For Bringing Repeatability & Consistency to All, Steve Smiley Joins the FTA Hall of Fame
Steve Smiley grabs the microphone: “It’s really simple! And if you use ISO 10128, you can calculate what you need to do from your press to your customer’s expectations—it’s real simple! You can use TVI, you can use Near Neutral Calibration, or you can use ICC profiles! The other thing that’s inside 12647 are process control tools. Plate requirements: All plates have to have a linear and a compensated file with a 3, 10, 30, 50, 70 and solid…”
“It also requires that your proofs are made to 12647, Part 7: Process control for halftone proofing,” he continues. “The file format’s PDF/X—PDF/X per 15390, Part 7 is complete files in PDF and transferred…”
Where am I?
“Film density? Has to be a 4.0—That was an easy one!”
Hearing Steve speak for the first time is like hearing someone try to explain the plot of Inception, but then again, who has only heard Steve speak once? For decades, he has championed printing standards, giving presentations in the U.S. and abroad as he worked to demystify and disseminate a subject many were weary of, if not outright opposed to. His work for FTA—Forum presentations about color management, webinars on process control, FLEXO Magazine articles covering consistency, entire chapters of Flexographic Image Reproduction Specifications & Tolerances (FIRST) and Flexography: Principles & Practices (FP&P), as a utility player behind the scenes with the Technical Education Services Team—has been relentless, selfless and often at the drop of his flat cap.
His career spanning pursuit of principles has not been easy. Along the way, he butted heads with other flexographers—many of whom have come around to his way of thinking, rivals he now calls friends. He challenged the business model upon which entire companies have been built—the “secret sauce” brand owners forked over large sums to taste. He put his mouth where his money is, opening SmileyColor & Associates in 2013 to fight for his cause with no strings attached.
Truth be told, if those excerpts—taken from his appearance in the Forum 2015 “De-Geek the Geeks” session—sound confusing, it is likely because you haven’t kept pace with the sea change of popular opinion regarding standards. That change is the result of a hard fought battle which today counts many on its front line, but at the start consisted of a lone soldier—a one man army—quietly guided by his passion.
“This whole Hall of Fame thing is not even on his radar,” says colleague and now fellow FTA Hall of Fame Member Jean Jackson. “He does things for the right reasons, often things people don’t even know.”
Well, people deserve to know, and hopefully now they will, because Steve Smiley is the 55th inductee into that group.
For an individual to be so invested in an industry that he is inducted into its Hall of Fame, it should not be surprising to learn he couldn’t “turn it off” at home, after work hours. Now, knowing that, consider what going to the supermarket with Steve must have been like for a 7-year-old.
“He used to take me to the grocery store and show me food labels, ice cream labels—anything and everything. All kinds of packaging,” recalls Melody Durazo, Steve’s daughter. One of the graphic elements she remembers most from the shopping trips is the iconic breast cancer awareness pink ribbon. “He would ask, ‘which one would you buy?’ and tell me, ‘this is why what I do matters, because if you don’t want to buy the really pink one, that’s an issue.’”
Melody was the middle child in what she describes as a “typical TV family,” where her father worked and her mother, Laura, mostly stayed home with the kids. She remembers how well her parents complemented—and still complement—each other, a feeling that goes back to before SmileyColor, before Vertis, before Laser Tech Color (LTC) and before Blanks Engraving, to the beginning of Steve’s career, when he worked a night shift while Laura worked during the day.
Prior to entering the packaging universe, he had exposure (pun intended) to concepts like color and light’s effect on it while working in photography. One of the few industries shaken more than ours by the digital revolution, he realized he had to learn new skills to keep pace with the rate of change.
And so, too, did Steve change. “He has shortened his hair to dress the part, and he has gained weight,” deadpans Laura, asked to describe the man she met 38 years ago and married 34 years ago. “But he loves that business—that has never changed. He has stayed committed to making that world better.”
Alongside that commitment, he has also championed family. Smiley vacations were annual occurrences; Steve’s treks to Jamaica are now the stuff of legend and even 1,400 miles away from his home outside Houston, TX, with the country’s pristine beaches and ocean water so blue it could inspire a new Pantone swatch, he chose not to bury his head in the sand for a week, but instead take his clan to a bat cave, alligator farm, street market or other unique sight.
Church was also a regular Sunday destination for Steve and his family, and in addition to attending mass weekly, he carved one week out of each year to do charity work—something he still does. In conjunction with his church, Steve traveled with as many as 30 other volunteers, bringing them somewhere to help others in need of assistance. Maybe the only people who knew where he was headed were his family and his employer’s HR department—as is his M.O., Steve kept the information to himself. “He never told anyone,” says Jean. “He once mentioned to me he was achy, and when I asked why, that’s when he brought it up.”
Parents often wonder what their children think of them and how they came to that conclusion. For Melody, it was one of these mission trips—Steve’s first, in fact—that made one of the most significant impressions on her in her entire life, and crystallized an image of her father which is shared by many.
With a half-dozen youths from their church in tow, Steve met with a few other local churches in a small Missouri town. He served as the leader for the trip, overseeing the group in its repairing of a very large home owned by an older couple unable to perform the physical work themselves. At one point, one of the young volunteers asked, “Why would we do work for someone who, apparently, can afford to pay for help?”
Steve responded by saying, “Sometimes we are put in places, and we are put there not for the manual labor that we are doing, but for the ministry we are sharing with them of God’s love. He doesn’t always call us to places that we think or want to be, but places that he needs us to go.”
Melody says the response is something she will never forget and a window into how her father lives his life every day. And, as a premonition of the life he would go on to lead, the youth who questioned Steve became a missionary and is now a pastor in his church organization.
“He is kind, caring and understanding,” Jean says, echoing a feeling shared by many who were asked to speak about Steve. “He gives back and when he goes somewhere, he builds relationships.”