooth transition,” Moran said.

Still chairman of the company’s board, Lee Morgan said that after living such a busy travel and management schedule, idling at home so close to his wife has been a huge challenge. And besides, he said, he doesn’t believe in retiring, a principle evidenced by his pivotal role the last five months in negotiating for an independent Antioch College, along with philanthropic engagement with the Morgan Family Foundation and a new found commitment to marathon running.

Having climbed Mount Kilimanjaro, Mount Elbrus, and done some climbing in the Himalayas, Morgan is set to tackle for the second time this January Mount Aconcagua in Argentina, the highest mountain in the world outside of the Himalayas, according to him. And to ensure success this time, he has been training for his first full 26.4-mile marathon in the Twin Cities in October. For that he has just three goals: 1. To show up; 2. To finish the race; and 3. To finish within a respectable time goal of about four hours.

Not only did Lee and Vicki retire this year, but they also both turned 65 and celebrated their 40th anniversary. With all the wisdom those milestones confer, both are aware of their duty to cede leadership roles to the younger generation and to take advantage of a low-stress life. But rather than look back on the good old days, Morgan prefers to be oriented toward the future, he said. He and Vicki plan to maintain a home in Yellow Springs, but perhaps downsize from their current three-story place on Glen Street where Lee was born. And due to the powerful lure of the Minnesota summers and their two grandchildren, they will establish permanent residence at their house on a lake, where Vicki will continue to be the full-time care provider for Asha’s children.

Asha Moran is a member of Creative Memories’ small board of directors, and while she believes the business has opportunities to expand, she also sees that it is “facing significant challenges.” Creative Memories has been one of the top five photo book producers in the world for the last five years, but the revolution, as she called it, into digital photography has forced companies to adapt very quickly to keep up with demand.

Part of that plan included divesting the Yellow Springs facility of the company’s subsidiary, Antioch Publishing, in February, which meant a loss of 26 positions at the local plant. The move allowed Creative Memories to focus on a push to go beyond just scrapbooking and into the culture of “celebrating memories,” Moran said. The company is currently designing two new software packages that consumers can use to organize their digital images and design digital scrapbooks to send or print.

“Digital is the next step in the need for the company to evolve,” Moran said. “The challenge to folks here [in Yellow Springs] is to keep innovating, and they’ve done a good job with that.”


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